Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) recently launched its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in an effort to address the significant barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face in accessing justice.

Launched at the ACON Building in Surry Hills on 23 July, the RAP was officially launched by federal judge Matthew Myers and Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year 2014 Cheryl Orr.

Judge Myers, Australia’s first indigenous lawyer to be appointed to a Federal Court, described the launch of the RAP like the launch of a journey. “It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight; it normally involves great planning, it involves consultation and it really is the culmination of a long period of consultation and work.

“Community Legal Centres NSW have a lot to be proud of today,” he added, “with the work that they’ve done and the consultations they have entered into in preparing a Reconciliation Action Plan.”

Myers also acknowledged that preparing a RAP, when you work in the legal profession, is not an easy thing to do. “There are very, very good reasons why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don’t particularly like the involvement of lawyers, the courts or police in their lives,” he explained. 

Myers then spoke about of some worrying statistics, such as how the rate of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into care is as high now as the rate of removal during the Stolen Generation.

“In NSW, there are approximately 6,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children currently in care. If you extrapolate that out into real numbers, it represents about 10 per cent of the Aboriginal child population in NSW.

“One in three children removed in NSW is an Aboriginal child,” he added. These figures are even more staggering when you consider that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent only about three per cent of the population in NSW.

In his role as a federal judge, Myers says it’s often those most vulnerable who don’t have a voice before the courts. This is why the work of community legal centres is so important, because they can provide enormous assistance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accessing justice.

“While the numbers are sad, it’s all the more important that we celebrate the fact that Community Legal Centres NSW have decide to do a Reconciliation Plan.”

Reconciliation is about bring together and harmonising two cultures, Myers said, and hopes that by having RAPs undertaken in various workplaces, the barriers that lead to ignorance about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are broken down.

“Reconciliation plans are about harmonising and breaking down the barriers so that people working in community legal centres don’t feel as though they don’t understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People,” he said.

“The Reconciliation Action Plan being entered into by Community Legal Centres NSW is very much about building understanding within the network of community legal centres throughout NSW to break down those barriers so there won’t be Aboriginal people going into legal centres worried about what they think, and workers worried about what they may say.”

“Community Legal Centres NSW Reconciliation Action Plan is not a report that going to end up in a top drawer. It’s not a report; it’s a living document that will be weighed and measured and monitored,” he said. “The goals set out in the Reconciliation Action Plan are not tokenistic, it’s about harmonisation.”

And while Myers admits some of the goals may seem small: “Sometimes it takes little changes to make big differences.”

To hear Judge Myers’ speech in full, click on the link below:

What’s the plan?

According to CLCNSW, its vision for reconciliation is “to address barriers in access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in NSW, thereby reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the justice system”.

CLCNSW also aims to develop strategies for the organisation and its members that meet the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout NSW.

“Through the implementation of this Reconciliation Action Plan, CLCNSW reaffirms its commitment to growing and maintaining strong relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and to continuously developing partnerships that strengthen and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities,” the RAP states.

Click here to download Community Legal Centres NSW’s Reconciliation Action Plan: PDF Download

*Painting by Anthony Walker

One Response to “CLCNSW launches Reconciliation Action Plan”

  1. MichaelM says:

    Interesting listening to Matthew Myers talk about his experiences on ‘The Block’ in Redfern many years ago, and what sort of impact the law can have on policing. Good to see a reconciliation action plan in place for CLCs, hopefully it can be applied to other workplaces too.

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