As Queensland Law Society celebrates 150 years of a law society in Queensland, it presents the opportunity to reflect on significant contributions made to supporting and advancing First Nations peoples in the legal profession.
QLS recognised the significant gap faced by First Nations peoples within the legal profession and broader community with goals to promote, advocate and provide opportunities to work towards closing the gap. The Closing the Gap strategy aims to reduce the disadvantage faced by First Nations peoples and work with them to design and develop initiatives and policies for better outcomes.
In 2016, as part of the QLS commitment to support closing the gap, it began its cultural journey with the establishment of its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group (RAPWG) to prepare, implement and monitor the Society’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
The Society launched the 2017-2019 ‘Innovate’ RAP and over two years rolled out initiatives and explored opportunities to support First Nations solicitors, businesses and communities. While continuing the journey and commitment to raising awareness, education and celebrating cultural events, QLS considered the best machinery to drive and effect positive change in the legal profession and broader community.
In 2020, the Society delivered the five-year Cultural Outreach Strategy 2020-25 (COS), which sets out QLS’s vision and key goals tailored to supporting and advancing First Nations solicitors and community. The COS is supported annually by the First Nations Plan, which is overseen by QLS internal and external committees to ensure consultation on and implementation of the initiatives.
We have seen more and more acknowledgment and connection to Country within QLS and the broader legal profession, with legal stakeholders and allies keen to be involved and learn and understand more about Country protocols. We have seen a yearning for cultural education and are very proud of the release of the Cultural Competency Course, which was written by 2022 QLS Cultural Consultant Paul Paulson.
Commemorating 20 years of Lawlink
In 2003, the Lawlink program was launched as one of the initiatives for First Nations students by past QLS President Tom Sullivan. The aims of the program were to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to gain an insight into the work solicitors perform, with a focus on second-year law students. The program has since evolved to focus on First Nations high-school students and break down barriers earlier, plus build safe spaces for mob to learn about studying law.
In 2020, Lawlink held the Lawlink Art Competition, which resulted in two winners, Bethany and Kiri, who contributed astonishing First Nations artwork that told stories of their journey as Lawlink students and experience in the legal profession. The Society donated $500 to Bethany and Kiri’s selected charities.
Over the past two decades, Lawlink has seen significant increases in First Nations solicitors and students studying law. In continuing the QLS journey to increase First Nations representation within the legal profession, the Society will commemorate 20 years with events throughout the year.
To learn more about Lawlink, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Committees and advocacy
The Society has one internal and two external committees – the Cultural Champions and Stakeholders Committee (CCS), First Nations Consulting Committee (FNCC) and the First Nations Legal Policy Committee (FNLP). The First Nations committees are essential for cultural consultation and providing direction to oversee the implementation of initiatives and continuing advocacy.
Uncle Terry Stedman
Uncle Terry Stedman, a proud descendant of the Kamilaroi peoples, has been a fierce advocate for advancing First Nations peoples and addressing ongoing issues faced in the community. Uncle Terry is Chair of the FNCC, a member of the FNLP Committee and a founding inaugural member of our Reconciliation Action Program (RAP).
“In some ways the song From Little Things Big Things Grow reflects a lot of things in my life – being born of Kamilaroi heritage and growing up as a fringe dweller in Inala then transitioning to where I am now, a solicitor,” Uncle Terry said.
“I like to bring my life-learnt lessons to the table when talking about those things that affect our mob. I could never have ever thought in my wildest of dreams that I would ever go to university. I could never have imagined that I and a handful of First Nation Lawyers and academics would establish ILAQ, the Indigenous Lawyers Association for Queensland.
“I never thought I would be in a conference with Attorneys-General and QCs (now KCs) discussing the age of criminal responsibility. I never dreamed that I would be having a cuppa with Former Chief Justice of the High Court Sir Gerrard and Lady Brennan.
“My life’s ambition and efforts were only made possible by those precious things instilled in me by my father, in particular him constantly reminding me that you can be anything you want in life if you set your mind to it. My ability to sustain my momentum and focus has been assisted greatly by the support for the FNCC and the FNLP of the QLS.
“Every day brings with it new challenges, heartaches and successes. The real challenge is turning the heartache into a success.”
Louise Pennisi, the Honourable Anthe Philippides (a Justice of the Court of Appeal when this photo was taken in 2017), and QLS General Manager – Advocacy, Guidance and Governance Matt Dunn at the launch of the RAP.
Uncle Terry’s involvement has been central to shaping QLS First Nations initiatives and continues to be vital for consultation and reconciliation within the Society and the broader legal profession.
Further, in acknowledging the disproportionate incarceration rates, the QLS legal policy team is committed to providing feedback and submissions for law reform and addressing ongoing discrepancies within the justice system that affect First Nations Peoples. The policy team has made submissions on issues affecting First Nations communities including, raising the age of criminal responsibility, public intoxication, youth justice and cultural heritage protection reforms.
The Society is committed to reconciliation and promoting cultural education and safety within the legal profession. This journey will continue to build a strong foundation for current and future generations.
Mabo Day falls on 3 June – learn more.
Heather Ferris is the First Nations Legal Coordinator at Queensland Law Society.