Historic first meeting of the ALRC’s Indigenous Advisory Committee

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has established an Indigenous Advisory Committee to assist in building stronger relationships with Indigenous peoples, and to ensure that the concerns and perspectives of Indigenous communities are more effectively integrated into the federal law reform process.

Speaking at the historic first meeting on 19 August, ALRC President Professor David Weisbrot stated “In establishing an Indigenous Advisory Committee, the ALRC’s intention is to ensure that Indigenous people are effectively engaged in our work, so that Australia’s laws have proper regard to Indigenous interests and protect and promote Indigenous culture.”

“The ALRC acknowledges that the Australian legal system historically has failed to deliver better legal, social and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples. As the premier national law reform body, the ALRC has the opportunity—and indeed the obligation—to contribute to greater social justice, equity and inclusion in Australia. Securing the advice and the experience of the outstanding members of the Indigenous Advisory Committee is a critical first step towards realising these important ambitions.”

The Foundation Members of the ALRC’s Indigenous Advisory Committee are:

  • Ms Neva Collings, Solicitor, Environmental Defender’s Office;
  • Mr Lincoln Crowley, Barrister, New South Wales Indigenous Barristers Strategy Working Party;
  • Mr Darryl French, Program Manager Aboriginal Studies, Tranby Aboriginal College;
  • Ms Terri Janke, principal solicitor of Terri Janke & Associates;
  • Mr Warren Mundine, Chief Executive Officer, New South Wales Native Titles Services;
  • Mr Steven Ross, Coordinator, Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations; and
  • Mr Maurice Shipp, Manager, Indigenous Children’s Strategic Policy, ACT Government.

Mr Maurice Shipp stated “I congratulate the ALRC on their initiative toward the creation and facilitation of dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This mechanism will enhance collaboration, providing a platform to increase engagement with the Indigenous community around the work of the ALRC. It will also enhance input into current and new Inquiries especially those relating to Indigenous communities. I strongly believe that dialogue such as this is vital, adding a renewed dimension to the work that is currently undertaken within the Australian legal system. ”

The establishment of an Indigenous Advisory Committee is one of several means included the ALRC’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) by which the ALRC is seeking to strengthen relationships with Indigenous people in all aspects of the ALRC’s work.  This will include:

  • suggesting future references that address the particular needs, concerns and priorities of Indigenous peoples;
  • facilitating greater direct participation of Indigenous people in the work of the ALRC as staff members and as student interns;
  • consulting more widely and effectively with Indigenous people and communities; and
  • ensuring that the ALRC’s reports and recommendations to the Australian Government fully take into account Indigenous perspectives.  

Ms Neva Collings stated “I am honoured to be part of the ALRC inaugural Aboriginal Advisory Committee which is a plank of its Reconciliation Action Plan. These are such important initiatives to inform and guide the work of the ALRC, and sets an important precedent for other agencies to follow.”

The ALRC is an independent, federal statutory body charged with promoting informed government decision making about the development, reform and harmonisation of Australian laws and related processes, through its research, analysis, reports and community consultation and education.

The ALRC has worked in areas of particular importance to Indigenous peoples throughout its history—perhaps most famously in its inquiry into the Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Law—which commenced in 1977, and after a massive research and consultation exercise culminated in the publication of the landmark report Recognition of Aboriginal Customary Laws (ALRC 31, 1986).

Although universally regarded as a triumph of scholarship, consultation and public policymaking—and becoming a ‘standard reference’ for any consideration of the law and reform in this area, the bulk of the recommendations have never formally been implemented. Nevertheless, the report has proved to be an important and heavily utilised resource for individuals, communities, courts, scholars and governments interested in these issues in Australia and overseas, and has been influential in stimulating public debate and changing social attitudes in relation to the legal rights and interests of Indigenous Australians. 

The ALRC also has been keen to ensure that Indigenous perspectives, interests and concerns are incorporated into every relevant inquiry. For example, although it may not be obvious from the titles of the projects, the ALRC has considered issues of importance to Indigenous peoples over the last decade or so in the course of its work on: the legal rights of children; uniform evidence laws; sentencing; the protection of human genetic information; Australian privacy law and practice; Royal Commissions of inquiry; and federal secrecy laws.