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Lawyers ‘ideally placed’ to ensure public understands Voice to Parliament

Mark Leibler, a senior partner and long-time Indigenous-rights advocate, discusses why and how the legal profession should get involved with advocating for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the lead-up to the referendum.

user iconJess Feyder 17 October 2022 Big Law
Lawyers ‘ideally placed’ to ensure public understands Voice to Parliament
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Profession-wide support for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has seen a significant number of legal firms, organisations and institutions engaging in ongoing advocacy efforts, with efforts ramping up as the referendum approaches.

Mr Leibler is senior partner of Arnold Bloch Leibler (ABL), his firm’s support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dates back to the early 90s, when they advised the Yorta Yorta peoples in their epic struggle for native title justice.

He was a founding board member of Reconciliation Australia and co-chaired the organisation for several years. He was subsequently appointed to co-chair both the Expert Panel and the Referendum Council on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

 
 

Mr Leibler was also one of the few non-Indigenous Australians invited to attend the closing ceremony of the National Constitutional Convention in May 2017, where the Uluru Statement of the Heart was endorsed.

“I know that the First Nations Voice is the only model of recognition supported by Indigenous people themselves,” Mr Leibler told Lawyers Weekly.

“It is moderate yet meaningful and, as the central recommendation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, it would give Aboriginal and Torres Strait lslander peoples the opportunity to influence laws and policies that affect their lives,” he explained, “lives that, on average, remain poorer, sicker, harder and shorter than the lives of other Australians”.

Mr Leibler described being at Uluru when the statement was endorsed as one of the most moving experiences of his life.

“Since that day in 2017, I have been confident that the Australian people would support it too, despite the fact that some politicians and some commentators are unlikely to ever get behind the change,” he said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not given a voice in the debates that led to the drafting of the Australian Constitution, and, as it turned out, the document included two sections that specifically discriminated against them.

“While neither the current government of Australia nor current generations of non-Indigenous Australians are responsible for past wrongs, we are responsible for recognising the impact of intergenerational trauma, and giving Aboriginal fellow citizens the respect and support to identify and prioritise their own problems, and design and implement their own solutions.

“Our approach has come a long way since the early days of Federation, when so-called ‘Aboriginal protectors’ had total control over the lives of Indigenous people — but we still think we know best. 

“Decades of failure in Indigenous affairs makes it plain that we don’t, and the Voice offers a unique opportunity to improve people’s lives while giving taxpayers a far better ‘bang for their buck’.”

“There is real momentum of support behind the Voice,” Mr Leibler reflected, “but it seems likely that there will also be a ‘No’ case put forward by forces who reject the proposal for reasons of their own”.

“The legal profession is ideally placed to work towards ensuring the Australian public understands what the Voice is and what it isn’t.

“We should use every opportunity available to explain to colleagues, clients, family, and friends that the Voice will pose no risk to the smooth running of the Parliament, and the detail around its form and function will be determined by the Parliament. 

“The Voice will have both symbolic and practical value because it will give Indigenous Australians greater influence over policies that affect them,” he reiterated. 

“At ABL, we have events planned over the coming months to expose clients and colleagues to all the arguments, and we will continue to advocate through the media and behind the scenes with policymakers.”

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