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The Legal Iftar Dinner

The Legal Iftar Dinner

By Steven Sapountsis

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Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I thank the organisers for the kind invitation for me to attend tonight’s Iftar dinner and to say a few opening remarks.

Let me first acknowledge the wonderful efforts and hard work of all the organisers of this event. 

Please also let me acknowledge the presence of

  • Iman Bekim Hassani
  • The leader of the federal opposition, the Honourable Bill Shorten
  • Chief Magistrate Peter Lauristen
  • Magistrate Urfa Masood

I also thank members of the Muslim legal and broader community, for inviting us to be a part of their observance of Ramadan.

As I understand it, the Iftar dinner is a part of the breaking of the fast that is observed from sunrise and sunset during the  month of Ramadan.

It is clearly a very important religious event that is best observed and celebrated, with community.

We  thank you for inviting us to be part of that observance and celebration. 

Iftar has been described as:

…very much a social event, involving family and community members. It is common for people to host others for dinner, or gather as a community……. It is also common for people to invite and share food with those less fortunate.

So at this time, it is appropriate to talk about looking out for others and sharing what we have.

It remains a wonderful thing that here, in this country, we are welcome to celebrate our religious and customary traditions and rituals – and to share them with each other.

Of course – unless we are descended from its Indigenous peoples, we are all migrants here in Australia – some more recent than others.

I came here with my mother and my brother when I was four years old. My father had migrated here two years earlier – none of us knowing a word of English.

My father sacrificed his physical health to heavy labouring jobs – first in foundries and later on factory production lines – to set up, and maintain a better life for his family.

Going into the law was a big step for someone like me with no family connection in the law, and with a “difficult” surname.

I was fortunate enough to be offered articles (traineeship) with a most learned, honourable and decent solicitor. She was blind to race, colour, religion or any other feature we now identify as being culturally or religiously diverse.

She had no what we now call – “unconscious bias” – she just saw a person who might have made a good lawyer.

As we know, that is not always the case in the law.

Sometimes, and I am sure many of you will have experienced it, those from backgrounds that don’t fit the traditional picture of the Anglo male lawyer, can find it difficult to make headway in their careers, even though they may be part of significant  numbers graduating from law and obtaining work as junior lawyers.

That is so, even though we know that, for many reasons, it is essential that the legal profession reflects the rich diversity of the Australian migrant and host culture.

As the former High Court judge, the Honourable Michael Kirby, pointed out in his address to launch the Asian-Australian Lawyers Association, diversity is especially important in the law, because ultimately the law is about power and about the values that affect the exercise of power.

Therefore, it is essential that those who exercise that power be aware of, and include people from the wide range of cultural groups in our community.

But there remains a concern that unless such lawyers are welcomed and included into the profession – rather than just “tolerated”, or adopted as a token of diversity – the value of diversity will count for little.

Inclusion means that those of us from different cultural backgrounds can feel welcome to bring our background, experiences and identity to our role in the profession, are listened to, and that our opinions and decisions are valued.

So what is the Law Institute of Victoria, and other leaders in the law, doing to understand and promote diversity and inclusion?

In February this year, the Council of the Law Institute heard from a panel of experienced practitioners who are working hard to ensure that our profession better reflects the diversity of the community it serves, or have identified particular circumstances and impediments to achieving that goal.

That panel included Mr Jazeer Nija-mudeen, president of the Muslim Legal Network,  who welcomed us here this evening. He, and the other panel members,  gave us much to think about and some practical advice on how to act on diversity and inclusion.

Later, other members of the Muslim Legal Network also shared their experiences with us and gave us guidance.

The Law Institute of Victoria is now working on a more formal agreement with the  Muslim Legal Network for mutual support, sharing of resources and continuing ways of promoting diversity and inclusion.

We are also working with the Australian Asian Lawyers Association to identify and suggest processes and career paths that will assist lawyers of diverse backgrounds to be heard and recognised and to make their way into in the higher echelons of the profession.

We are seeking to pursue those gaols with the assistance of the Law Council of Australia and we will remain firm and insistent on the need for a national policy on diversity and inclusion.

Most large legal firms have adopted a diversity and inclusion policy, and we seek to partner with them, or learn from them where appropriate, to promote those policies that work.

More generally, the State government is piloting a program to identify and deal with unconscious bias in its appointments. The Law Institute of Victoria, with its considerable interest in, and advocacy of, diversity and inclusion issues, is a willing participant and adviser in that program.

We know that a culturally inclusive workplace is good for business, good for clients, and good for practitioners.

It is also fair and just.

The community is simply better served if we make better use of the talent and abilities of lawyers drawn from wide and diverse backgrounds.

Again, thank you for inviting us here this evening and allowing us to break the fast together.

Contact

LIV Media Department

T: 03 9607 9389
E: media@liv.asn.au

 


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