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One Stone unturned

One Stone unturned

The new head of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) is fiercely passionate about protecting the rights of the individual.

Newly-appointed ALA national president Andrew Stone (pictured) is also a personal injury lawyer. His practice has exposed him to heart-wrenching systemic injustices, and he sees political advocacy as a natural extension of his work.

“There is nothing more frustrating than the government restricting the rights [of the injured] to get the money that they need to help rebuild their lives. You see the injustice and that motivates you.”

Stone started his term as president five weeks ago, having previously worked as the director of the NSW division.

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After graduating from the University of Sydney, Stone worked for a law firm for two and a half years before joining the Bar. He has worked as a barrister at Sir James Martin Chambers for the past 17 years and is a longstanding member of the NSW Bar Association.

No easy answers

In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Stone made it clear that he does not see any of the issues that the ALA confronts as being simple or straightforward.

According to Stone, the ALA’s primary concerns are the rights of the individual, the maintenance of the rule of law and protecting the individual against the more oppressive actions of governments.

The ALA is currently at loggerheads with the government over refugee rights, no-fault benefits for motor accident victims, green slip prices and anti-terror legislation.

Stone said the ALA recognises the importance of striking a balance between individual rights and the needs of the community when dealing with these issues.

“I know I’m not giving you easy, one-line answers because there aren’t [any] when it comes to policy. I don’t do slogans well,” he said.

“Politics is hard because you have to find a particular group to fit in with and I’m not that easily boxed.”

Stone resisted placing the ALA at either end of the political spectrum, claiming that the core beliefs of ALA members defied this sort of ideological characterisation.

A question of values

Creating laws and policies that work is difficult, but keeping in mind basic values can help keep things on the right track.

This philosophy is at the heart of Stone’s work with the ALA.

“The simple message we were taught when we were kids is that when you do something wrong you should first apologise and then help clean up the mess you have made,” he said.

In Stone’s view, this basic right to compensation is under attack across the country.

He said that Australians do not support expensive insurance schemes because they cannot contemplate being involved in a serious accident.

“[Compensation] is not an issue that the public think through very well because their primary coping mechanism is avoidance.”

The ALA's role is to ensure that the right to compensation is defended by government.

Compensation is not the only issue; when Stone spoke about recent political developments, he was particularly scathing about the Government’s proposed anti-terror laws.

“We don’t abandon the rule of law under threat. There are some values that we don’t abandon under pressure,” he said.

One of those values is the presumption of innocence. “We won’t make anyone prove that they’re innocent just because they went to see family in Syria to check how they’re travelling in a war-torn country. We won’t reverse the onus of proof on anybody,” he said.

Freedom from harassment is another basic right that the ALA vigorously defends. Stone said the ALA had put in a submission regarding the suggested changes to the Racial Discrimination Act “and we are delighted that they’ve finally seen sense”.

A true advocate

Stone is a workaholic who likes to be comfortable in his office, his “home away from home”. He has a deep apathy for wearing suits and has something of a tea fetish.

His office is cluttered with knick-knacks and treasures. A photo of Stone with a five-year-old client who was run over by her father’s lawn mower sits against the window, and a picture of former US president John Kennedy and his brother Robert hangs on the wall.

Stone admitted to having a hopeless obsession with baseball, which is made evident by the Yankees game running in the background.

“The baseball gets pretty crazy as an obsession. I still play; I coach a kid’s team; I’ll go watch the New York Yankees play whenever I can.”

The new president of the ALA also comes across as a man who is quite comfortable disagreeing with people. He started out as a mooter at school, became a debater at university and finally took on the “speaking role” as a barrister.

“I decided to become a lawyer when I realised that no [other profession] would let me argue that much.”

Stone admitted that his dogged determination might come across as stubborn or aggressive at times, but he likes to think that his resolve is mixed with a fair dose of compassion.

It seems the ALA has found in Stone an advocate in every sense of the word.

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