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‘Close the gap in our Constitution,’ says NSW Bar

The nation’s oldest independent bar association has expressed support for the wording in the amendments proposed for constitutional reform that incorporates a First Nations Voice. 

user iconJess Feyder 14 April 2023 Big Law
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The Voice referendum and amendments in wording made to the Constitution have been a topic of extensive discussion across the legal profession for several years. 

Now that it is on the brink of being actualised, an increasing number of law firms, legal organisations and parliamentarians are releasing statements to the public, expressing their views on the matter. 

On 11 April, the shadow attorney-general for the Liberal Party resigned due to his supportive position on the consequential issue and the opposition expressed by the Liberals; this is despite the Law Council of Australia urging Parliament to maintain bipartisanship on the issue


In 2019, eighteen law firms banded together in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and, precedingly, several law firm partners have discussed why law firms and the legal profession, broadly, should play a role in seeking justice for First Nations peoples in the form of supporting the Voice. 

By and large, firms and legal organisations have expressed support and endorsed the need for constitutional recognition of First Nations peoples. 

One lawyer has emphasised why it is particularly important for lawyers to be educated on the topic and participate in the discussion as the referendum looms. 

With the Albanese government having announced the proposed amendments that would be made to the Constitution, as set out in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice Bill 2023, the NSW Bar Association met to consider the amendment.

The NSW Bar Council considered both the wording of the proposed amendments to the Constitution as well as the policy position that the NSW Bar should adopt in relation to the proposal to enshrine the Voice in the Australian Constitution.

On 12 April, the NSW Bar Association announced that they support the wording for the proposed amendment. 

The NSW Bar is the oldest independent bar in the nation. It is the only Bar Council that counts among its elected directors a First Nations silk. 

Many of the pre-eminent constitutional law senior counsel within Australia practise from NSW. The NSW Bar Council consulted with these experts in its consideration of the wording of the amendment. 

The Bar Council voted unanimously to endorse the proposed wording for the Constitution alteration to enshrine a First Nations Voice as sound and appropriate and to support public advocacy in support of a “Yes” vote for this substantive form of Constitutional recognition.

The NSW Bar Council came to the decision, having considered other publicly available alternative proposals and arguments for and against the wording, and for and against a “Yes” vote, including those that suggested more limited forms of recognition and consultation. 

For decades, NSW barristers have advocated on issues of concern to all Australians that have a particular impact on First Nations peoples, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the implementation of its recommendations, the Pathways to Justice Report of the Australian Law Reform Commission, advocacy for national legal service funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, reforms on heritage protection, and native title laws.

Gabrielle Bashir SC, president of the NSW Bar Association, announced that they “will advocate alongside First Nations elders, leaders and grassroots communities in supporting this reform to the Constitution”.

“The NSW Bar supports the wording in the proposed amendment,” Ms Bashir said. 

“It is time to close the gap in our Constitution.”