13 November 2019
Lots to get to this week but at the outset I want to ask everyone to spare a thought for our fellow Australians, staring down the face of horrific bushfires with no sign of rain on the horizon. Brave firefighters are enduring hellish conditions and absolutely embodying the Australian spirit to which we all aspire.
Our land is famously one of drought and flooding rains, but we could use a little of the latter right now. The bushfires are so powerful that media are reporting Brisbane’s pollution levels are currently higher than those of Beijing. Around the country, Sydney, Perth and Cairns are also facing severe or emergency-level threats.
Our hearts go out to those who have lost everything and to the families who have lost loved ones. It seems difficult to accept that our modern and well-resourced country can suffer such disasters, but it simply goes to show that our technological might can only stave off nature, not control it. Above all, please stay safe! If your practice is affected, there are resources available to help you recover.
I have recently returned from LawAsia, a fascinating and enriching experience although not without some edginess as well. Hong Kong was the venue and ongoing riots by pro-democracy locals meant that Hong Kong was not its usual friendly and buzzing self.
It can throw some perspective on our own efforts to ensure good law and good government. We do not face the same risks as those standing up for the rule of law in Hong Kong. We might have our moments, but at least tear gas isn’t in regular use and our government – elected by us – is our own and not controlled by a powerful neighbour.
That said, we cannot afford complacency. It is easy in our comfortable lives to miss dangerous events and subtle reductions in our freedom. For example, many pieces of legislation passed by our current state government are deserving of the label ‘draconian’, involving as they do reversal of onus sections and the removal of the right to silence. Those bills passed with little comment from our media despite QLS raising them directly in the press. We also see the federal government trying to restrict what the media can report or access, which (even if the intentions are good) is dangerous territory.
This happens when the extremists dominate the debate, as they do now (from both the right and the left). It is the role of lawyers to drive the argument, through logical submissions and adroit advocacy, back to the centre. My term is almost over and so I will have to hand the ball on to the new council, who will need to build on the momentum I have built this year and keep the sensible QLS voice of reason in the ear of the government and the public.
The new council come on board at a time of great unrest and when public debate has become more shrill (witness the calls for murder and violence by activists on a recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A programme). It will not be a period of quiet, laid back work for this council. Their voices will need to be loud and clear, meeting ignorance with illumination, chaos with reason. Anyone looking for a cushy time of speechifying and cocktail functions is in the wrong job!
There is one function coming up that, while its subject matter is tragic, is a fine example of the difference lawyers can make. The Legal Profession Breakfast on 14 November raises money for the Women’s Legal Service, a wonderful organisation that does great good in supporting women and children who are struggling against domestic violence. By attending, we show what we can do when we work together and how powerful the profession is when it is united. Sure, it is nowhere near what our firefighters do, but we all serve how we can, every little bit helps.
So as we head off to our Christmas parties and client functions, raise a glass or two to our brave firefighters, and support them and the victims of these tragedies however you can. Working together for the greater good is after all, what lawyers – what Aussies – do.
Bill Potts, QLS President
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