President's report: the gist of Liberty

Michael Pearce SC

Two important events for Liberty are looming and I hope all members will make an effort to attend. The first is on Friday evening 29 May and is the official launch of ‘The Gist of It’. This is an innovative program sponsored by Liberty, Amnesty and the Australian Lawyers Alliance, comprising a series of interviews with leading Australians on a number of human rights topics.

The interviews are all recorded and will shortly be available online at If you are unable to attend the launch please be sure to visit the website.

A little later we will hold our Annual Dinner on 18 July, this year at the gracious Windsor Hotel, and at very reasonable prices too! Full details to follow shortly but please put that in your diaries now. This year the feature of the annual dinner will be the Voltaire Award, to be received on behalf of GetUp! by Simon Sheikh. The Allen Missen Oration, which in the past has been delivered at the annual dinner, will be held separately later in the year. This change has resulted from our merger last year with Free Speech Victoria.

We are currently in the middle of preparation of our annual budget and the outlook is challenging. Unless we can identify significant extra sources of recurrent income we will be forced to reduce our paid administrative assistance. Currently, we pay for two days’ administrative work a week, although our dedicated staff usually work longer. The Committee recently considered an increase in membership fees but decided against that because of the difficult economic conditions. Members can, however, help by renewing their memberships, making donations and introducing new members.

In part prompted by these budgetary concerns the Committee resolved to appoint a working group to devise a long-range strategic plan for Liberty. We have received a generous invitation to assist us in this from a diverse group of people, with experience in business, the public sector and the non-profit sector. We currently plan on an annual basis at our planning days but have identified a need to formulate a longer range plan, through which we can explore further sources of recurrent revenues and other ways of improving our performance.

Despite these management concerns our policy work continues. We recently finalised a policy on internet censorship which has been posted to the website. We have made submissions to the Senate inquiry into access to justice, the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Royal Commissions and I will be participating in a Victorian Law Reform Commission consultative committee looking at surveillance in public places.

Our policy focus remains the Australian Human Rights Consultation, for which we are currently preparing a major submission. Although Liberty itself will make a submission, individual members are encouraged to make their own submission. It appears that the opponents of a national human rights charter have been organising well and have lodged a large number of submissions, so this needs to be counteracted. Personalised submissions are preferable to standard form ones but anything is better than nothing! You can lodge a personalised submission through the Liberty website. The deadline is 15 June. Don’t miss it!

Michael Pearce SC is president of Liberty Victoria.