Proctor : July 2018
14 PROCTOR | July 2018 A conversation with Magistrate Payne This month it is a sincere pleasure to share with you my conversation with Magistrate Jacqui Payne, whose career to date is an inspiration for us all. To be the first Indigenous woman admitted as a solicitor in Queensland is a huge milestone in itself, but Magistrate Payne followed that with 14 years of criminal defence work. She started at the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Corporation (QEA) for Legal Services (later to become the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) Ltd) and also ran her own successful practice before becoming a magistrate in 1999, serving in both the Brisbane Magistrates Court and the Murri Court. And I was very impressed to learn that, while Magistrate Payne was building her career, she also raised six children, an amazing achievement by itself. How did your career in the law start? I’m a mathematician and scientist at heart. When I was at high school in Gladstone I had to decide my university preferences, and I put down agricultural science. I had no relationship to agriculture, just an interest in science. Before the first round of uni offers came out, I changed it to law. It was my father’s suggestion that I study law – even if I didn’t go on to work as a lawyer. He grew up in the depression. My father’s family was relatively poor and he had little opportunity to get an education. He knew what we needed most was not material possessions, but an education. Did you plan your career out, or did it develop more organically? It’s more happenstance. I never had a career goal or particular outcome in mind, I just take the next step. You did articles at a private firm, then took your first role as a solicitor with ATSILS. Were there any particular experiences there that became important in formulating your views, values or your approach to working as a lawyer and then as a magistrate? When I worked at the ATSILS, I only did criminal law. That was a natural fit for me. One of the values that I have from growing up is not that I am for justice but that I am against injustice – they’re different concepts. We were raised to be offended if there was ever inequality, to be offended if someone didn’t get a fair go, to be offended if there was prejudice or bigotry. That came both from my mother and my father. I hate injustice and the other thing which is something of a bad news insight as I’ve gotten older is that I like to save and rescue people; that’s a bad thing because not everybody wants to be saved and rescued, but if you‘re against injustice and you have an identity which helps people, then criminal law is a natural fit. Do you think that your parents’ intolerance for injustice was to protect you and your siblings? Not at all, although it’s interesting, my sister has just written a chapter in a book called Growing Up Aborigine. Her experience was different to mine, but the thing for me about being Aboriginal is that it wasn’t until I was about 13 that it started to dawn on me that I was – because my grandparents and uncle and aunties and cousins were black. I used to be asked a lot about being an Aboriginal lawyer and then as a magistrate to speak publically, and when I was younger I was a no to that. One of the reasons I was a no is that I didn’t have a ‘poor black fella me’ story. What I got to see as I got older is that there’s not one story. When I grew up my mother used to say to me “never tell anyone your business”. I was never allowed to tell anyone my mother’s maiden name and then I started to join the dots and think that was because my mother was Aboriginal, and because of the racism that she had been subjected to when she was younger, she could avoid that for her and us. She died when I was 22, so I never got to have any adult conversations with her. But I’m told through my sister and cousins that she would have feared that we would be removed from her. She was born at a time of the assimilation policy. ‘Doing what’s required, is to do more’ Rolf Moses, Magistrate Jacqui Payne and QLS president Ken Taylor.