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Former ABA, LCA presidents throw support behind Voice

Six silks, all of whom have served as presidents of the Australian Bar Association or Law Council of Australia, have joined the chorus of legal voices supporting the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament. 

user iconJess Feyder 27 April 2023 Big Law
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Last Friday (21 April), Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue’s advice pertaining to the constitutionality of the proposed Voice to Parliament was released. In it, the S-G noted that the “proposed s129 [of the Constitution] is not just compatible with the system of representative and responsible government prescribed by the Constitution, but an enhancement of that system”.

In publishing S-G Donaghue’s advice, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stressed that the Voice is “an important reform, and it is a modest reform — one that would complement the existing structures of our democratic system and enhance the normal functioning of government”.

Despite the Voice not receiving bipartisan support in Australia’s Parliament — something the Law Council felt would be critical for its ultimate passage in May of last year — lawyers and legal employers nationwide have coalesced behind the “Yes” vote.

 
 

As has been reported by Lawyers Weekly, most BigLaw firms are supporting the Voice. Arnold Bloch Leibler senior partner Mark Leibler told this brand, late last year, that lawyers are “ideally placed” to play a role in ensuring the public understands the Voice and how it operates — something that Professor Anne Twomey detailed recently.

Earlier this week, Lawyers Weekly reported that the Law Council had deemed the proposed Voice “just and legally sound”. 

Now, five past Australian Bar Association (ABA) presidents — Jennifer Batrouney AM KC, Dr Matt Collins AM KC, Matthew Howard SC, Noel Hutley SC and Fiona McLeod AO SC (who was also president of the LCA), as well as Arthur Moses SC, LCA president in 2019, have issued a joint statement in favour of the “Yes” vote.

“We each support the proposal to amend the Commonwealth Constitution to recognise First Australians and enshrine a Voice enabling representations to be made to the Parliament and the executive government,” stated the group. 

“We will each be voting ‘yes’ at this year’s referendum.”

“Each of us has closely examined the proposed amendment set out in the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023.

“We each believe the amendment, if passed, would strengthen our democracy by giving Indigenous Australians a substantive, meaningful and proportionate entitlement to make representations in relation to policies and initiatives that impact their communities.”

They elaborated on their views of the amendment. 

“The amendment has been carefully drafted and reviewed. It would expressly authorise Parliament to make laws with respect to matters relating to the Voice. This is constitutionally orthodox. 

“The language of the proposed empowering provision is materially identical to that appearing at the commencement of section 51 of the Constitution, which empowers the Parliament to make laws on a raft of subjects, including trade and commerce, taxation, external affairs and defence,” the group explained.

“Parliament will be able to calibrate the legislation governing the operation of the Voice from time to time as circumstances change, just as it changes laws relating to each of those other subjects.”

The group commented on the necessity of the Voice.

“Australia’s Indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of the colonisation and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources in a way that has prevented them from achieving full and equal participation in our society,” they said. 

“We each believe those injustices warrant constitutional recognition and enshrinement of a Voice.”

“We each believe that success of the referendum will be a powerful statement of reconciliation and unity that will resound throughout this land and beyond. 

“In the language of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, it will be an acceptance of the invitation of Australia’s First Nations peoples to walk together in a movement for a better future,” stated Ms Batrouney, Mr Collins, Mr Howard, Mr Hutley, Ms McLeod and Mr Moses. 

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