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Becoming part of the solution

News

Cite as: December 2010 84(12) LIJ, p.26

The LIV is on the road towards developing its own reconciliation action plan.

The LIV has begun working with Victoria’s Indigenous community to develop a reconciliation action plan (RAP) for the LIV.

Reconciliation Australia (RA) introduced RAPs in 2006 to help forge respectful partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and individual businesses or organisations.

The RAP provides a framework for organisations to create their own plan to help achieve Indigenous equality.

LIV president Steven Stevens said developing a RAP was an important journey for the LIV and its members to take.

“We have met with representatives of the local Indigenous communities to learn and understand from them what initiatives are needed and how we could work in partnership,” he said.

“The overriding message is that we must work with, and not for, Indigenous people to ensure meaningful actions and projects are pursued and are therefore more likely to have positive outcomes and be successful.

“This is a long-term project we are committing to and the approach we need to take needs to become part of the DNA of the LIV.”

The LIV’s RAP working group first met on 15 July. On 27 October it joined Mr Stevens and LIV CEO Michael Brett Young to meet with 22 members of the Victorian Indigenous community, including lawyers, law students and representatives of Indigenous organisations.

They included Gunditjamara woman Joan Vickery, former Adult Parole Board of Victoria member Jim Berg, Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation former member and traditional owner Marjorie Thorpe and VicHealth Koori Health Unit lecturer Angela Clarke.

The meeting heard that the LIV had to set an example for the rest of the legal profession. It was suggested any LIV RAP could include “practical” mechanisms, such as supporting the employment of Indigenous lawyers and barristers, training of Indigenous law students and helping educate the legal community about Indigenous culture and history.

The meeting was facilitated by former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel QC, who said the success of the RAP would be achieved by managing the expectations of both parties.

Several guests at the meeting agreed to join the working group, including Ms Thorpe who will drive from her Nowa Nowa base, near Lakes Entrance, for meetings.

She told the LIJ both practical solutions and more difficult personal issues, such as self-determination, would be considered by the group.

“I am happy to be a member of the working group as the LIV is a leading organisation in terms of social policy. But we need to build a relationship together to make this action plan work,” she said.

“I have become a little sceptical about the reconciliation process and action plans, so this needs to be a genuine process where people learn to trust each other and learn to work together and make decisions together.”

The LIV has already introduced initiatives to support Indigenous Australians. These include the creation of an Indigenous Issues and Aboriginal Reconciliation Committee, an Indigenous policy statement and the publication of an investigative series in the LIJ on the status of Victoria’s Indigenous lawyers.

An annual bursary for an Indigenous law student was created in 2008 and in 2009 the LIV, with the Victorian Bar, introduced Australia’s first equal opportunity briefing policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander barristers.

LIV Young Lawyers president Julie Fraser has been a driving force behind the RAP project.

In March 2008, Arnold Bloch Leibler (ABL) became the first law firm to develop a RAP. It has since been followed by Gilbert + Tobin, Allens Arthur Robinson, Clayton Utz and Western Australia’s Lavan Legal.

At the time of writing, Freehills, Maurice Blackburn and the Law Council of Australia were developing RAPs.

ABL senior partner and RA co-chair Mark Leibler said RAPs paved the way for actions that provided opportunities for Indigenous Australians and businesses.

“It enables you to access a broader talent pool of employees, gain new insights into emerging issues and disciplines impacting Aboriginal people and the law, and help you to develop an inclusive and confident client base,” he said.

While all organisations shape their own RAPs to help advance business objectives, an official RA endorsement is only achieved if clear actions and realistic targets are identified.

For further information on how to develop a RAP, see www.reconciliation.org.au.

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