NILC 2019

The 2019 National Indigenous Legal Conference was held on 13 & 14 August in Darwin, hosted by Ngalaya’s sister organisation Winkiku Rrumbangi NT Indigenous Lawyers. The focus of this year’s conference was True Justice: Integrating Indigenous Perspectives. It was held concurrently with the inaugural Indigenous Health Justice Conference.

Ngalaya supported two First Nations law students to attend NILC 2019:

  1. Bridgette Hey, a Wiradjuri law student from the University of Newcastle was sponsored by the Colin Biggers & Paisley Foundation.
  2. Faith Sheridan, a Gamilaraay law student from the University of New South Wales was sponsored to attend by Ngalaya.

Both students were chosen through a blind application process that assessed their application against key criteria. You can read their reflections on the conference below.

Conference Proceedings and Ngalaya Involvement

Ngalaya members Teela Reid (Wiradjuri & Wailwan) and Merinda Dutton (Gumbaynggirr & Barkindji) presented on NSW’s Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme:

Ngalaya member and Australia’s first Indigenous Silk, Tony McAvoy SC, presented as part of a panel on the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory:

Ngalaya’s Chairperson, Jason O’Neil, also attended NILC 2019 and shared much of the proceedings on Ngalaya’s twitter account:

National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year: Merinda Dutton

Merinda Dutton was awarded the 2019 National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year Award in recognition of her legal work in Legal Aid NSW’s Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities.

Reflections on NILC 2019 from Ngalaya’s Students

L-R: Faith Sheridan (Gamilaraay, UNSW), Jason O’Neil (Wiradjuri, Ngalaya Chairperson) and Bridgette Hey (Wiradjuri, Uni of Newcastle) at the NILC 2019 Gala Ball & Dinner.

NILC Reflection: Faith Sheridan

Attending NILC 2019 and listening to Indigenous leaders, in the fields of law and health, expose the truths of the hostile nature of the law towards Aboriginal people and the detrimental impacts on these communities, was an eye-opening experience.

One concept that was heavily discussed throughout many sessions was self-determination and the importance of being able to “make our own decisions over our own lives” (Barb Shaw) in achieving justice. It is evident that a leading factor influencing the negative relationship between Aboriginal people and the law, is the exclusion of Aboriginal people from legal decisions and policy-making that governs Aboriginal people. As put by Leanne Liddle, “the laws and policies are made about Aboriginal people, never with Aboriginal people, or by Aboriginal people”. High rates of Indigenous incarceration, especially in the Northern Territory, are driven by misinformed governments introducing laws and policies with the absence of Aboriginal input.

The need for self-determination was further emphasised in Adam Drake’s session on ‘Balanced Choice’ which discussed the rehabilitation of Aboriginal youth in prison. He highlighted the significance of good role models, optimistic attitudes and increased connections to culture in motivating Aboriginal children and minimising their contact with the legal system. Ensuring that troubled Aboriginal youth are integrated back into Aboriginal communities to strengthen their culture, identity and purpose is the most effective form of rehabilitation and thus, reducing rates of recidivism. The government’s decision to build an adult prison adjacent from a juvenile detention centre, is a classic example of ineffective, misinformed decision making that will further harm Indigenous communities. 

Aboriginal people have identified the issues and understand how to fix the issues. If true justice is to be achieved, there must be self-determination.

Attending NILC has heightened my interest in Aboriginal social justice and strengthened my desire to work within Aboriginal communities challenging the systematic issues disproportionately targeting these people. Seeing and hearing the injustices inflicted by the government and the legal system on Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory, has given me more motivation to actually get out there and do something about it. We need more Aboriginal lawyers working in these communities who are willing to simply listen and act as a tool granting these people greater access to the system. As I mentioned before, these people know the issues and they know how to deal with them, they just need the space to be able to do just that.

I would definitely encourage other law students to attend NILC in future years. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to sit in a room full of Aboriginal leaders and community elders discussing truths regarding the legal and health issues that are affecting our people. 

I am eternally grateful to Ngalaya for sponsoring me to go to NILC 2019. It was an absolutely unforgettable and life changing experience, and I am so thankful that Ngalaya was able to support me. 

Faith Sheridan, Gamilaraay law student, UNSW Sydney

NILC Reflection: Bridgette Hey

I would like to thank Ngalaya and Colin Biggers & Paisley for giving me the chance to attend the National Indigenous Legal Conference. It has been an invaluable experience which I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do without the sponsorship of Ngalaya and Colin Biggers & Paisley. I have been very fortunate to meet people from all around Australia who are working towards common goals in health, justice and other community centred roles. I have been lucky to hear the stories and experiences in person from inspiration Aboriginal leaders and activists from a wide range of areas yet working towards similar results to improve access and equality for those experiencing disadvantages particularly within health and justice. 

It was amazing to hear the amount of collaborative work happening between organisations, individuals and communities in the Northern Territory particularly within health/justice partnerships. I hope to eventually see such models more widely adopted as it is of such high importance that the interconnectedness of health and justice is realised. I had the opportunity to hear the experience of SC Chris Ronalds and Lex Wotton who led the class action against the Queensland government in response to the injustices the Palm Island community was subject to by the Queensland police and government. I feel very fortunate to have been able to hear the stories of many community legal practitioners and community activists who have dedicated so much of their lives to assisting those disadvantaged and marginalised within society. Hearing the perspectives of the Royal Commission was powerful in reinstating the need for justice systems to actually recognise the recommendations set out and apply the recommendations set out within a Royal Commission. It is highly concerning to see that the recommendations are ignored or dismissed.

The rights of those incarcerated or at risk of incarceration are often forgotten so to see and hear many working towards decreasing the disadvantage suffered by those in contact with the criminal justice system was inspirational. The need for community input and Aboriginal community led health and justice services was a crucial point made by many leaders throughout the conference. This is an imperative step in creating justice and health services that are culturally appropriate. The conference raised past and current issues that have and still cause much trauma and hardship to Aboriginal people particularly in relation to health and justice however the conference also raised awareness of what needs to be done in order to improve outcomes and recognise fundamental human rights within Australian health and justice systems. I would like to particularly thank Jason for his organisation and support throughout the whole trip. I am very appreciative of having the opportunity to attend the NILC and for the support throughout the experience. It is an experience I would definitely recommend to anyone working or studying in health, justice or community centred roles.

Bridgette Hey, Wiradjuri law student, University of Newcastle

Sponsorship supported by