Retired Northern Territory barrister Colin McDonald QC has received a civil justice award in recognition of his work to save members of the Bali Nine from the death penalty.
McDonald received the Australian Lawyers Alliance's (ALA) national civil justice award at the non-profit organisation's national conference on Hamilton Island last weekend.
The ALA award recognises unsung heroes who, despite risk or sacrifice, have fought to preserve individual rights, human dignity or safety. Previous recipients include Malcolm Fraser, Cornelia Rau's lawyer, Claire O'Connor, and David Hicks' lawyer, Major Michael Mori.
In addition to his work saving Australians Scott Rush and Renae Lawrence from the death penalty in Bali, ALA national president Greg Barns noted that McDonald was also awarded for his tireless work to improve the rights of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.
Arriving at the conference straight from Jakarta and Bali, McDonald explained that the use of the death sentence often depends on the delicate political pressures within countries. He said the existence of more than 220 Indonesian migrant workers on death row outside Indonesia, including the Middle East, Malaysia and China, had raised the issue more prominently, with Indonesian citizens now questioning its use.
"In terms of Australian citizens facing the death penalty overseas, Indonesians have the same burden but on a larger scale," said McDonald. "And this is not something that is adequately comprehended here in Australia."
As the subject of an Australian Story profile in 2006, McDonald discussed his concerns regarding the role of the Australian Federal Police in handing over Australian citizens to a country that administers the death penalty, pointing to a "policy black hole" in the AFP that was risking the lives of Australians in trouble overseas.
McDonald was admitted as a solicitor in Victoria in 1975 and worked at the Victorian Bar from 1980 to 1981. He moved to the Northern Territory in 1981 to work as a solicitor with the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and then joined the Independent Bar in 1984. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1997.