Interview with Mr Tass Liveris
In celebration of the Law Council of Australia’s 90th Anniversary, the Law Council is celebrating this significant milestone by highlighting its rich history and key achievements throughout the years. As part of this campaign, the Law Council had the privilege to interview a selection of past Presidents, gaining a unique perspective on their time in the role.
Reflecting on your time as Law Council President, what were the three key policy priorities within your term?
Part of the Law Council’s pre-election advocacy in 2022 was to call upon whichever party that formed government to establish a timetable to hold a referendum to provide a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution as a matter of priority. We also thought that it was vital for the government to develop legislation to establish an effective National Anti-Corruption Commission. Both issues had been on the national agenda in one form or another for several years and were the subject of much discussion in the community, but neither appeared to be meaningfully progressing towards realisation. We considered that the time was long overdue for the Australian government to lead the nation to both acknowledging our history and recognising the importance of a First Nations Voice on policy matters, as well as strengthening Australia’s national systems of integrity and oversight.
During my Presidential year, I also thought it was important for the Law Council to remain attuned to the fact that the pandemic was still a continuing source of disruption for some legal practices and sectors of the community. It also needed to be recognised that the justice system was still coming to terms with the benefits and limitations of the changes in legal practice that emerged during the pandemic and setting the right balance. The development of policies, such as principles for online hearings, was a necessary and important achievement because they document the profession’s experiences throughout the pandemic and will assist courts and tribunals achieve clarity and consistency in the use of online proceedings. It was enormously gratifying for the Law Council to play key leadership roles in relation to all of these issues, as well as the Law Council’s policy agenda abroad, particularly in the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement and speaking out against serious attacks on the rule of law in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Fiji and Kiribati.
What do you believe was your greatest achievement as Law Council President and why?
The appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer and the decisions to purchase and fit-out new Secretariat premises clearly signified a certain long-term re-set for the Law Council. Together with the decision to host the LAWASIA Secretariat from 2023, these are enduring decisions that will enable the Law Council to develop and grow in future decades and that will help shape the identity of the future Law Council. I am proud to have led the Law Council during such a transformative phase and to have been involved in successfully advancing policy priorities that will have lasting impact on Australian society, notably the modelling and establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission within the year and the significant progress that was made towards a referendum being held in 2023.
It was a major achievement for the Law Council to play a leading and influential advocacy and educative role in both matters, at the same time as fulfilling our responsibility to defend attacks on the rule of law and the independence of the profession and judiciary abroad. As President, I was pleased to be able to address the United Nations Human Rights Council in defence of rule of law breaches in Afghanistan and Myanmar and to address the International Bar Association Council in respect of the unjust political prosecution of Richard Naidu in Fiji. I am also proud that the various components of the Law Council’s centre of excellence – the Directors, Constituent Bodies, Sections, CEOs, Presidents, Committees and Working Groups, underpinned by the Secretariat staff – worked so effectively with each other and with me to maintain stability and build consensus, during a time of great change and amidst robust legislative activity.
What was your most memorable Law Council moment and why?
I was fortunate to be a Director, Executive member and President over an 8-year period when the Law Council made great and lasting strides in so many important areas – in equality and diversity, the legal aid matters campaign, anti-bullying and harassment, access to justice and human rights – and at a time when the legal profession was confronted with genuine existential threats, including those that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic and those that continue to emerge through the increased use of automated decision making and artificial intelligence. I am grateful to have been supported as an Executive member and President by the Board, as a lawyer from the smallest jurisdiction and only the third President from the Northern Territory.
As a Territorian, where 30 per cent of the population is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and where the negative impacts of systemic disadvantage within the justice system are acute, I was glad that the Board met in person in Darwin in 2019 and approved a change in the Law Council’s policy to support an increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 14 years; and that we met again in Darwin in my Presidential year to approve an addendum to that policy that guides responses to children under the minimum age. It was also very special for me to deliver the keynote address to the Alice Springs Opening of the Legal Year and discuss the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Law Council’s work and advocacy to reduce First Nations over-representation in the justice system and increase it in the legal profession and judiciary. As Law Society NT President in 2015 – 2017, I developed an enormous respect and admiration for the practitioners who work in the regions and with First Nations peoples in the justice system. To return to Alice Springs as Law Council President, in my home jurisdiction, in Reconciliation Week and on the 30th anniversary of the decision in Mabo, to address the audience and meet and speak with so many dedicated people was inspiring for me.
Based on your unique perspective as a Law Council President, how has the role of the Law Council been important over the last 90 years and how is the role relevant today?
The Law Council has been so successful over its history because it has harnessed the power of unity and stayed true to the fundamental principle of the independence and impartiality of the legal profession. It was clear in 1933 that the legal profession required a federated representative body on national issues. That need has only grown and expanded over time, as the nature of Australian society, the community and the profession has evolved. Because the Law Council is made up of every part of the profession – the large and small jurisdictions, states and territories, barristers and solicitors, the cities and the regions, the private and public sectors, the large, medium and small practices – it holds the critical responsibility to fulfil the legal profession’s obligation to protect and defend the rule of law and the administration of justice. As the profession’s national and international representative, the Law Council’s trusted and influential voice is a necessary safeguard of our democracy. That voice will always be necessary in our system, for benefit of the Australian community and the legal profession itself, as well as the ongoing quality of our democracy.
Mr Tass Liveris
Tass Liveris is a proud third-generation Territorian. He was admitted to the legal profession in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in 2002. Following admission, Mr Liveris practised at the Perth Office of the Commonwealth DPP and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Western Australia, before returning to the Northern Territory in 2008 when he joined the litigation and dispute resolution division of Clayton Utz. Mr Liveris joined the Northern Territory Bar in 2010.
Since that time, he has been a member of William Forster Chambers in Darwin, where he practises in a diverse range of areas in Northern Territory and federal courts and tribunals. Mr Liveris was the President of the Law Society Northern Territory between 2015 and 2017. In 2015, Mr Liveris was appointed as a Director of the Law Council of Australia. He was elected to the Executive in 2018 and was President in 2022, becoming the third Territorian to hold that office.