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Victorian Bar president rejects idea that barristers supporting Voice are financially motivated

Following claims made in News Corp last week that pro-Voice barristers will benefit financially from the passing of such a referendum, the president of Victorian Bar has responded, ahead of that organisation’s own special purpose meeting to determine its position on the Voice.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 01 May 2023 The Bar
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In his weekly In Brief message, published on the Victorian Bar website and distributed by email, president Sam Hay KC addressed certain comments attributed to members of the Victorian Bar in an article published in The Australian earlier in the week, titled: “Pro-voice barristers are ‘financially motivated’”.

Over the past fortnight, Mr Hay wrote on Friday, 28 April, he had been contacted by “many members of all seniorities” about the proposal to amend the Australian Constitution, with some strongly supporting the Victorian Bar Council taking a positive stance on the proposed Voice, and others urge it not to take a position.

“To my very clear observation, not one of those in favour of the bar taking a positive stance has been motivated by personal financial gain,” Mr Hay posited.


“Indeed, just as with those expressing the contrary position, those in favour have expressed sincerely held opinions with respect, integrity and independence. Those very same traits, which are rightly treasured and celebrated by our bar, were clearly evident during the preliminary Bar Council discussion we had about the Voice yesterday evening [Thursday, 27 April].”

The Victorian Bar Council is hosting a special purpose meeting on Tuesday, 9 May, at which it will determine what position, if any, Victorian Bar will take in respect of the Voice.

Mr Hay also moved to address remarks made about the NSW Bar Association, which submitted, in mid-April, that the nation must “close the gap in our Constitution”, in taking a pro-Voice stance.

“On Wednesday [26 April], I spoke to the president of the NSW Bar Council, Gabrielle Bashir SC, to say that the overwhelming majority of Victorian Bar members hold the NSW Bar, its council and its members in the very highest esteem,” he wrote.

“I also said that many of the comments attributed to the unnamed ‘senior Victorian silk’ were offensive and wrong and should not have been made.”

“I condemn the use of that kind of language in this context in unqualified terms. We fully respect the NSW Bar’s right to adopt a position in relation to the Voice.”

Victorian Bar is a “strong, fiercely independent college of professionals who genuinely value robust debate and the accommodation of diverse views on a wide range of topics”, Mr Hay stressed, arguing that it is at its best when its members focus on the merits of opposing views, “rather than seeking to impugn the motives of those with whom we disagree”.

The news follows Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue’s advice pertaining to the constitutionality of the proposed Voice to Parliament, in which he 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”.

Last week, the Law Council deemed the proposed Voice “just and legally sound”. 

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.