David Walter Launches ‘The Forgotten People’ at Parliament House, Canberra

I have recently had the pleasure of launching The Forgotten People with Rachel Perkins at Parliament House. It was a great honour and pleasure to thank the contributors for their time, work, and effort in relation to constitutional recognition on behalf of the partners and staff at Baker & McKenzie.

What makes The Forgotten People outstanding is its engagement with a range of views on this critical subject to our nation. As Chris Freeland noted in the booklet for the launch, Baker & McKenzie must be one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse law firms and law firm partnerships in the world. Our partners and staff all appreciate the importance of drawing on a range of diverse perspectives when seeking to address both legal issues confronted by our clients and business issues confronted by our own firm.

The Forgotten People does that, on the subject of constitutional recognition.  As Noel Pearson observes in the foreword, it is often difficult – even a little bit frightening – to want to meaningfully engage with one’s perceived opponents, whether in politics, commerce, or otherwise.  That engagement is, however, often the essence of a successful resolution.  The Forgotten People reflects a national process that has done just that.  The leaders and key stakeholders in Indigenous recognition in the constitution who have initiated and participated in that process, including a number of people who were in attendance at the launch of the book, are to be admired and applauded by all of us.

The Australian community now need to support those leaders and stakeholders in closing the deal.

My area of expertise involves commercial negotiations and mediations in times of financial difficulty. The first half of a mediation process is very often spent on name-calling, a little bit of shouting, a lot of talk about areas of difference, and then general out-pouring of pent up emotion about past wrongs.  The second half is then – with a bit of luck and goodwill from all parties – spent on identifying the issues, resolving to make a deal and then finding a way to make the deal work for all parties.  Often that deal is not the optimal outcome for any individual party, but it is one that every party can live with – I often say to clients that this is the essence of an excellent outcome.  Appreciating that recognition of Australia's Indigenous peoples is much more important than any commercial mediation or negotiation, my strong sense – particularly from Damien Freeman’s comments in the concluding remarks to The Forgotten People – is that the leaders and key stakeholders in Indigenous recognition in the Constitution are now well in to the second half of my notional mediation.

The Australian community now need to support those leaders and stakeholders in closing the deal. With a little luck and goodwill, constitutional recognition of Australia's Indigenous peoples will be an outcome we all can live with. Baker & McKenzie are very proud to be able to play our part in that regard.


David Walter is a partner in the Sydney office of Baker & McKenzie, focusing on financial restructuring and insolvency. Since 2012, David has been recognised as a leading lawyer in Chambers Asia Pacific, Australian Financial Review - Best Lawyers and Legal 500.

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