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What does reconciliation mean for the legal community?

What does reconciliation mean for the legal community?

By Clara Bradley

Reconciliation 

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Today is the start of National Reconciliation Week (27 May-3 June) which is marked by two significant legal events that have challenged Australia’s historical treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the 1967 referendum where more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census. Twenty-five years later and the High Court delivered the Mabo decision which overturned the legal fiction terra nullius. This decision recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before colonisation and can still exist today. This decision paved the way for Native Title.

There are still many barriers to reconciliation and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

The Recognise campaign is seeking support throughout the country for a referendum to fix the historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from Australia’s Constitution and eliminate racial discrimination. According to University of New South Wales Indigenous Law Centre director Professor Megan Davis “our mob is in no mood for mere recognition”. In Professor Davis’ experience, Australia is the only liberal democracy that has not yet accommodated Indigenous rights within the framework of the state. She said that constitutional recognition must go beyond a weak symbolic model to become a model that compels governments to act, shapes the behaviour of public institutions and creates a requirement to be held accountable.

The LIV believes that solutions to these issues should be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In its submission to the Department of Justice and Regulation Access to Justice Review, the LIV called for the government to prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination when considering any reform to access to justice arrangements for Aboriginal communities. The LIV also believes that increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal professionals will improve justice outcomes for Aboriginal communities in Victoria. Last year the Australian Financial Review reported that while the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers is increasing there are still only five practising Indigenous barristers in Victoria.

An important part of the LIV’s Reconciliation Action Plan is the annual bursary awarded to an outstanding Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander law graduate or final year student to undertake the College of Law Victoria’s Practical Legal Training Program (PLT), to assist them to achieve their goal of being a lawyer. This year the LIV sponsored two Aboriginal women to undertake their PLT.

Reconciliation Week is a time to reflect on what we do to positively engage in reconciliation. This year during Reconciliation Week the LIV is hosting two events that actively engage us in reconciliation in both a professional and personal capacity:

The LIV is calling for expressions of interest to join the Reconciliation Advancement Committee (RAC). If you are interested in learning more about LIV advocacy for Koorie justice please contact Clara Bradley.


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