QLS Reconciliation Action Plan Launch

Wednesday 5 July 2017, Law Society House

President’s opening address

I would like to formally open the launch with a special Acknowledgment of Country.

I have found throughout this journey that the most powerful and inspirational Acknowledgment of Country is one that is personalised and reflects the paths, inroads, struggles and history of our First Nations peoples.

It is with that recognition that we acknowledge the First Nations peoples as the original inhabitants of the land on which this gathering is taking place. In the true spirit of reconciliation and inclusivity it is important that we recognise and acknowledge the lands throughout our great state and indeed our vast sunburnt country in which you, some of you with the assistance of technology, are continuing to view via web stream.

We acknowledge all Elders past and present as well as emerging leaders of tomorrow, and thank them for their wisdom and guidance.

In coming  together we recognise, respect and celebrate the cultural distinctions of our First Nations peoples and value their rich and positive contribution to not only Queensland but also to the broader Australian society.

To my mind, diversity is more than gender and age. It encompasses culture and experience. Diversity and inclusion broadens our vision and strengthens our capabilities. This underpins a greater community engagement.

We keep saying this word ‘reconciliation’, but what does it truly mean?

In the context of our Reconciliation Action Plan we seek to promote unity and respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians.

We also aim to improve access to our legal system for budding lawyers who identify as First Nations Peoples.

We wish to support current Indigenous lawyers.

We encourage Indigenous lawyers to succeed in their careers and go on to represent First Nations people in our judicial system.

We wish to see the numbers of Indigenous people in our justice system and prisons decrease through improved access to justice and diversionary programs.

We will support, promote and improve access to the profession through this Reconciliation Action Plan.

How will we possibly achieve all these admirable goals?

It is through desiring reconciliation.

It is through inspiring others to join us on the journey.

It is through understanding and embracing the true history of this country’s relations with the First Nations People.

It is through building respect for these relationships and understanding about truth and reconciliation.

It is then about acting upon that desire by taking positive steps forward.

Queensland Law Society, and our members, take our first step in support of reconciliation in our nation by delivering our first Reconciliation Action Plan – or RAP – tonight.

This RAP is not simply for the Law Society, it is for all of us.

It is for our members, but also the wider profession.

For our students, and also for our families.

It is for our judiciary, and also for the wider community.

Tonight, we make our small mark upon reconciliation in Australia.

And I thank you for joining with us and supporting this important movement towards better futures together.

I also thank those who have joined us on this journey since the beginning, and those who have supported throughout.

Over a year ago, a group of passionate solicitors, Magistrates, legal students and Indigenous executives came together with the mission to create a document that would ultimately lead our profession down the path of reconciliation.

This group was charged with designing a plan that would support, promote and improve access to the profession for Queensland’s Indigenous lawyers.

At this time, I was the deputy president of the Society. Myself and Bill – as president – wholly embraced this idea, and gave our full support to what would be known as the RAP Working Group.

Led by Shane Duffy and Linda Ryle, this working group full encapsulated the ethos of reconciliation.

They were passionate, and had a drive to see a real and tangible impact on our Indigenous and non-Indigenous practitioners.

Leading the charge internally, was our own Louise Pennisi – our acting corporate secretary.

The working group first met in July of last year, with a first draft prepared for wide consultation in the matter of a four short months.

I was impressed at this evidence of such passion from our working group members.

Following further amendments following consultation with the profession and key stakeholders, we presented our RAP to Reconciliation Australia for endorsement.

Somewhat poetically, we were given conditional endorsement in May and our Council approved the RAP on the eve of National Reconciliation Week.

And it just so happens we are launching in the week of NAIDOC where the nation celebrates and recognises the remarkable diversity and continuing traditions of the oldest living culture on the globe.

What is so significant about 2017 you may ask …

It is indeed a monumental year.

Not only is it the year we launch our inaugural RAP, it is also 50 years since the historic 1967 referendum where over 90% of Australians voted to amend the Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the census and allow the Commonwealth to create laws for them.

It is also 25 years since the historic Mabo decision where the High Court of Australia found that terra nullius should not have been applied to Australia.

This decision recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and still exist today.

As we move forward towards reconciliation, it is important to recognise our past and come together.

This is what we hope we have achieved in our Reconciliation Action Plan.

The plan has three components:

Profession based, student based, and community based.

For our profession, there are two significant issues: the under-representation of First Nations peoples in the legal profession and the over-representation of First Nations peoples in our justice system.

The first issue we see is that a mere 66 Queensland practitioners identified last year as Indigenous.

With over 11,000 solicitors in the state, there is clearly more to be done.

For change to occur, we must lead from the top and this includes Indigenous judicial appointments from the ranks of our meritorious solicitors.

Indigenous people make up three per cent of our entire population, however, disproportionately and strikingly so, 30 per cent of those incarcerated in Australia are Indigenous.

The state and federal governments must take proactive and tangible action to reduce the incarceration of Indigenous Australians and implement strategies that provide positive outcomes.

Each step we take – no matter how small – can lead the way to social change.

Our RAP promises that we will:

Create a First Nations Special Interest Group to advance and advocate for reconciliation and related First Nations advocacy

Provide support and opportunities for education and awareness throughout the profession and provide opportunities to strengthen relationships with our First Nations stakeholders, many of who are in the room today

Work to address the overrepresentation of our First Nations Peoples in our justice system and the under-representation of our First Nations Peoples in the profession.

We also look forward to embracing our nation’s heritage by displaying Indigenous artwork on our premises.

We also have the artwork from our 1992 publication, Aboriginal English and the Law authored by Dr Diana Eades displayed in a level 2 meeting room.

Finally, I am pleased to recognise Mitch Shannon – RAP working group member, solicitor and talented artist, for his outstanding work in his piece called “Harmony.”

In the early stages of the working group, members were invited to provide words, stories, pictures and imagery that reflected what reconciliation means to them and their vision for reconciliation.

It is fair to say that we were all blown away when Mitch humbly presented us his painting.

Mitch told us that the painting depicts two identical paths, each winding towards the centre from opposite points. These represent the paths which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians can follow to achieve reconciliation.

With his kind permission, the painting is now the symbol and heart of our inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan. We are also very proud to have it displayed in room 2.08 and encourage you to view and appreciate the painting.

Mitch, on behalf of the Society, we thank you for your legacy and present you with a gift of our appreciation.

I would like to take the time to acknowledge the work of Terry Stedman from our working group who coordinated the acquisition of a beautiful mural from the Ganyjuu Family Support Service.

This is currently displayed on level 3 of Law Society House.

Before we bring the night to a close, there are a few people we would like to thank.

We would like to thank our working group chair, Shane Duffy, who unfortunately could not be with us tonight. We are appreciative of his support and leadership throughout this process.

Linda Ryle, your tireless dedication, momentous support and leadership have been nothing short of inspirational. Many long hours dedicated to phone calls, emails, drafting papers, meetings, articles and research have really made a significant impact on us and has made this journey epic. And we still have more to do!

To the RAP Working Group. Without you, there would not have been a reconciliation action plan. Thank you for your time, support, feedback and guidance in preparing our inaugural RAP. You are the future leaders of the profession.

To our presenters tonight, thank you for your time and sharing your wisdom today.

There has been a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes for this project and even this event, to that end, I would like to thank the team at QLS for their efforts. This includes the events, marketing, external affairs and design teams, our RAP coordinator and governance executive Anita, and extend an early welcome to our newest RAP coordinator Angelina.

And lastly, I would like to thank QLS acting corporate secretary Louise Pennisi for her dedication to driving this project forward.

There is an exciting and significant journey before us. I hope that by joining us tonight and in this journey, that we have inspired you to start taking your own small steps towards reconciliation.

Rest assured that all of us at QLS are here to support you in your own journeys.

We have resources available at www.qls.com.au/rap.

We are also excited to continue the celebrations of NAIDOC week. Look out for our stand with the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland for NAIDOC this Friday at Musgrave Park. We will also have some judicial heavyweights joining us in the celebrations.

Thank you once again for your support in this endeavour.