National Policy Lawyers and Public Relations Forum 2019
Thursday 28 February, Queensland Law Society
Thank you for joining us at Law Society House – it’s a wonderful day when we can pull together some of the best advocates around the country into one place.
Having so many lawyers in a room should lead to some interesting discussion throughout the day, I’m sure.
As lawyers, we are the guardians of the rule of law.
And as representatives of membership bodies across the nation, we are the voice for the people and of the people.
Our public relations professionals among us today are those who help us to project that voice to ensure maximum impact and public education in the community.
The rule of law and the obligations of lawyers to it, is a paramount consideration in the work we do. As lawyers, we are the defenders of fundamental legislative principles, supporters of the administration of justice, advocates for the preservation of the separation of powers, and guardians of the rights and liberties of citizens.
We play an integral role in lobbying our elected officials to preserve the fundamental tenets of our democracy.
This conference will give us the opportunity to collaborate and draw on our collective experience to refine our strategies in carrying out our important work.
Law Councils and Law Societies play an incredibly important role in our profession.
We represent our members’ interests, we action professional discipline, we educate our members and the public, we support our members and guide them along their way.
All of us see this as having intrinsic value.
We have the role of speaking truth to those in power. So when you’re sitting in your rooms writing policy, it is not something that is been done in a vacuum.
Certainly the mish-mash of politics and the annual law and order elections we experience. We are standing there speaking those fundamental principles of the rule of law, the rights of citizens.
By reminding the political masters of the immutable principles lawyers hold dear.
Principles we stand firm on such as no retrospectivity in legislation. No reverse onus of proof.
Principles that we see as important.
We stand for clarity and certainty of the law.
When we go to advocate on behalf of these principles, we often cop flack because we are not often standing for what the public think is right.
There is an old saying that you may be aware of that is that if you saw sausages or laws being made, you wouldn’t eat them or obey them.
Just as war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men – or generals according to Georges Clemenceau – law is too important to be left to politicians alone.
We are apolitical and we talk to government about what is good, evidence-based policy.
It is important that in doing these things that you have the power of your own voice.
At QLS, we have simplified our core mission to three key principles.
We are for good law. Good lawyers. Public good.
We advocate for the best possible legislation for Queenslanders, by engaging with the government and opposition of the day and utilising our subject-matter experts in each of our 25 policy committees.
What is good law may change from time to time. It is a noble profession that we operate in.
We speak at Public Hearings and provide our views on new and amended legislation.
Unfortunately, good law often gets lost in the mish-mash of political horse trading. And it is advocates such as us, who ensure the horse gets back on track.
The second element of QLS is good lawyers. Of course, we hope that we are good lawyers and our members are good lawyers.
We all know what our obligations are and ethical underpinning. This is seen by our commitment to pro bono work and speaking truth to power. We provide a check and balance to policy makers.
We applaud the great work our lawyers carry out each and every day – whether that be through their pro bono efforts, those they mentor, their steps towards equity and diversity practices or their contributions to the Society and their wider communities.
Which brings me to the third element – and perhaps the most important – the public good.
It underpins everything that we do as we ensure that each move we make is of benefit to the wider community and those that we serve.
I am often asked – who appointed you? What makes your opinion better than mine? And I suppose when I hear that, I think fair enough but I remember the words of another guy – Albert Einstein who said ‘those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.’
And everybody in this room has the privilege to know. Whether it’s through the benefit of an education, your incredible hard work or drive or inspiration or skill, you have the ability to know. And your job is having the duty to act.
In the face of bad law and facing a community who doesn’t know, doesn’t care or gets their information from the media.
We stand firm for complex, nuanced, decent law which we think is for the benefit of the community.
Our work is noble, necessary and a hallmark of a free, independent and liberal democracy.
I will leave you with a quote from the former President of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak:
“Sometimes, a democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back. Nonetheless, it has the upper hand. Preserving the rule of law and recognition of individual liberties constitute an important in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit.''
May we continue to fight the good fight, even when one hand is tied behind us.