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Legal Aid CEOs, 22 pro bono target signatories pledge support for Voice

The chief executives of two of Australia’s largest legal aid organisations, as well as over 20 signatories to the National Pro Bono Target, are supporting the “Yes” campaign for the upcoming referendum on the proposed Voice to Parliament.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 07 September 2023 Politics
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In a statement issued earlier this week, Legal Aid NSW chief executive Monique Hitter and Victoria Legal Aid chief executive Louise Glanville argued that, for too long, the direct experience and knowledge of First Nations people have not been heard in the discussions and debates that inform policy and law in Australia.

“Every day, we observe First Nations people living the heartbreaking legacy of being forcibly removed from their mothers, fathers, and communities; children still being separated from kin and culture; mothers giving birth in custody and then separated from their children; men and women who died in custody well before their time. Our daily duty lists at court include the names of too many girls, boys, men, and women who have been caught in a cycle of discrimination and criminalisation that has its roots in colonisation,” the pair wrote.

“Legal services do their utmost to unpick and challenge the downstream effects of colonisation and intergenerational harms, such as school suspension, fines, very young adults leaving out-of-home care with not nearly enough support to scaffold a vibrant adult life, housing instability and homelessness. But still, too many of our First Nations people require further assistance to unravel the complex web of inequity and injustice in their lives.”


With a Voice to Parliament enshrined in Australia’s constitution, Ms Hitter and Ms Glanville continued, democratically elected representatives will continue to have the ultimate say over what becomes law in Australia, “but they will do this after listening to those whose lives the laws will affect – just like in our courtrooms where judges and magistrates make decisions, but only after hearing from representatives of the relevant parties, or the parties themselves”.

“As leaders of independent government statutory agencies providing legal services in our community, we know the value of having a seat at the table and having an opportunity to share the direct insights and experience of our clients to contribute to discussions, debate, policy and legislative reform, to move the needle towards the change we need to see in our laws and legal systems, as well as our wider community,” the pair went on.

“We also know that the law is never the whole story. However, it is essential to get the legal foundation and structure of our nation right if we are to be true to our history and representative of our united future.”

The statement was issued personally by the two CEOs and was not written on behalf of their organisations.

Elsewhere, 22 law firms and in-house legal teams to the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s National Pro Bono Target have united to support the Voice to Parliament and the “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum.

Those 20 signatories are Allens Linklaters, Allygroup, Arnold Bloch Leibler, Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper, Gadens, Gilbert + Tobin, Griffin Legal, Hall & Wilcox, Harmers Workplace Lawyers, Herbert Smith Freehills, HWL Ebsworth, Lander & Rogers, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, National Justice Project, Norton Rose Fulbright, Pfizer, Russell Kennedy Lawyers, Shakti Legal Solutions, Squire Patton Boggs, and Violet Co Legal & Consulting.

In the statement, the 20 firms and businesses to the pro bono target said they are signatories because they believe in using their professionals’ skills for “a more inclusive, fairer and stronger nation for all”.

“The referendum on the Voice presents a rare and long overdue opportunity to embed recognition of Australia’s First Peoples in the Constitution and a chance to create a permanent, practical means for First Peoples to advocate for laws and policies more responsive to their needs,” the signatories wrote.

“In our experience, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have a say in matters that directly affect them, we see real change and fairer outcomes.”

As of March 2023, most BigLaw firms reported they were set to support the Voice, and late last month, at a celebration for Arnold Bloch Leibler’s 70th year, the Prime Minister of Australia and the firm’s leaders celebrated the upcoming Voice to Parliament vote and urged the room filled with legal, community and political leaders to “go forward together”.

In mid-August, the law societies of NSW and South Australia pledged support for the Voice, following the lead of the Law Institute of Victoria in early May and six former presidents of the Australian Bar Association and Law Council of Australia in late April. Other legal member associations around the country, including the Queensland Law Society and the Victorian Bar, have also pledged support for the Voice.

In mid-May, Swaab employment partner Michael Byrnes spoke on The Lawyers Weekly Show about the implications arising for employees from their employers’ Voice positions and warned individuals to exercise caution in publicly disagreeing with one’s employer on the referendum.

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