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Tarwirri turns 10

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Cite as: December 2012 86 (12) LIJ, p.25

Tarwirri still has work to do despite opening the doors for Indigenous law students and lawyers.

A decade after it was established in the wake of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Victorian-based Indigenous lawyers’ association Tarwirri has celebrated its 10th anniversary with the launch of a strategic plan aimed at taking it to the “next level”.

Speaking prior to the organisation’s 10th anniversary party and awards night in November, Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria (ILSLAV)-Tarwirri president Karly Warner said the organisation had achieved many of its original aims including creating new opportunities and opening doors for Indigenous students and lawyers.

“It is now about driving home the excellence side of things and about addressing issues like retention and keeping our members engaged,” she told the LIJ.

She said the organisation had matured over the past 10 years from its student-based origins. It now had a diverse membership base and there was a growing interest from associate members who were becoming more engaged with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Tarwirri was established in 2002 following an initial workshop held in 2000 at the Aborigines Advancement League in Thornbury, where it was agreed the formation of an association to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law graduates and current law students be investigated.

The then Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Eames and Linda Lovett and Andrew Jackomos from the Indigenous Issues Unit at the Department of Justice chaired the workshop. Also present were Indigenous law graduates and law students, representatives from the Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Courts, the Victorian Bar Council, the LIV and various law firms.

Today the LIV houses Tarwirri, which has more than 90 members, including 23 Indigenous law students with some completing masters degrees; nine legal graduates, some of whom are working in policy areas for government agencies while completing their practical legal training; four barristers; 11 solicitors; and eight academics and legal professionals, including a lecturer at Deakin University.

In March, the ILSLAV-Tarwirri committee reviewed the association’s direction in order to ensure existing and future programs were meeting the needs of its increasingly diverse membership base, Ms Warner said.

“It has also been about refocusing on what our aim and role actually is, and making sure our attention is on our Elders and Respected Persons Panel and the engagement we have with the LIV, the Vic Bar and the Department of Justice,” Ms Warner said.

Reflecting on the past 10 years, Ms Warner said Tarwirri’s greatest achievements included securing professional development opportunities for members such as clerkships, traineeships and interview openings.

“We have had a steady increase in our membership base, we have hosted the National Indigenous Legal Conference in 2008 and we had success with the Andrew Bolt case last year,” she said, referring to the case of Pat Eatock and eight others against Andrew Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times, which tested the concept of racial vilification in the Federal Court.

“We have also helped Victorian legal professionals develop reconciliation action plans [RAPs].”

The LIV launched its RAP in September at a panel discussion on constitutional recognition. Under the plan, it has committed to delivering 51 actions over the next year, to achieve 20 reconciliation objectives aimed at Indigenous equality.

It is just one of the many LIV reconciliation initiatives aimed at supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and fostering greater interaction with Indigenous organisations by the legal community.

As for the future, Ms Warner said: “I think constitutional recognition is also going to be a huge issue for us, even though the federal government has decided to delay a referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition.”

Her message to the legal profession on the eve of the 10th anniversary was simple.

“Tarwirri has some very, very talented members and they don’t really need a hand-up anymore,” she said. “Give them an opportunity to show their skills and strengths and they will shine.”

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