Precedent (Australian Lawyers Alliance)
THE ALA 21 YEARS ON
By Greg Phelps
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA), formerly the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association (APLA), turned 21 years old this year. With the focus of this edition of Precedent being workplace injuries, we face the realisation that the issues that gave rise to APLA more than two decades ago are, for the most part, still high on our agenda today. The editorial by Peter Semmler QC, APLA’s first president, provides an excellent summary of the articles in this edition.
We might feel a level of frustration that the protection of injured workers’ legal rights remains a key battleground for our organisation and that we have not managed to secure entrenched common law rights for Australian workers. However, at the same time, we should reflect on the successes APLA and ALA have had in defending these rights, and also consider where workers’ entitlements might be in 2015, were it not for the work of this organisation. The articles in this edition amply demonstrate the fact that the ALA’s strength comes from the contribution of many individuals and those who have given their valuable time in myriad ways over the past 21 years. It is the combined work of our authors, media spokespeople, ALA staff and committee members over the life of APLA and ALA, with the support of our valued sponsors, which has delivered our hard-won victories and stemmed the erosion not only of workers’ rights but those of plaintiff victims in every jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. ALA’s strength comes from its members, both in their numbers and the dedication and work of each individual practitioner.
In closing the wonderfully successful ALA national conference in Hobart on 24 October, I reminded delegates of the importance of our membership, and I would urge all members now to make an effort to introduce new members to the ALA. A moderate percentage increase in our ranks will give ALA a significant boost to be able to perform its important work. We are comfortable in our numbers but, like any business, a small increase in margin is the key to resounding operational success and the flexibility to pursue ALA’s mission ever more efficiently.
Hobart was a magnificent venue for the national conference (so much so that I stayed on in Tasmania afterwards for a walking holiday and write this column in the shadow of the exquisite Cradle Mountain). The national conference was once again the opportunity to observe the vibrancy and energy of ALA’s members, staff and sponsors, which are especially evident when they are able to come together. This year, for the first time, the now traditional annual past presidents’ dinner was combined with the conference, bringing a sense of the ALA’s expanding and important history. The one defect exposed by the occasion, attended by 11 of the organisation’s 16 past presidents was that, to date, there has not been an appropriate representative gender balance in the national presidency. All in attendance agreed that a remedy is required on this front; there have been only two female national presidents: Clara Davies (2008-9) and Geraldine Collins (2013-14). Not that this issue will be fixed in the next 12 months, as I had the pleasure at the conference of announcing that the new president-elect to commence as national president on 1 July 2016 is Tony Kenyon of Slater and Gordon in Victoria. Tony is welcomed by the national committee as a member with exceptional experience and credentials for the role, with a practice directly aligned with ALA’s core business. Following Tony’s presidency, the ALA looks forward to a succession of strong female candidates to set the gender ledger straight.
I congratulate our Tasmanian members and the ALA staff for the success of the 2015 Hobart conference and remind members that Port Douglas in Queensland will play host for the national conference from 20 to 22 October next year.
In conclusion, I ask ALA members to recognise those remarkable individual contributions of members over the past 21 years that have made our message strong and effective, and I urge each of you to pitch in where you can. In the event that you might encourage new members to join our ranks, it is numbers, first and foremost, that provide ALA with the resources to perform its vital work.
Greg Phelps is a Partner with Ward Keller in Darwin. EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org.