Talented young lawyers test mettle in contest

Bond University law student Talhia Cohen Duke arguing her case alongside Giselle Kilner Parmenter

Queensland’s best young Indigenous law students faced off in the Federal Court this month before some of Australia’s top judges.

The students were vying for honours in the fourth annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student’s Moot, a contest designed to test the mettle and intellect of the new crop of aspiring lawyers.

Teams from Queensland University of Technology, Griffith University, Bond University and University of Queensland competed before Federal and Supreme Court judges, including High Court judge James Edelman, Federal Court chief justice James Allsop and Queensland Court of Appeal president Walter Sofronoff.

The competition was won by the University of Queensland.

Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland president Avelina Tarrago, a Wangkamadla woman and barrister, said the event was positive for the legal profession and Indigenous people.

“When we began this competition in 2014 it was small, and we had barristers sitting in the judges’ chairs,” she said.

“This year was our largest yet and we had some of the most important judges in the country giving their time.”

Bond University student Talhia Cohen-Duke, a Kamilaroi-Dunghutti woman, said it had given her more confidence.

Ms Cohen-Duke used cultural knowledge in arguments for her ‘client’.

“It was about the breakdown of a business relationship between Indigenous parties over something slanderous and I emphasised, because we are such an oral language, that how things are said have added weight,” she said.

“It has definitely given me a lot more confidence that I can compete in a legal setting and talk the legal talk without compromising my own language,” she said.

Naomi McCarthy, from the winning University of Queensland team, said it was an opportunity to apply the law and theory she had been learning in her classes.

“When I first began my studies in law I was somewhat apprehensive — as an Indigenous person — that there would not be space for my views and opinions within the field,” she said.

“Seeing so many great judges and excellent legal professionals supporting us was really exciting and made me feel much more optimistic. It was also great to get to meet so many other Indigenous law students.”

Justice Allsop said the competition had displayed the talents of the participants.

Ms Tarrago said getting more Indigenous people into the legal profession would help address inequities.

“More than any other group, the Australian law has worked against its Indigenous people,” she said.

“We are the most incarcerated people in the world and the legal system still bamboozles and bullies our people, creating inequalities socially and in the eyes of the law.”

“But getting more Indigenous people into the profession is both a practical and realistic way of addressing that and providing long-term structural solutions. Understanding how to navigate both worlds is what will help our people.”

By Wendy Caccetta 

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