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.