Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

LawHelp Launch

Location: Canberra

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Can I first of all thank Aunty Agnes very, very much for your very warm and generous welcome to country. I also want to acknowledge you and any other elders who may be with us today and to particularly take this opportunity to acknowledge and pay my sincere respects to elders past. To my colleague, the Attorney General thanks very much, Rob, for being here.

It’s terrific that the Attorney General and I could both join together today in launching what I have to say I think is a great idea. This is a great idea. So those of you who thought it up, congratulations. And Anthony; to all of your staff and the Attorney’s staff who were involved in getting us to this point, I really do agree with you that this is going to make a very significant difference to a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations right around Australia. So my very sincere congratulations. We are very, very pleased to be able to join together to launch this project today.

I think Anthony set out some of the examples of how this is actually going to work. I think that the contract negotiations; the employment contracts, the other sorts of contracts that corporations need to get on top of and make sure are working in the interests of their body. Yes, it’s contracts, but there’s also I think some of the other areas where you might need good legal advice. It might be in the tax area, you might need some good tax advice, some property legal advice; other matters that go to the effective operation of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations.

I think that the points that Anthony made are so crucial. We want these organisations to be even stronger than they are and the generosity that so many private firms are showing by being willing to be part of this new program is very, very important to the ongoing strength of Indigenous corporations.

Although Anthony has already mentioned a number of the private sector partners and the Australian Government Solicitor, I do want to say a very big thank you to those corporations and to highlight the strength of the large corporations contributing to this new program. So, to the Australian Government Solicitor, and Rob will have a bit more to say about that, but I’d also like to mention Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Minter Ellison, Williams Love and Nicol, and the Public Interest Law Clearing House; these very large, very prestigious law firms are making a very significant contribution and I do want to say on behalf of the Government, how much we appreciate what you are doing.

This pro-bono work is very important to the organisations who you will assist and we know that you will give the highest-possible professional advice to the corporations that you support.

We do also want to particularly acknowledge Mr Peter Tree, who can’t be with us today, as one of the founding providers of Lawhelp. So, Anthony if you could pass on our thanks to him.

You mentioned the Lawhelp assessment panel and I too, on behalf of the Government, would like to thank Benjamin Murray, Bronwyn Neroni and David Tennant.

I would also like to thank you Anthony and your staff for the terrific work that you’ve done to make today possible to form the sorts of relationships that we now see formed with these very important private sector partners who are going to provide the support that we need.

We know that if we’re going to see long-term change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they need to be strong and need to get the best advice possible and today’s announcement will certainly help that.

There are around 2,200 registered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations so a lot of work to be done, we know how critical it is that these corporations are out in all sorts of different parts of Australia; in our cities and towns, in the regions, but also of course right out in some of the most remote parts of Australia.

Some of them might be running community stores, some of them might be running art centres, health services, a range of language, cultural, heritage services, businesses, managing Native Title interests, so a wide range of different types of organisations doing different work that really require a lot of advice. Many of them in very, very remote and hard to reach places across the country. So that will be a challenge to those corporations who are willing to provide the advice and support that these corporations need.

Once again, getting out there in some of these very difficult places will be very, very important. As Anthony said, good governance of course is important no matter who you are – whether you’re an organisation registered with ASIC, or an organisation registered with ORIC. Which ever you’re registered with, we want to make sure that there’s strong, good governance.

We know how critical that is for the ongoing viability of Indigenous corporations, but also the ongoing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people to get jobs, create their own wealth and build strong communities.

So, at the heart of what we’re doing to close the gap is this whole issue of strong governance. Strong control over the corporations that employ local people, deliver services to local people. So thank you very, very much to the private sector companies who have been prepared to put their hands up and offer your assistance in this very, very practical way to help us all to close the gap.

Thank you.