Trent Wallace

Passionate about platforming diversity within First Nations communities, Trent is Co-Chair of the Legal Profession Reconciliation Network and is on the Executive Committee of Just Reinvest NSW. Trent is also a Director of Metro Arts QLD, Director of Independent Indigenous Tourism Operators of Queensland, Advisor to the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Advisor to the Board of ActionAid Australia. 

Trent Wallace is a Wongaibon person who was raised on Darkinjung Country and has a background working in the community legal sector, government and education. Trent joined Ashurst in 2020 in his role as First Nations Lead, a first for a global law firm. In addition to this, Trent is a lawyer, law lecturer and author.   

The Voice: A trust fall moment for First Nations peoples  

I am a Wongaibon person and the great-grandchild of a Coota Girls survivor. I am also a lawyer, law lecturer and author. I occupy several social justice focused board roles. In almost all of the professional roles I’ve held, I’ve been the first Aboriginal person to do so. Despite conquering major barriers, I am still subjected to deep inequities that are embedded in Australia’s DNA. My identity is rooted in shameful statistics that underscore my existence. To society, I’m too Aboriginal to be ‘white’ and too ‘white’ to be Aboriginal. An enigma, the result of colonisation and ignorance. People often tokenise me or treat me differently when they learn I am Aboriginal. It’s hard to make friends because casual racism exists as the equilibrium. I am not a victim of my Aboriginality, but I often feel people would like me to be.  

The Voice is not a quixotic concept. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a generous offering. It is a hopeful call, one that is seeking to achieve peace. As First Nations peoples aren’t homogenous, I recognise various views. However, in my heart, I know this is the only opportunity we’ve had at creating meaningful change through self-determination. As a group, we’ve been spoken for, spoken about, researched, written about and ultimately told what is good for us…despite not speaking to us. Solutions developed without appropriate consultation. Parochial attitudes prevail when it comes to the “Aboriginal problem”. It is unfathomable that people would think we actively pursue disadvantage. I understand that education around our identity plays a significant role, but we are continually held up in that process. Numerous works of First Nations academics have been published – we cannot rely on the excuse of ‘not understanding’. Your role as an advocate is to platform such educational materials, and not just around National Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC Week. I dream of a time where the garrulous conversation and tokenism ends.  

Too often, our representation is either negative or it is through artwork. Meetings start with an Acknowledgement of Country, but the conversation around First Nations peoples stops there. To ethically consume cultures, you must take all of us, not some of us. Don’t turn away from our pain or our pleas to be included. Our career aspirations. Our dreams of success.  

If you want to actively contribute to reconciliation, vote “Yes” to the Voice. Accept the invitation set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We are at your mercy as the most impacted peoples who have inherited generational failures. You have the chance to break this cycle. As pro bono practitioners and leaders, I am calling on you to educate yourselves, your workplaces, your family and your general sphere of influence. Utilise your privilege to educate people around the Voice.  

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Corey Smith

Corey Smith is a Ngemba man and lawyer. He has worked in corporate, NGOs and academia including at the Centre for Social Impact. He currently coordinates Towards Truth, a first of its kind truth-telling project that maps laws and policies that have impacted First Nations people since 1788. Corey is deeply committed and passionate about social change for Indigenous communities.


Why the Voice Matters  

The Voice is a substantial but reasonable proposal that can change our country for the better.  

In my day-to-day work on truth-telling, I frequently see how our lives as First Nations people are intimately tied in with government. Children taken, languages decimated, land ripped from our feet. Our lives have been controlled for centuries and we weren’t even allowed to participate in the democratic process that legalised all of that. What’s worse, the injustices continue today. It’s true, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. 

It’s 2023 and we have children being thrown into prisons and people without access to fresh water, housing, healthcare, or education. Can we please wake up and stop this madness?  

The Uluru statement is the answer we have been waiting for. The Voice is a step in the right direction, and it will give Parliament the best information from communities to make a practical difference in areas such as health, education, criminal justice, and housing. The Voice matters because we have gone too long without having a say on laws and policies that directly impact us. It matters because we are the most incarcerated people on the planet and racism is still alive in this country. It matters because it will lead to better outcomes. It will also put Treaty and Truth on the table.  

When I caught up with my Dad the other week, who is a mad Midnight Oil fan, we spoke about how ‘the time has come’ for the Voice.  This referendum is a nation-building moment. We are choosing hope over hate, and we need you to walk with us if we’re ever going to solve these issues that are running rampant in this country. It’s in our reach to do that. The opportunity to vote “Yes” is too important to miss. 

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Gemma McKinnon

Gemma McKinnon is a Barkindji woman from Wilcannia in far west NSW. Gemma is the Responsible Business Manager (APAC) at Herbert Smith Freehills. Gemma was a Technical Advisor at the Referendum Council’s regional dialogues and the Constitutional Convention at Uluru. 

Why the Voice Matters

The question of why the Voice matters is deeply personal to First Nations people. Being part of the oldest continuing culture on the planet, and still being here despite the ongoing effects of colonisation, is a great source of pride and a testament to our strength. We bend, but we do not break. Our survival is a demonstration of our strength in culture, family, and in our ability to self-govern. Yet, since invasion, First Nations people have had little or no say in the laws and policies that govern us despite consistent, ineffective attempts to make decisions in what is purported to be our best interests.  

The Constitution fails to mention us at all, as though we haven’t been here for 60,000 years, caring for the land from which the Nation has built its prosperity. Despite this, and all that modern science, academic research and history have taught us, we still aren’t afforded a seat at the table on matters that directly and often disproportionately affect us. In the words of The Uluru Statement from the Heart, the torment of our powerlessness is why the Voice matters. 

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. (The Uluru Statement from the Heart

I have spent my career working with First Nations people, supporting individuals, and advocating for legal and systemic change to improve the lives of our community. As an advocate for Aboriginal tenants in NSW, I met people who were born in a shack with a dirt floor, who stayed on that same parcel of land through different dwellings and different landlords and who were being served with an eviction notice for rent arrears. Their recourse lays in a tribunal member with no ability to consider anything but a law enacted in 2010. A Voice might enable lawmakers to consider legislative amendments that broaden the considerations available to these tribunal members, or indeed, create a more appropriate forum for such matters to be heard.  

This is just one of many examples of the dire need for reform informed by First Nations people. I hear my brothers and sisters when they say they want more than an advisory role, and when they express their fear that this voice might fall on deaf ears. I simply submit that we have no choice. Those of us living in the city, with the benefits of education and employment, do not have the right to deny those without clean water or adequate shelter a chance at change simply because we might have the luxury of feeling comfortable enough to wait for a better offer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We cannot risk allowing it to slip away. 

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Ruby Langton-Batty

with Wyatt Cook-Revell

Ruby is a Lawyer in the Ashurst Pro Bono team. She is a proud descendant of the Bidjara and Iman peoples of Central Queensland. Ruby was born in Alice Springs and grew up in the Northern Territory and Melbourne. She has now lived in Sydney for over ten years. Holding a Juris Doctor degree from UNSW, Ruby was admitted as a lawyer in 2022. Prior to studying law, she worked as a professional stage and screen designer.  

Wyatt is a Lawyer in the Ashurst Employment team, based in Brisbane. Wyatt has family connections to Birri Gubba, Gurang Gurang, Wangan Jagalingou and Wakka Wakka peoples, and was born and raised on Yugara Country.  Holding a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from QUT, he was admitted as a lawyer in 2022.  In 2021, Wyatt was the Associate to the Honourable Justice Glenn Martin of the Supreme Court of Queensland.  

Why the Voice Matters

First Nations peoples have long called for formal recognition and a voice at the highest levels of our country. As far back as Yorta Yorta elder William Cooper’s letter to King George VI (1937), the Yirrkala Bark Petitions (1963), the Larrakia Petition (1972) and the Barunga Statement (1988), First Peoples have fought for a fair place in our country.  

In 2010, Prime Minister Gillard established the Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution, which sparked a seven-year public policy debate on the topic. Finally, a series of regional First Nations dialogues were held across the country, culminating, in 2017, in a National Constitutional Convention at Uluru and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This was a generous and powerful invitation to all Australians. The referendum represents an opportunity for us to come together as a nation to meet that invitation in the same spirit of generosity. 

Enshrining a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution will start the process of recognition and truth-telling, and advance the principle of self-determination. Reasonable Australians would recognise that the best outcomes for First Nations communities are those outcomes that are driven by people in affected communities. 

If the referendum is successful, we are hopeful that the recommendations set out in the “Indigenous Voice Co-design Process Final Report to the Australian Government” (Langton and Calma, 2021) will be implemented. This would provide the right mechanisms, working with and strengthening existing arrangements, for the voices of First Nations peoples to be heard on issues that affect us.  

It would also, in our view, improve the provision of pro bono and commercial legal services to First Nations peoples. The advancement of our people occurs at junctions of discretionary decision making in both public and private institutions in Australian society. The legal profession is at the forefront of these junctions, since lawyers are the interpreters and communicators of laws and policies. The Voice to Parliament would create avenues for us to have a say in laws and policies which affect us, and change those which have historically been designed to disempower and disenfranchise us. It must be First Nations peoples who lead this because we are the only ones that know exactly how these laws and policies impact our lives every day. 

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Kishaya Delaney

Kishaya Delaney is a proud Wiradjuri woman, Pro Bono Solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills, and member of the Uluru Statement Youth Dialogue. Kishaya previously worked as Project Officer for the Towards Truth project, leading a team of researchers to develop a legislation and policy mapping database to support truth-telling under the third reform of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Kishaya regularly delivers presentations and facilitates information sessions about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and Voice to Parliament. 


Why the Voice Matters

Lawyers undertake pro bono work for one key reason – the public good. We understand that everyone deserves the right to access justice. We recognise that First Nations people are disproportionately impacted from all sides of the legal system, and we must work hard to ensure that those with the least opportunities are supported. As lawyers, we can understand the need to hear directly from our First Nations clients about the issues they encounter to inform how we can best help them navigate the legal system. 

This is why the Voice to Parliament is so important. How can we hope to improve the legal system if we are not hearing directly from those that it impacts the most? With substantive constitutional reform through a Voice to Parliament, we can make a crucial step towards addressing the systemic injustices that First Nations people have endured for far too long. This proposal aims to give Indigenous people a stronger say in the decisions that affect their lives and communities, and for lawyers who work pro bono for First Nations clients, this is of particular significance. 

The First Nations Voice to Parliament is important for lawyers because it has the potential to rebuild trust between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the legal system. The legal system has been historically fraught with tension and mistrust, and Indigenous people often felt excluded and disempowered. This is an opportunity to reshape that relationship by ensuring First Nations people are empowered to influence government and parliamentary decision making, and exercise true self-determination. It would mean that our voices and experiences would be taken into account and that we would finally have a seat at the table. 

As a proud Wiradjuri woman, I urge my colleagues to support this proposal and work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive legal system for all Australians. The Voice to Parliament is not just a matter of legal reform, it is a matter of survival and a chance for our voices to finally be heard and valued in the country that we have called home for thousands of years. 

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Bridget Cama

Bridget Cama is a Wiradjuri and iTaukei Fijian woman who was born and raised in Lithgow NSW with connections to Wellington and the Cudgegong in NSW. Bridget graduated from UNSW in 2019 with a Bachelor of Laws/Arts (majoring in Indigenous Studies with distinction and a minor in politics) and worked as a paralegal and on secondments in legal teams throughout her degree. After graduating from law, Bridget worked as a graduate in the Pro Bono team at Gilbert + Tobin and with the Uluru Dialogue (UNSW) under Professor Megan Davis. Bridget is currently an associate of the Indigenous Law Centre and legal support to the Uluru Dialogue at the University of NSW. She is also the co-creator and co-chair of the Uluru Youth Dialogue, who work closely to provide a national platform for First Nations youth voices to be heard in the Uluru Statement movement.  

Why the Voice Matters

The Voice matters because it is integral in addressing the systemic and structural issues that First Nations peoples face in our communities.  

Both in my lived experience and in my work as a lawyer, I have seen the many legal issues faced by First Nations peoples which are a result of various systems, laws or policies which disproportionately affect First Nations peoples. The Uluru Statement says: “We are not an innately criminal people” despite being “the most incarcerated people on the planet” and that “Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates…And…languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future”.  

The Voice will give First Nations peoples a seat at the table and a say on the laws and policies that affect us through our selected representatives that make up the Voice. It will provide a mechanism whereby grassroots First Nations voices and most importantly lived experience, expertise, knowledge and solutions are listened to and addressed through the core function of the Voice having the power to make representations to the federal parliament and government. The Voice proposal is a substantial and structural reform that provides for the Australian Constitution, Australia’s founding document, to legally recognise the First Peoples of this continent through establishing a Voice, whilst respecting democracy and the parliament. The Voice is the call to action from First Nations delegates to the thirteen Regional Dialogues that consulted over 1,200 First Nations peoples and the Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017 that delivered Australians the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  

Liberal democracies around the world with a colonial history have mechanisms which allow Indigenous peoples to participate in democratic processes and have input into decisions, laws and policies made by parliaments and governments that affect them as Indigenous peoples. Here in Australia, calls for representation of Aboriginal peoples and our views in the federal parliament is not a new concept. In fact, it stems back to William Cooper in 1937 when he petitioned King George V, the Australian Government and MPs with over 1800 signatures of Aboriginal peoples from across the country, demanding representation in Parliament by a federal MP who would be chosen by Aboriginal peoples to represent their views. That ask went unanswered and here we are almost nine decades later going to a national referendum to establish a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.   

The First Nations delegates to the Regional Dialogues wanted a pragmatic and practical solution to the powerlessness and voicelessness that they expressed experiencing in their communities. They wanted a reform that would lead to better outcomes for their young people and future generations to come. So, the Voice proposal itself is about addressing disadvantage in our communities. It’s about giving First Nations peoples some political power and self-determination over their own destinies.  

This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.

Story 11: Relieving an Unfair Financial Burden on a Refugee

2020: South Australia

Angelique* first came to The Accessible Justice Project (AJP) in November 2020 on the recommendation of her disability support worker. Angelique came from a refugee background and had some difficulty understanding English. She was unemployed and living with a disability. She was financially supporting her two children with her only income being a disability support pension.

Angelique was being charged excessive fees and treated unfairly under an exploitative agreement she had signed a decade earlier. She was ineligible for free legal help and was unable to afford a private lawyer.

Angelique felt vulnerable, and embarrassed that she had been misled into signing a document that she did not understand. At times, she was unable to purchase food for her two children as a consequence of the ongoing and excessive money being withdrawn from her account without her knowledge or understanding.

As a result, Angelique met with the lawyers at the AJP to discuss her matter, who listened to her story and provided advice as to her legal rights. The AJP were able to assist her by engaging in pre-action negotiation with the other party on her behalf and resolving her matter with a favourable financial settlement. Angelique was pleased with the outcome and was relieved that her financial stress was greatly reduced.

If it wasn’t for the provision of pro bono, or ‘low bono’, services, Angelique may have remained unaware of her legal rights and not otherwise received such an outcome, which removed the unfair financial burden and allowed her to focus more on her family instead. The AJP operates as a ‘low bono’, not-for-profit legal practice, which charges fees at approximately a quarter of the cost of a private lawyer.

The AJP offers assistance in a range of civil disputes for people who are ineligible for publicly funded legal assistance but are unable to afford the cost of a private lawyer, a group sometimes referred to as the ‘missing middle’. Since the AJP launched 18 months ago, it has seen over 200 clients who have experienced their own barriers to obtaining legal advice.

The AJP is proud to be able to contribute to the pro bono community in South Australia, and will continue to provide these services as a contribution to promote access to justice.

*Name changed to protect privacy

This story was submitted by The Accessible Justice Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide and LK Law.

Story 4: Refugee Legal Clinic Involves Hundreds of Pro Bono Lawyers

2016 – Ongoing: Victoria

Refugee Legal logo

Lander & Rogers has worked in partnership with Refugee Legal for over ten years to provide critical legal help, under Refugee Legal’s supervision, for people seeking asylum, refugees, and vulnerable migrants.

In 2015, the Federal Government began processing the cases of 31,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by boat in Australia between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 under the newly-introduced Fast Track Assessment process. This complex and onerous process with limited means of review required completion of forms containing numerous pages of detailed and technical questions, all in English. Concurrently, the funding of legal assistance for these people who had arrived by boat was cut.

Following the introduction of the Fast Track Assessment process, Lander & Rogers’ collaboration with Refugee Legal strengthened to address an unprecedented level of demand experienced by Refugee Legal, with more than 11,000 asylum seekers in Victoria requiring legal assistance.

This demand increased further when, early in 2017, the government imposed a 1 October 2017 deadline for lodging applications.

Refugee Legal worked with Lander & Rogers to strengthen its existing legal clinic model ─ pioneered by Refugee Legal more than 15 years earlier ─ to develop a new corporate clinic program. Rather than individual pro bono volunteers participating on weekends, the program was designed to recruit corporate law firms to provide regular volunteers to assist Refugee Legal to staff each clinic, matching crucial legal need with pro bono lawyer capacity.   

The clinic program exponentially increased both the number of lawyers volunteering for Refugee Legal and the number of people they assisted.  The model has transformed the delivery of quality legal services to asylum seekers and displaced people and is now adopted worldwide by NGOs and identified by the UNHCR as best practice.

In 2020-21, the Refugee Legal Clinic model provided more than 3,000 instances of legal assistance and included hundreds of lawyers from 18 pro bono law firms. The model is used to address other areas of high-volume legal need, including:

  • The Fast Track Clinic: Assisting people on temporary visas subject to the Fast Track Assessment process
  • Afghanistan Clinic: Assisting with the emergency evacuation of hundreds of people from Kabul in August 2021, and providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Afghanistan
  • Myanmar Clinic: Providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Myanmar with onshore protection applications
  • Family Violence Clinic: Providing legal assistance to women on temporary visas who have experienced family violence.

In 2016, the key people involved included David Burke and Jo Renkin from Lander & Rogers, and David Manne and Bianca De Toma from Refugee Legal.

In 2022, Ben Goulding heads up the Legal Clinic program and Harmonie Cribbes is the Volunteer Coordinator.

This story was submitted by Lander & Rogers.

Story 18: Low Bono Employment Law Assistance for the Missing Middle

2020-Present: New South Wales

Sparke Helmore Lawyers partnered with Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC) in the development of the Marrickville Low Bono Employment Service (Low Bono), which launched in early 2020.

Low Bono is an innovative service providing employment law assistance to the “missing middle”—a large section of the community who cannot afford professional legal advice but who also don’t meet Legal Aid or pro bono eligibility tests. The service addresses a large gap in access to justice for low-income earners with a model that provides affordable and significantly reduced fixed-fee representation to clients who, before its launch, would not have had access to community legal services. The fees collected from Low Bono are then directed into MLC’s 100% pro bono programs.

This service not only provides access to justice to a segment of society that is often forgotten by mainstream pro bono services, but it was also established as a new wave of vulnerable workers emerged during the pandemic. With increasing employment uncertainty throughout COVID-19 and related lockdowns, Low Bono has been crucial to ensuring the “missing middle” are aware of their rights and options for recourse.

Sparke Helmore Lawyers manage rotating secondments to Low Bono, where their lawyers take phone calls from clients categorised as the “missing middle”, then provide employment advice to them and advocate for clients at conciliations, under the supervision of MLC. The types of matters the secondees work on include general protections claims, unfair dismissals, Australian Human Rights Commission complaints, underpayment claims and stop bullying applications. Sparke Helmore Lawyers has provided 8 secondments since Low Bono’s launch, with the lawyers providing up to 30 hours of assistance a week.

Since the launch of Low Bono, MLC has represented almost 200 clients through this program and has recovered over $1.7 million for its clients. MLC has also recovered over $75,000 in fees from clients, which it will use to further its pro bono legal services for clients suffering significant disadvantage.

This story was submitted by Sparke Helmore Lawyers.

Story 19: Medical Expert Assists Indigenous Man in Custody 

2020: New South Wales

Two years ago, Allen & Overy’s James Clark contacted ExpertsDirect Pro Bono about an Indigenous Australian man who was assaulted by corrections officers in the cells of a local court. Police struck the man multiple times in the face and torso which left him with a fractured nose that caused breathing and sleeping difficulties, and swelling around the cheeks, ears, and eyes, amongst other injuries.

A physical assessment of the client’s facial injuries would become essential to establishing the extent of harm and therefore the basis of the client’s personal injury claim. Any assessment however would require the opinion of a medical specialist and therefore exceed the firm’s and client’s combined budget of $2,000.

ExpertsDirect’s pro bono arm provided an experienced oral-maxillofacial surgeon. The very next day, they sourced an ENT specialist on the advice of our oral-maxillofacial surgeon that an ENT doctor would be more appropriately qualified to assess the full extent of the client’s injuries. The ENT expert provided the client with a consultation only days later.

The expert’s report found that the incident with police had led to permanent damage to the client’s nose and air passage.

The Allen & Overy team led by Jason Gray and Edward Einfeld secured a settlement for the client who was very happy with the result. The settlement was achieved notwithstanding strict laws that are intended to prevent persons in custody in the jurisdiction in question from being able to obtain compensation for such assaults. According to Mr Clark, the provision of low-cost expert reports was vital in overcoming procedural hurdles and generating a real risk to the defendant, which helped to secure the positive outcome for the client.

Although the above story focuses on a specific matter ExpertsDirect undertook, it also reflects the experiences of more than a few of our pro bono clients who require financial and legal support in the same circumstances—in personal injuries claims against state institutions, often correctional or detention centres.

ExpertsDirect was founded on the understanding that the provision of effective and reliable expert witness evidence can significantly affect the outcome of a case. After witnessing the powerful impact of our service in our commercial practice, ExpertsDirect now extends its service to pro bono and community lawyers representing clients experiencing significant disadvantage.

This story was submitted by ExpertsDirect.

Story 2: Copyright in the Aboriginal Flag

2020-2022: National

Mr Harold Thomas signing the momentous agreement on 21 January 2022

There is no symbol of Aboriginal identity in this country more powerful than the Australian Aboriginal Flag. Corrs had the great privilege of acting for Mr Harold Thomas, its creator, on the deal to assign copyright in the Flag to the Commonwealth.

When Corrs started acting for Mr Thomas in 2020, it was clear the parties needed to resolve the issues underpinning the Free the Flag movement, in the unusual situation where the national flag’s copyright was privately held.

After a three-week Senate Inquiry, and over two years of detailed negotiations with the Commonwealth, led by Corrs, a deal was reached which:

  • respects and truly acknowledges the Indigenous communities at the heart of the Flag’s unparalleled significance;
  • allows the Flag to be used by all Australians; and
  • respects the value of this artistic work.

The deal also significantly contributes to the public interest: Mr Thomas is donating $2 million to establish a not-for-profit which will make periodic disbursements in the interest of Aboriginal Australians, the Commonwealth is directing all future Flagworld royalties to support the NAIDOC Committee’s ongoing work, and the Commonwealth is also funding a $100,000 annual scholarship to further Indigenous governance and leadership.

The $20.05 million transaction included a payment to Mr Thomas for the copyright assignment and buy-out of the licences.  As part of the transfer, Mr Thomas retains his moral rights in the Flag, including the right of integrity.

Mr Harold Thomas’ artwork gifted to the Commonwealth as part of the deal for display at Parliament House

Colin Golvan AM QC originally referred the matter to Corrs and, in total, over nine partners and 15 lawyers across Corrs’ IP, Tax, Projects, and Corporate teams were involved. The matter was led by Chrystal Dare and Kate Hay.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison received regular updates on the negotiations, and on 25 January 2022 announced the deal, which is an event of great historical significance.

Mr Thomas, could not be happier with the result. He says, ‘[t]he Flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people’s time on it. It carries the message that there is a uniting symbol and voice for all Indigenous people, and I hope that this arrangement allows the Aboriginal Flag to breathe a new life in itself.’

This story was submitted by Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Story 12: Bullying & Harassment – Representing Quaden and Yarraka Bayles

2020-2021: Queensland

Quaden Bayles with the Indigenous All-Stars

The joint pro bono representation of Quaden and Yarraka Bayles by law firm K&L Gates and public relations and strategic communications firm Sefiani (with lead counsel National Justice Project) was an exemplar to both industries of the synergistic excellence to be achieved and leveraged on clients’ behalf, particularly in areas lacking strong regulation and enforcement.

Quaden is a young Indigenous Australian who suffers from a rare case of dwarfism and other health issues. At 9, Quaden’s story went viral and global following the release of a video filmed by his mother and anti-bullying advocate, Yarraka, of a distressed Quaden following extensive bullying and harassment. Support came from all angles, including from the National Rugby League, who invited Quaden to lead out the Indigenous All-Stars team in the annual All-Stars Game. A GoFundMe page was started by US comedian Brad Williams raising over $460,000 USD in funds to support Quaden. However, this outpouring of support also led to a deluge of threatening, racist and/or defamatory photos, comments and accounts on various social media platforms endeavouring to undermine the family’s intent.

Client Quaden Bayles

K&L Gates proceeded with in-app reporting of the threatening, racist and defamatory content on social media platforms while engaging with direct contacts in safety, legal and public policy roles, resulting in the:

  • removal of over 50 fake or imposter accounts from Instagram alone;
  • establishment of protocols with Facebook and Instagram to prevent recidivism;
  • removal of 106 YouTube videos on basis of copyright infringement and community guidelines; and
  • permanent suspension of nine Twitter accounts and removal of ten individual Tweet URLs.

The engagement of K&L Gates with the social media platforms was greatly assisted by the work of Sefiani and the resulting media attention to the issue.  Sefiani advised the family to cease social media engagement and secured the production of the wonderful half-hour documentary “About a Boy” on the ABC’s Australian Story to get the true story told about Quaden and further prevent recidivism.

K&L Gates also advised the family on the funds raised via GoFundMe, a significant portion of which was donated to six charities. K&L Gates advised on the different trust structures to receive the funds in a tax efficient manner, prepared the trust deed and arranged for it to be stamped, and coordinated the disbursement of the funds from the US to the family and the Australian based charities.

Eric Boone (K&L Gates) & Robyn Sefiani (Sefiani) at Mumbrella Awards

This story was submitted by K&L Gates.

Story 17: Representing Denise from Homelessness to a Home

2021: South Australia

Denise* was staying in emergency accommodation when she was referred to Homeless Legal. She had been living in a shared rental property but was forced to leave suddenly when threats were made against her by the other tenants. They told her they would only give her 28 days to collect her possessions – but this was an unmanageable timeframe for Denise who didn’t have the money to pay for a removalist and storage unit.

Our pro bono lawyers wrote to the other tenants, seeking more time and reminding them that they had obligations in relation to disposing of other people’s property.

Due to the tension between the parties, the lawyers remained involved and helped to organise a mutually convenient collection time. With Denise’s permission, the lawyers also collaborated with her support workers who found her a home to move into and supported her to arrange an affordable removalist.

The collection was completed without incident and Denise told us how pleased she was to be able to move on from this difficult time.

“I feel happy & content after just a few weeks in my own home & I have realised this is the result of no longer being homeless & the powerful experience of remembering my worth.

“I really appreciate everything you have done for me on this matter & the kindness & understanding you have shown me during this difficult time. I feel incredibly lucky as to how all this has panned out & all the help I have received. I can’t express enough just what a difference to the quality of my everyday life & living your assistance & guidance has made.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

This story was submitted by Homeless Legal.

Story 8: Helping Maggie to Avoid Eviction

2017: Victoria

Since 2014, Justice Connect has delivered the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project in partnership with pro bono member law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills. The project keeps women and children safely housed through integrated legal representation and social work supports, breaking the links between homelessness, family violence, and financial insecurity.

The Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project exemplifies Justice Connect’s purpose to increase access to legal support and progress social justice, and is designed to apply the organisation’s theory of change. Through the delivery of high-impact holistic services that are co-designed with impacted communities, people can access free support to navigate their legal problems.

Since the launch of the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project, Herbert Smith Freehills has kindly delivered over 28,000 hours of pro bono legal help. This generous collaboration has enabled Justice Connect to provide wrap-around legal and social work assistance to 977 women and children facing homelessness. 83 per cent of the women helped had experienced family violence.

One of these women is Maggie, a proud Torres Strait Islander woman and single mother. Maggie and her daughter fled family violence in Queensland, arriving in Victoria with just enough money for a taxi to a hostel. Despite moving into transitional housing, the family violence continued, forcing them back into homelessness three times.

When Maggie’s ex-husband failed to pay court-ordered child support, Maggie couldn’t pay her rent on time. She came to Justice Connect for help when her rental provider started eviction proceedings.

Through Justice Connect, pro bono lawyers represented Maggie at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, obtaining more time for her to find new housing. Justice Connect’s social workers then secured funding to pay off the rent arrears and cover moving costs. When Maggie faced eviction again, the pro bono lawyers represented her and avoided her eviction into homelessness.

Eventually, the social worker helped Maggie to secure a new community housing property. Maggie was thrilled to be offered a place where she and her daughter could feel at peace. “It’s like Justice Connect came in with big open wings. You feel like you’re down and then someone comes in and scoops you up to protect you,” reflected Maggie.

Shortly after getting a roof over her head, Maggie graduated from university and now works supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members who are navigating the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. To hear about her experience with Justice Connect in her own words, watch Maggie’s Story here.

Justice Connect’s Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project has directly prevented evictions into homelessness for 522 women and children, which based on Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute findings equates to $15.4M in cost savings to government.

This story was submitted by Justice Connect.

Story 9: Queensland Law Students Fight for Abortion Law Reform

2014-2021: Queensland

Together For Choice protest, 2018

Through partnerships with the not-for-profit sector, the UQ Pro Bono Centre (PBC) inspires law students to graduate with a lifelong commitment to pro bono legal service. With 500 law students on our roster, the UQ PBC provides assistance through voluntary student placements, projects, and law reform activities. The impact of this work is immense. It can be lifechanging for the students; it bolsters the capacity of the community sector and delivers tangible results for clients and the wider community.

This impact was clear throughout the long and arduous fight for reform to abortion laws in Australia. When a young couple were charged in 2009 for importing drugs and allegedly procuring an abortion, the archaic laws that criminalised abortion were in the spotlight. Women across the country rallied in support of the young couple and advocated for law reform.

Through the UQ PBC, law students devoted many hours to this important campaign.

Between 2014 – 2021, UQ law students completed nine research and law reform papers for organisations advocating for abortion law reform. These included research reports for Children By Choice on reproductive health and domestic violence, abortion law reform, legal action for refusal of termination, reproductive coercion, Gillick competency and termination of pregnancy, and reproductive choice and human rights. Daile Kelleher, CEO of Children by Choice has noted ‘we have engaged with the UQ Pro Bono Centre students over many years to assist with important advocacy work and assistance with legislation that helps to advance the reproductive autonomy of Queensland women and pregnant people and increase access to compassionate abortion.’

Report for Safe Access Zones in Australia

Voluntary work for Marie Stopes Australia has included research and advocacy reports on Safe Access Zones and Nurse-led Services for Medical Termination. After the WA parliament passed safe access zone legislation in 2021, Bonnie Corbin, Head of Policy at Marie Stopes wrote to thank the students for their safe access zones paper noting ‘In the WA Parliamentary debate this week advisors were still referring to the [paper]. The evidence was powerful. There is nothing I love more than an advocacy document that is so useful it makes itself redundant! Gratitude from Marie Stopes Australia who can now provide access to healthcare free from harassment.’

Students voluntarily involved in these projects participated in an historic and celebrated law reform campaign that has benefited women across Australia. The UQ PBC wishes to acknowledge their hard work and dedication.

This story was submitted by the UQ Pro Bono Centre.

Story 5: Allison Baden-Clay – Responding to Domestic & Family Violence

2012 – 2022: Queensland

Allison Baden-Clay

Allison Baden-Clay accomplished many things in life. A university graduate who spoke six languages, she was warm, talented and intelligent. Her passion was ballet, and she lit up the stage when she danced. A high achiever, she was crowned Miss Brisbane in 1993.

She married Gerard Baden-Clay and together they had three daughters. Despite outward appearances, Gerard was not the charming husband he presented to the world. Instead, he was a controlling narcissist who began isolating Allison once she had dedicated her life to their family and lost her career. A man who tormented her about her appearance, told her she was worthless, was unfaithful to her and used their savings to prop up his failing business.

On 19 April 2012, Allison was murdered by her husband in what would become one of the most well-known domestic and family violence cases in Australia.

From 2012 until the end of the long path of litigation in March 2017, HopgoodGanim Lawyers provided significant pro bono assistance to Allison’s family to secure the future of Allison’s three girls. Our pro bono assistance included ensuring that Allison’s children (not Gerard) would benefit from her estate.

After the litigation, HopgoodGanim Lawyers have continued to work pro bono with Allison’s family. We worked with the family to set up and obtain DGR status for the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation. The Foundation aims to educate the community about family and domestic violence and empower them to aid in prevention.

Each July, the Foundation launches their Strive To Be Kind campaign which aims to raise awareness about family and domestic violence and encourage people to practise kindness in their daily lives. Allison’s family is passionate about helping others in similar situations to Allison and encourages everyone to educate themselves on the signs of domestic and family violence. Once we understand the signs, we can equip ourselves with the correct skills to intervene effectively.

The Foundation at a Strive To Be Kind Launch (2018)

Reducing domestic and family violence is one of HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ three pro bono priority areas. We have a long history of working with victim/survivors of domestic and family violence and are focused on prevention, empowerment, increased access to justice and perpetrator accountability.

This story was submitted by HopgoodGanim Lawyers.

Story 3: Representing Mary – Lawyer Steps Up Voluntarily in Court

2010: New South Wales

Cessnock Court House

Years ago, I was at Court running a defended criminal hearing for a client. The matter that I was involved in was the only matter remaining at Court apart from a person in custody, Mary (not her real name), who had been arrested that day and was yet to go before the Magistrate. As the duty solicitor had already departed from Court, I was asked if I would be able to assist Mary.

When I went and spoke with Mary at the police station, Mary’s manner of speech and responses to my questions made me think that perhaps she had an intellectual disability. I reviewed Mary’s criminal record and custody management record before asking Mary if she had an intellectual disability, to which Mary responded no.

I asked Mary some more questions and learnt that Mary received the Disability Support Pension (DSP) from Centrelink, that Mary had been in special classes at school and that she still lived at home with her mum as Mary was unable to live alone.

I was at a loss when speaking with Mary to think that she had had so many interactions with the criminal justice system and that no one had noticed that Mary may have been struggling with an intellectual disability.

I obtained further instructions from Mary and was instructed to seek an adjournment to allow for the making of an application for bail and for mental health care as an alternative to the criminal justice system (Section 32 application). Thankfully Mary was granted bail and the matter was adjourned.

I continued to represent Mary even though she could not afford to pay any legal fees and her application to Legal Aid was refused. I could simply not fathom letting her go back to Court without legal representation. I was able to have Mary assessed by a psychologist without cost and have a suitable report prepared to support a Section 32 application. I also made a number of referrals to local support services who could assist Mary on an ongoing basis. When the matter returned to Court the Section 32 application was successful.

Mary and her mum were incredibly grateful at the time and Mary will still ring me occasionally to let me know how she is going. Mary has not been back to Court since and continues to receive support from community organisations.

This story was submitted by Kim Richardson, Solicitor.

Story 10: Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Project 

2009: New South Wales

SACP promotional posters

The SACP Project was a collaborative effort between Clayton Utz, Blake Dawson (now Ashurst) and Freehills (now HSF), the Women’s Legal Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the NSW Bar Association.

In 2009, the protection of sexual assault communications privilege was an area where victims’ rights were not being appropriately protected. Since 2003, the NSW Criminal Procedure Act had paid lip service to protect victims of sexual assault against their counselling records being obtained under subpoena by defendants in sexual assault trials. In practice, however, the privilege was not used. The reason was that most victims had no capacity to appear before the court and argue for the privilege to apply, as Legal Aid was not available to assist victims at criminal trials, and the DPP did not act for victims.

The SACP Project provided a pathway for victims of sexual assault to be referred to free legal representation to enforce their SACP in sexual assault criminal prosecutions before the Downing Local and District Courts. Despite initial opposition, it was eventually welcomed by the judiciary. In one matter, the presiding judge said: “it is necessary to record, I think, the fact that until very recently nobody appears to have paid any regard to the legislation which provides detailed requirements in respect of protected confidences”.

The SACP issue was raised consistently before the Courts for 12 months and hard data was collected on the huge difference which legal representation made for victims’ rights. During this time, almost 100 victims of sexual assault were represented and SACP was recognised by the Courts in 91% of the matters conducted.

Due to this unique collaboration, the NSW Parliament ultimately undertook legislative reform of the privilege as recommended by the SACP Project’s pro bono firms. A permanent state-wide SACP Unit was also recommended and established within Legal Aid NSW.

In many ways, this was an exemplary pro bono project, with an identified legal access problem tackled collaboratively, reform achieved through legislation, and with the State taking ongoing responsibility for legal representation. The SACP Project was awarded the Pro Bono Partnership Award at the Law and Justice Foundation’s 2011 Justice Awards.

This story was submitted by Clayton Utz.

Story 1: Empowering our Elderly

2021: New South Wales

George on the day of release from the locked dementia unit

In late 2020, Justice Connect sought the assistance of Makinson d’Apice (Makdap) for a client – George – who was experiencing elder abuse. George had suddenly disappeared from his usual social outings and was located by police in a locked dementia ward. This made no sense to those who knew George to be an independent, capable member of the community.

Some years earlier, George made a will naming his niece – Barbara – as a beneficiary. Barbara was also appointed as George’s Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) and Enduring Guardian (EG), should George lose capacity to make decisions.

George and Barbara’s relationship subsequently deteriorated. At some point, Barbara organised and accompanied George to a series of doctor’s appointments and told him not to speak. Barbara told the doctors that George had developed dementia, which wasn’t the case.

George suspected that Barbara had ulterior motives such as trying to bring the EPOA and EG into effect and preventing George from removing Barbara from his will.

Once Barbara was in possession of medical reports to support her claim, she drove George to a locked dementia unit against his will.

Barbara took George’s phone book with his friends’ contact details and instructed staff that George wasn’t to have any visitors.

George’s friend, Sasha, located George with the assistance of police. She contacted the NSW Ageing & Disability Commission and Seniors Rights Service who referred the matter to Justice Connect.

Makdap’s involvement

George contested Barbara’s guardianship at three New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) hearings. At the first hearing, George was unrepresented and without his hearing aids. He wasn’t successful.

Erin Dawson, a Senior Associate at Makdap, represented George in the two subsequent NCAT hearings. She organised numerous independent medical reports from geriatricians. George, with the support of Erin and Sasha, was able to tell the truth of how he had been wrongfully locked in a dementia ward, deprived of his freedom and his wishes ignored.

NCAT removed Barbara as George’s guardian and determined that George has full capacity to make decisions about all aspects of his life.

Erin Dawson
Senior Associate

George was released from the locked dementia unit in late 2021 and now lives in an open aged care facility which is close to his friends and community. George is free to come and go as he pleases – he can go for walks and meet with his friends and manage his affairs as he sees fit.

It was a privilege to represent George so that he can live out the remainder of his life with choice, freedom and dignity.

This story was submitted by Makinson d’Apice.

Story 20: Helping to Eradicate Modern Slavery

2020-2022: National and International

William Ashurst
Artist: @natasha_kavanagh_art

With more than 40 million people caught in forms of modern slavery, Ashurst recognised the role it could play, as a global law firm and member of the business community, in helping to eradicate all forms of modern slavery. The firm’s founding partner, William Ashurst, and his daughters worked to eliminate slavery, and Ashurst continues these efforts today, utilising its resources to take action against the present-day iteration of this old social justice issue.

Ashurst formulated its Modern Slavery Action Plan in commemoration of Ashurst’s 200th anniversary, in continuance of founder William Ashurst and his daughters’ anti-slavery work. Launched in October 2020, this Plan sets out specific objectives including:

  • Understand our role in addressing modern slavery
  • Collaborate and work in partnership with not-for-profits leading efforts in the anti-slavery movement to understand their work and achieve maximum impact
  • Understand where we can support survivors of slavery
  • Ensure our people engage with anti-slavery efforts

Pro bono support is one aspect of the above, and since the Plan’s launch, Ashurst has run two key pro bono projects in Australia:

Secondment Program

Four lawyers have already been seconded to modern slavery organisations, including Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA). Their assistance has included contributing to a collaborative project to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and assisting front-line lawyers by working directly with victim/survivors of modern slavery.

Jennifer Burn, Founding Director of ASA noted “we are enormously grateful for the way that Ashurst has worked with us by bringing substantial research expertise to strengthen the scope and depth of the Anti-Slavery Australia research program.”

Law Reform Project

Ashurst lawyers have prepared research and gap analysis regarding coercive control laws in NSW and the Commonwealth; research papers on the kafala system (and other similar migrant labour monitoring systems); and scoping a project to map stock exchanges’ compliance obligations regarding human rights and modern slavery.

This story was submitted by Ashurst.