Greater cultural diversity need in legal profession: Attorney General


The Asian Australian Lawyer’s Association (AALA) recently held its first AGM at the offices of the law firm Baker& Mckenzie at which the key note speaker was the Attorney General Hon. Robert Clark, who is also the Minister for Finance and the Minster for Industrial Relations.

Hon. Robert Clark spoke at length about the importance of promoting diversity in the senior ranks of all professions and the benefit of utilising the diverse and unique skills that are brought in by Asians. “I am hopeful that in the future, like Greek and Italian judicial appointments, there will be appointments from the Asian communities,” he said.

He also discussed the various law reforms being undertaken by the State Government. One important development has been the introduction of legislation that will see coward punch killers face at least 10 years in jail under tough new laws. “This means that those who punch or strike someone in the head without warning, resulting in their death, will be guilty of manslaughter and liable to a 10-year statutory minimum non-parole period,” he said.

Other important changes he discussed were changes to fencing laws and succession laws.  Under the changes to fencing laws, neighbours will generally be required to contribute equally to construction costs for a “sufficient” dividing fence (determined by the existence or otherwise of an existing fence, the type of fence usual in the neighbourhood and the purpose for which neighbours are using their land). Owners wanting a more expensive fence will have to meet extra costs.

In relation to succession laws, he explained that under the proposed changes, not everyone will be eligible to contest wills. People eligible would be limited to children and stepchildren who had a disability, were under 18, or under 25 but studying. Grandchildren and spouses or domestic partners at the time of death, and former spouses who are not yet divorced, would also be eligible. “The legislation is about re-establishing the principle that a deceased’s person’s will ought to be respected unless it is shown they have failed in their duty to provide for someone they should have made provision for,” he said.

Also present at the AGM was Labour member for Clayton Hon. Hong Lim and lawyers from Top Tier law firms and Barristers.

A key focus of AALA is to create greater cultural diversity within the senior ranks of the legal profession, through investigation of the reasons for the under representation of senior Asian lawyers, and seeking solutions that address that imbalance. It also works to develop links with Asian legal associations with a view to making Asian legal markets more accessible and pave the way for greater access to the Asian legal market.

Diversity amongst the Australian work force, particular the opportunities to go up the ladder, is something that the South Asian Community has also been lobbying for in all areas/professions. People from Asian backgrounds are well represented in entry level and mid-level jobs in Australian business, yet they are significantly under-represented in leadership roles, representing an enormous waste of talent, according to Diversity Council Australia’s latest research. Therefore the work that AALA does is much needed in an environment where Asians are seeking to get recognition

The President of the AALA is Reynah Tang, who is a partner at premium law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth and was the President of the Law Institute of Victoria for the year 2014. The Secretary is Cam Truong, who is a Barrister of repute. Molina Asthana, Principal Solicitor with the Government and a prominent member of the Indian community is a committee member, with primary responsibility for South Asian related topics and building the relationship between the Australian and the Indian legal communities.

With over 100 members, AALA has certainly made good progress in bringing members of the legal profession of Asian heritage and cultural background, and others with an interest in Asia, together.

AALA has worked on developing a professional network and providing support to its members through the very successful networking event, with Eamonn Moran QC, held in April 2014 and the launch of their mentoring program. AALA has also held culturally relevant social events such as the Chinese New Year celebration in February and the upcoming Diwali dinner in October. Details of the Diwali Dinner will be available on our website by mid-September.

AALA has also started developing links with Asian legal associations to facilitate and promote access for members.  Recently, Molina Asthana travelled to India and established a relationship with the Indian Bar association. In the longer term AALA will look to the potential for inbound and outbound legal trade missions.

Much of AALAs activity has been focused on promoting and facilitating Asian cultural diversity in the senior ranks of the legal profession. AALA’s Unconscious Bias and the Bamboo Ceiling event, with a range of speakers including Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane, was a great success and the whole topic has attracted a fair amount of media, particularly with the recent launch of a detailed report on the topic by the Diversity Council of Australia. AALA will be looking at how it might gather meaningful statistics focused on the legal profession.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of AALA or attending their Diwali event can contact them directly through their website.

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