LCA President's Dinner 2017
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More than 150 legal professionals and distinguished guests attended the Law Council’s annual President’s Dinner at the National Gallery of Australia on 30 November 2017.
Law Council President, Fiona McLeod SC, reflected on an influential year at the Law Council, which included successful advocacy outcomes in issues including: advocating for the reversal of cuts to Community Legal Centres, supporting marriage equality and the Senator Dean Smith bill, opposing mandatory minimum sentences in Federal legislation, arguing against amending s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and defending the judicial independence of the AAT and the courts.
Ms McLeod also acknowledged the Law Council’s Legal Aid Matters campaign and the Council’s efforts to halt the ratification of the Australia-China extradition treaty in addition to success in regards to integrity issues and whistle-blower reform. Other areas of influence included work on slavery and human trafficking, business and HR, counter-terrorism reforms, advocacy for the courts and family law reform.
“It can seem removed from the intellectual work of Law, to do the media rounds, to be in the bustle of the discourse, to argue the point in the dirty hubbub of democracy’s street fights - but the more we talk, the more robust and present are the arguments in the public domain, and people understand why they matter, then governments will be more inclined, whether coerced or in self-interest, or through noble cause, it doesn’t matter - to act accordingly,” Ms McLeod said.
“And people will perhaps have a greater sense of what their own rights are, or at least how to find out.”
Ms McLeod spoke of the power of the Law Council’s root-and-branch review of access to justice in Australia – Justice Project – and the agonising stories of everyday Australians who have desperately needed legal assistance. She also sang the praises of the lawyers and solicitors who are providing legal services in locations across Australia under incredibly difficult circumstances, committed to their responsibility as the last legal line of defence for thousands of people in their community, the community organisations, the health workers, the police officers, the prison workers.
“Our consultations have taken me to prisons and detention centres, bush courts, refuges and cultural centres, nursing homes and hospitals, and government departments,” Ms McLeod said.
“I have heard stories that have moved me and that will stay with me - the new mother in jail, whose child was removed within 24 hours of birth and placed into state care, the anguish of her remaining time inside as she waited for news and to hope of being reunited.
“The elderly Indigenous man, a very vulnerable amputee with hearing loss, diabetes and mental impairment who had fallen into serious financial difficulty due to taking bad advice about loans from an unscrupulous lender, unable to afford food or basic medicines.
“A woman who was ultimately murdered by her violent partner after a community legal centre could not help her due to conflict of interest – an issue that plagues many in the stretched legal assistance sector.
“The Justice Project has allowed us to bring all these stories, and all these experiences together to provide a guide for what we do next,” she said.
National Gallery of Australia Director and venue partner Dr Gerard Vaughan welcomed guests to the elegant Gandel Hall. Dr Vaughan spoke of the gallery’s 50-year celebrations earlier in the year and mentioned some of the exciting upcoming exhibitions.
Law Council President-elect Morry Bailes paid tribute to the many great achievements over the course of the year while Fiona was president.
“Fiona has undertaken all this with a spark, energy and enthusiasm which is unrivalled. There’s no question she’s a stand-out,” Mr Bailes said.
The Attorney-General the Honourable George Brandis QC began by congratulating Fiona on a splendid term as the President of the Law Council of Australia.
“I want to congratulate you for your advocacy, I want to congratulate you for your passion, I want to congratulate you for your commitment, I want to thank you for your engagement,” The Hon George Brandis QC said.
Senator Brandis recapped on a year of human rights successes with the government ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), reform to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to ensure respondents to complaints were afford appropriate natural justice protections, Marriage Equality, Family Law review, Native Title and Bankruptcy reform.
Fiona noted the views of the Law Council and that of the government did not always agree and 2017 was no exception however, the issues diverged on were underpinned by a set of common values and shared respect for the primacy of the rule of law.
“This isn’t quite the end of the presidency for me, I will be in Office for some weeks yet and if the rest of the year is any indication, that means there is plenty of scope for a lot to happen,” she said.
“But if you could forgive me for glancing in the rear-view mirror for just a moment, I feel genuinely proud of what we have been able to achieve together.
“It is also gratifying to know that the organisation is in such great shape, with such a terrific President-elect waiting to take the reins in 2018.”
Fiona’s final thanks for the evening were reserved for her family, husband Livio and daughters, who provided unwavering support throughout the year before guests were invited to join Fiona for a drink at the conclusion of the evening.