Supporting First Nations people and projects

13 Dec 2023

We are committed to working with First Nations people to provide access to legal advice and representation and to support First Nations endeavours that create positive and lasting change. Here are some examples from 2023 (names have been changed).

In the early 1960s, Claire was forcibly removed from her Aboriginal mother's care and placed under the care of the Social Welfare Department of the Victorian Government. Claire was committed to various orphanages, convents, and institutions and lost all trace of her mother. We assisted Claire to apply for Stolen Generation Reparations, and Claire received $100,000 to help address the trauma and suffering caused by her forced removal from her mother, community, culture, language and Country.

Kirra lost her adult son, who we will call Luke, by suicide. Kirra raised Luke on her own in Western Australia. In 2020, Luke travelled to the Northern Territory to get to know his father, Ben, for the first time. Before this, Luke and Ben had very little contact. Kirra and Ben had competing wishes regarding Luke's burial. Kirra's cultural tradition is for the body of a deceased to be buried in a place connected with the deceased's mother, but Ben wanted Luke to be buried in the Northern Territory. After Luke's death, Ben applied in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory for the administration of Luke's estate be granted to him. We successfully assisted Kirra to respond to Ben's application and file a probate caveat so that Ben would not be granted administration of Luke's estate until Kirra's counter-claim for burial rights was determined. Kirra's claim was upheld, and she arranged for the transportation of her son's body from the Northern Territory to Western Australia where the funeral was held.

We have helped draft submissions on behalf of a Traditional Owner Alliance seeking to protect rivers and floodplains and calling for waters to remain free flowing so they can continue to provide the life giving "blood" throughout the region.

Our lawyers are helping to build Towards Truth, a database launched earlier this year to support First Nations-led truth-telling in Australia. Pioneered by Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at UNSW, and led by the Indigenous Law Centre and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Towards Truth shows how laws and policies in New South Wales have impacted First Nations people since 1788.

Towards Truth catalogues laws, policies and supporting documents across four themes:  Kinship, Country, Law and Culture and People. So far, our lawyers have helped map laws and policies on the themes of languages, dispossession of land, forced removals, adoptions, water rights, colonial policing, colonial diseases and participation in democracy.

Towards Truth was developed as a key step in the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for a truth-telling about our history, one of the three elements of Voice, Treaty, Truth.  Contributing to Towards Truth is one way in which Clayton Utz and the Clayton Utz Foundation have accepted the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart to walk together "in a movement of the Australian people for a better future".

We are continuing to help an aquaculture company operated by Aboriginal Elders and Traditional Owners to develop their blue carbon pilot project involving the restoration of 100 ha of seagrass over a 3 year period. Seagrasses build and secure sediment, protecting coasts from erosion, storms and flooding.  They are important habitats for fish and marine species, and mitigate against climate change by storing significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and ocean. We are working with this ground-breaking project and advising on the regulatory approvals required to undertake the pilot.

We have helped the Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health build its capacity for developing sustainable health in First Nations communities throughout Australia. FISH was originally established to address the housing crisis and works with First Nations people to break intergenerational cycles of poverty that cause homelessness and housing insecurity.  The Foundation's work has since expanded to include education, health, justice and cultural initiatives. Amongst other things, this year our lawyers have helped FISH with the legal requirements underpinning its Aboriginal Home Ownership model.

We have provided intellectual property and technology support to a First Nations organisation that delivers an innovative approach to education, health and employment services for First Nations families. This year our work included advising on the creation of content and a webinar for National Reconciliation Week, providing trademarking advice in respect of truth-telling workshops, and drafting a distribution agreement with the ABC regarding music content in Arrernte Language.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.