Spotlight on Dr Fiona Allison

    Fiona completed a doctoral thesis in 2020 looking at First Nations access to justice in the area of race discrimination - an issue with significant impacts across all First Nations communities. Recourse to domestic human rights legislation (race discrimination law) by First Nations peoples is rare, despite the high incidence of discrimination, and its outcomes quite likely to be unsatisfactory (cases are generally unwinnable). The thesis explored whether First Nations peoples want better access to race discrimination law, and in this context considered archival material revealing that Indigenous activists leading up to introduction of the Federal Racial Discrimination Act (1975) specifically called for legislative protection against racism. Other Indigenous activists in this period, however, preferred direct action to challenge both racial inequities and the denial of Indigenous-specific rights (to land, self-determination etc.). The thesis identified that improving access to race discrimination law was important to First Nations people but given the inherent limitations in the latter law (it is very unlikely to recognise Indigenous specific rights, for instance) other methods of attaining both racial and First Nations justice are also crucial. These include community-led collective protest, participation in political processes and policy reform, for instance. 

    Access to justice has been a focus of other work Fiona has done. Fiona coordinated, as Senior Researcher at the Cairns Institute, the Indigenous Legal Needs Project (ILNP). The ILNP was the first comprehensive exploration of the civil and family law needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people nationally. Fiona has a long-standing relationship with JCU, having commenced research work there in 2011. She has been working since 2016 on a project funded by Mission Australia and focused on improving outcomes for children and young people in Cairns South. This project takes a place-based, data driven approach to resolving complex social issues through a framework known as collective impact.

    Fiona has also worked as a Senior Research Fellow at Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS, since 2018. At Jumbunna Fiona is coordinating a project that is re-thinking civil law access to justice from Indigenous perspectives in the areas of tenancy, consumer/credit and debt, social security, child protection and race discrimination. Other access to justice projects Fiona has completed as an academic and consultant include evaluations of a health justice partnership at Wuchopperen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service in Cairns and an evaluation of a social support worker initiative for NT Legal Aid. This initiative employs social workers to respond to underlying factors contributing to criminal justice and child protection related legal outcomes. Health justice partnerships respond to the links between health and justice outcomes through collaborative work by health and legal services. Fiona is currently evaluating an Indigenous focused health justice partnership in Inala, QLD, in collaboration with Indigenous researchers at QUT. In 2020 Fiona also travelled to 8 Indigenous communities in the Barkly Region, NT, for access to justice work. She was commissioned by legal services, with a colleague, by legal services to make recommendations for improvements to both criminal and non-criminal access to justice.

    person receiving award on stage

    Justice Reinvestment (JR)

    JR is a framework that uses community development approaches to reducing incarceration, with some focus in Australia on Indigenous incarceration and on recognising and strengthening Indigenous self-determination as response to the latter. Fiona was lead investigator on the NT and QLD pilots of JR and is currently working as JR data and research consultant with Just Reinvest NSW (JRNSW) in Moree and Mt Druitt, working to Indigenous data sovereignty and governance principles. JRNSW is a peak JR body, auspiced by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT. Fiona has since 2017 convened Justice Reinvestment Network Australia, a network bringing together communities implementing JR and their supporters, as well as academic and government advocates of JR.

    Prior to working at JCU, Fiona taught legal studies at Tranby Aboriginal College in Sydney and worked at the Australian Human Rights Commission as a conciliator of race and human rights complaints. She has also worked at Community Legal Centres in the NT and NSW as a generalist solicitor and a family violence and Aboriginal outreach solicitor.

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