Sydney Opera House

Highlights from IALL Annual Course in Sydney

Yaama.* A CALL grant facilitated my attendance at the 38th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) held in Sydney, Australia, October 27-30. “Law Down Under: Australia’s Legal Landscape” drew 132 delegates (attendees) from 21 countries with 48% being first-time delegates.

*The Gamilaraay language word for hello used in Northern NSW, Australia.

About IALL Annual Course

IALL is an international association with over 400 members from 50 countries. I attended IALL courses in previous years but this was my first year as an incoming member of the Board of Directors.

IALL’s annual course is different from a conference in that IALL education programs address the substantive law of the host country. The Local Planning Committee (LPC) did an exceptional job selecting respected and engaging speakers from government, the courts, academia, and practice. Each day of the course had a topical focus and the speakers built upon the knowledge and presentation of previous speakers.

This article offers a few selections from the rich subject expertise presented during the course.

Sunday: Viewing History

On Sunday morning before the formal opening of the course, the LPC organized a guided walking tour of an area in Sydney called the Rocks. The Rocks was the site of the first European colony, established in 1788, when convict-bearing ships came from England to set up the colony of New South Wales (NSW). The area obtained its name from the original buildings, which were made of sandstone.

The opening reception on Sunday night was held in the Justice and Police Museum, the former water police station and courthouse, which originally opened in 1854. Attendees had access to a fascinating, yet at times macabre, public collection of artifacts relating to the history of crime, law, and policing in NSW.

Monday: Welcome from Local Leaders

The primary venue was the University of New South Wales (NSW) Central Business District (CBD) campus. During the formal opening of the course on Monday morning, attendees received a “Welcome to Country” from Aunty Norma Ingram, a Wiradjuri woman, whose work focuses on Aboriginal affairs. The use of Aunty is an Aboriginal term of respect for older women, who are not necessarily a blood relation.

The “Welcome to Country” or “Acknowledgement of Country” is an opportunity to acknowledge, and pay respect to the Aboriginal peoples, the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land. Throughout the conference, speakers began their presentations using a variation of the following language:

“We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognize their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.”

Monday focused on legal history and indigenous peoples. The Honorable Susan Kiefel, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, opened the course. She is the first woman Chief Justice of the High Court, which is the final court of appeal in Australia. She spoke on the importance of libraries and how she views them as a source of inspiration.

The Honorable Margaret Beazley, Governor of New South Wales, gave the keynote address. Like many other speakers that week, she offered an Acknowledgment of Country. She spoke in depth on Australia’s legal history and colonial legacy.

Colonial Legacy & Legal History

The Governor and other speakers referenced the landmark decision from the High Court of Australia, Mabo v Queensland (No 2) [1992] HCA 23; 175 CLR 1; 107 ALR 1. This decision recognized native title to land in Australia for the first time and nullified the doctrine of terra nullius (land belonging to no one).

In 1788, Great Britain declared Australia to be terra nullius thereby allowing the importation of all laws of England, although the Aboriginal peoples had an existing and thriving civilization. The Mabo court acknowledged Aboriginal land claims and decided that terra nullius did not apply where there were already inhabitants present.

Although the Mabo decision was very significant, the ongoing disparate treatment of Aboriginal peoples in the legal system was highlighted by other speakers. Monday programming concluded with a presentation on parliamentary privilege in NSW and a tour of the NSW Parliament House, which contains some of the oldest structures in the Sydney CBD.

Jubilee Room in Parliament House of New South Wales, Sydney Australia

Tuesday: Australian Legal Context

Tuesday programming concentrated on Australia’s constitutional quirks, international law, and the law of Aboriginal peoples. Dean George Williams of UNSW Law spoke on the Australian constitution, which came into effect in 1901. He noted that during the constitutional conventions in the 1890’s, Australians considered the U.S. constitution an aberration and wanted nothing like it.

Australia has no national bill of rights, although over 60% of Australians believe a bill of rights exists. If Australians think a law goes too far and impinges on their rights, they need to look to parliamentarians for redress rather than the courts. He noted that a major criticism of the constitution involves the treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

For example, Section 25 of the constitution allows any state to disenfranchise a person due to their race. Although not currently applied, it has not been repealed. For Australians, the process to change the constitution is slow and must start in the federal Parliament.

Wednesday: Legal Innovations & Reform Work

Wednesday programming addressed technology, environmental law, and criminal law. As part of my board responsibilities, I introduced Professor Lyria Bennett Moses, UNSW Law, who spoke on regulating technology and her work as director of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, which is an independent community of scholars based at UNSW Sydney.

The Allens Hub and the Law School address the diverse interactions among technological change, law, and legal practice. Professor Bennett Moses posited that it is not possible for legislation to be tech neutral.

Prof. Tim Stephens, University of Sydney, stated that Australia is a strong supporter of international environmental law and is party to more than 40 international environment treaties. However, Australia has taken an ambivalent stance towards climate change as it is a major user and exporter of fossil fuels. He highlighted the climate changes issues in the Great Barrier Reef. He shared a map from the Coral Reef Studies, ARC Center for Excellence, that divided the reef into three sectors. For each sector, the map showed the shocking amount of coral bleaching taking place. He identified climate change as the greatest threat to the reef.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Mark Ierace covered the practice of criminal law. He addressed the existing inequities in legal aid and representation for Aboriginal peoples. Wednesday programming concluded with a tour of the NSW Law Courts and Library.

Thanks to CALL Awards & Grants

Koala at Taronga ZooI wish to express my appreciation to CALL and to the Grants Committee for their consideration and award of a CALL grant to assist with my expenses of attending the course. I strongly encourage CALL members to apply for a grant to attend a professional development event.