E-QUAL MULSS SOCIAL JUSTICE JOURNAL 2012
WHAT DOES SOCIAL JUSTICE MEAN TO YOU? A FOREWORD TO E-QUAL 2012
When we began our role as Equality and Social Justice Directors last year, our understanding of what social justice involves was very different to what it is now. Through our role we have learnt that social justice cannot be defined by pointing to instances of injustice, nor can it be limited to a clear, succinct definition. As the articles and experiences in the pages to follow demonstrate, social justice means different things to different people. This publication contains a collection of articles written by Melbourne University Law students, which serve to illustrate various contemporary social and legal issues. These opinion pieces are followed by a series of personal reflections, outlining some fascinating and diverse work experiences that students have undertaken whilst studying. Accompanying each of these articles is the link to the website of the organisation at which the student volunteered. There is also a directory at the end of the publication, listing further volunteer opportunities. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to serve as your Equality and Social Justice Directors for the past year and we thank you for the opportunity. We encourage all students to undertake a volunteer role whilst studying. Not only is it incredibly rewarding: you will become a better lawyer and person for it. We hope you enjoy the 2012 edition of E-QUAL. We would like to thank all the passionate and inspiring students who contributed to this publication. The study of Law teaches us just that, the Law: the rest is up to you.
MULSS EQUALITY & SOCIAL JUSTICE DIRECTORS 2012 Natalie Tavassoli
Tucked behind Victoria University’s Student Village on Maribyrnong’s sleepy Hampstead Road sits one of Melbourne’s silent welcome centres for Australia’s most vulnerable community, the ‘queue-jumping’ asylum seekers. So close to the heart of Melbourne and equally as invisible to most Australians, this is Maribyr nong Immigration Detention Centre (MIDC), a state-of-the-art, flashy facility, which first opened its doors in 1983. It is taxpayer financed and operationally outsourced to international security firm Serco. It is also a form of house arrest for those without a home, Australia’s new caste of Untouchables. When young citizens call to mind the institutions that represent them in government, there’s, say, Parliament House and the Treasury Building. However, this ignoble building complex, a concentration camp by any another name, is not among them. MIDC can house up to around 100 individuals, many of those who do stay are asylum seekers, whilst others include those who have overstayed visas and the like. They are Hazara, Afghans, Tamils, Iranians: a composite of the desperate peoples of the world whose ruined lives are testaments to unresolved conflicts abroad, and whose continued imprisonment here looms large as a testament to the unresolved conflict of human rights and national identity. MIDC is one of several detention centres dotting the Australian landscape, holding several thousand asylum seekers altogether.
Visits to a detention centre are highly regulated but not beyond a citizen’s reach. Most visitors are family and friends, with occasional visits from concerned humanitarians and lawyers, the latter in many cases helpless in the face of uncompromising and labyrinthine migration law. Chances at getting in depend on several factors, namely that the visitor personally knows a detainee. This writer took that chance and got inside. Little differentiates a detention centre from a prison, or a kennel for that matter, except that prisons usually, at least in principle, house convicted criminals. This lot, on the other hand, has committed no crime, despite the premature sentencing of public opinion to keep them behind bars. My visit coincided with some refugee activists from the University of Melbourne who organised the outing. Some had been to MIDC before, for others; like me, it was a novel experience. Staff members, who were identified by name and country of origin, were terse, cold and efficient. According to one activist, Serco employs exdetainees to manage parts of the operation. A cynical spin on empathy for one’s peers. The atmosphere in the lobby is similar to the employees’ attitudes: clean and sterile and efficient. Lockers lined one wall near the front desk, where one activist went through a list of names, seeing who we might visit. Some names didn’t come up on the roster; their whereabouts unknown.
HOPE INCARCERATED After depositing everything in one of the lockers—backpacks, keys, phones, notepads, pens, change, essentially anything from the outside—we went through a metal detector, much like airline security, except, in this case, these security measures are designed to keep the inside safe from the reality outside. Once through, we proceeded through a series of doors and heavily secured rooms, all managed from behind thick glass windows, our communication with security guards via microphones. It was a short walk to the main detention centre hall, where one passes through another security clearance, another reassurance that the visit is legitimate. The laconic staff members reflected the discernible tension in the air. Courtesies were brief, and suspicion was ever present. Our group split in two, one set meeting a young Iranian, ours with a Tamil called Luke. We waited for him in the cold space of the reception area, a modern room with high ceilings and furnished with couches, round tables and chairs. It reminded one of a soulless school cafeteria, replete with signs displaying the shallow platitudes of corporate prison wardens, about how much Serco values its commitment to ‘quality’ service. Luke finally approached and the four of us sat down at one of the tables. Luke was a healthy-looking Tamil, 28, a former air conditioning repairman; however, he looked visibly desperate. His demeanor was permanently morose, his glossy eyes searching for hope in our eyes, though they were usually fixed on the floor. He provided details of a harrowing journey, through the violence of war-torn Sri Lanka, the perilous trek across the Indian Ocean toward Australia, and the hell of Christmas Island and detention centres from Darwin to Villawood to MIDC.
He had escaped from Jaffa, where his family still lives, save for a brother he lost by means all too familiar to many Tamils. A white van carrying thugs and Kalashnikovs took off with his brother one evening, never to be seen again. Determined to flee for a better life— is there any other reason for their resolve?—Luke fled to India in search for a route to Australia. After several false and expensive starts with what little savings he had, Luke finally arranged for a boat destined to a supposedly promising future in the Lucky Country. It has been two years since Luke’s boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy and taken to Christmas Island, where Luke, a recognised refugee, was detained for approximately one year. Authorities pushed him between centres before his eventual arrival in mid-2012 at MIDC. The recent transfer had been arranged because his sister, another refugee, had resettled in Australia five years prior. Nowadays, Luke spends his time shuffling between meals and his personal computer, connected to the outside world by the Internet, which, however, provides no respite from the overwhelming boredom and depression of permanent detention. He was able to stay in touch with family and friends in Sri Lanka and Ballarat, and often posted photos of puppies or Jesus Christ, accompanied with inspirational quotes or invocations for divine mercy and compassion. The fear of remaining imprisoned forever consumed him, as it often does many asylum seekers awaiting bridging visas, ASIO clearances, deportations— the unknown fate whose Kafka-esque reasoning confuses these prisoners largely illiterate in English. The desperation mutes them more effectively than any actual muzzle, and many of them, according to Luke, spend the days aloof, despite there being small communities of fellow Tamils.
HOPE INCARCERATED On some occasions that desperation drives a handful of detainees to suicide attempts, some of them successful. To Luke, this was not an extreme and brash act; it was an easier and more final fate for those who feared the perpetual isolation. One of the students asked Luke that, given another opportunity to come to Australia, would he take the chance? ‘I did not know it would be like this’, he said. ‘If I had known it would be like this, no, I would never have come’. Consolation and solidarity, though powerless here, seemed the best we could offer. Lawyers had not been much help, Luke said, and he was contemptuous of the law, which he, like many sympathetic Australians, fail to comprehend. Luke had been granted a bridging visa by immigration officials, only to have it suspended, in classic fashion, by an ASIO ‘negative’ assessment. Yet another potential security risk to Australia posed by a Tamil. The law disenfranchises not only those seeking a just outcome of their visa applications, but also of the legal institutions which might otherwise provide for a fair system of review. All of this in the name of ‘national security’, an epithet for the untamed political power of ASIO and a product of half-baked national policies aimed at a premature solution to a supposed crisis. This one story, however, ends well. ASIO, still ensconced in its legal veil of secrecy, eventually gave Luke a ‘positive’ assessment and the bridging visa was reinstated. Luke moved in with family in Ballarat, meeting young relatives for the first time, before moving today to Dandenong. He lives happily and in hope of a better life in his new home. His Facebook wall, once filled with desperate, longing messages for another chance, now features photos of a joyous family and a new man. This story should serve, however, not only as testimony to the unspoken
crime of locking up the world’s poor— the only Western liberal democracy to do so—but to the histrionics of a national conversation so far off the mark from reality. There are no barbarian hordes headed for Australia’s virgin coastlines, no unstoppable fleets of dark-skinned brigands clamoring for an unjust resettlement in our crowded cities. Instead, a few thousand of the w o r l d ’s m o s t d e s p e r a t e a n d defenceless land each year, some by boat, others by plane, in the hope that Australia might offer them something better than the treachery and misery that ejected them from their homes. At present, one might suggest that all Australians, for or against this current policy of mandatory detention, ought to visit a detention centre and to meet these beleaguered caste of Untouchables. One might consider it an act of civic duty, a responsibility of the taxpayer to know what they’re paying for. That is, if this is a democracy where accountability is a two-way street, where citizens ought to be accountable for their government’s policies which their votes, however uninformed, endorse each election. A visit might bring a better understanding of current events and ideas for a more constructive policy, for alternatives tried in the past—think of Vietnam in the 70s, as former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser recommends— and those yet untried. More so, it comes back to hope, and providing the smallest consolation, in solidarity, to a detainee’s life. That a more compassionate community of Australians exists beyond the gates of these invisible prisons. A security measure can, after all, only bar so much from the outside world, but one thing no metal detector, security detail or misguided government policy can prevent is slipping in a sliver of hope for the presently hopeless.
A LAW DEGREE:
A RESPONSIBILITY TO SHOW COURAGE AND TO LEAD THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY JESSICA STOJKOVSKI Exactly two years ago, prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in Iran. In 2011 she was jailed and banned from working as a lawyer for 20 years because she was found guilty of acting against national security, propaganda against the regime and membership of the Human Rights Defenders' Centre. The case raises complex and interesting issues, of both local and international significance. Jessica Stojkovski, Melbourne Law Student’s Society Women’s Officer, speaks with Barrister Julian McMahon about the importance of this case, the challenges faced by female lawyers, advocates and journalists, and what the students of Melbourne Law School can do in response. What role should Melbourne Law School students play in raising awareness of Nasrin’s sentence? !! As! a Women’s Officer of the Law Student’s Society,! you have asked me two related questions – why would we concern ourselves with Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and what should students do about her? ! Recently Melbourne University was listed as the top university in Australia. Unless that prestige is used well, it is wasted. For some, it means freedom to cogitate even when results may never be tangible. Such thinking is essential in a real university. But in our interconnected and shrinking world, students must also be willing to engage in the struggles necessary to make the world a better place. With the luxury
of quality education comes the responsibility to show courage and to! lead. ! When young adults make compelling arguments for justice and accountability, then media and politicians notice. They may despise, try to ignore, and ridicule, but they notice. The last 2 years in Northern Africa and the Middle East have shown, again, that young people with courage can achieve momentous results, and without guns. Does the fact that Nasrin is a woman play any role in her sentence or treatment?! I cannot pretend to understand the complexities of Iran. But from Iran to Sri Lanka to Moscow to so many places, courageous women suffer threats, violence and death for
for speaking the truth, or for fighting for the truth. Too often, they are names that are never known, or too easily forgotten. This week alone, the news reported that a pregnant Human Rights Watch worker in M o s c o w , Ta n y a Lokshina, has suffered terrifying threats, and a n o u t s p o k e n f e m a l e e d i t o r, Frederica Jansz, in Sri Lanka has been sacked with death threats hovering. In both Russia and Sri Lanka, the governments do not sufficiently protect the right to speak truth, or the rule of law. In both countries, journalists who write for truth are regularly killed: 39 in Sri Lanka in the last 8 years. My point is that these names, current today, will be forgotten tomorrow unless someone – such as articulate student groups – makes sure their names remain alive. With awareness comes some protection. It is easier to torture and kill a forgotten person. What international and local importance does this case represent, and why?! So, why Nasrin Sotoudeh?! She is just one of many, but a new Women’s Officer has to start somewhere. As a lawyer she fought for equality in Iran. She defended
women whose crimes were simply campaigning for women’s rights, she campaigned against the execution of children, and in her office, she was interviewed without wearing a hijab. She was arrested exactly two years ago, and jailed for 11 years, essentially for defending political prisoners – for doing the job of a courageous lawyer. Iran is a country that purportedly tortures its prisoners.! After international pressure, her sentence was reduced to 6 years, and the ban on her practicing law was reduced from 20 to 10 years. ! She and many like her should be the subject of clever targeted campaigning by clever tech-savvy students, to shame governments to free such lawyers and journalists. What better use of a prestigious course of study?
EARNING NUMBER DIVERSITY IN THE LAW SCHOOL ANTONY FREEMAN There is much to celebrate at Melbourne Law School. As we all know, according to the various elaborate ranking systems devised to grade law schools around the world, we are apparently a well respected bunch, attending a high quality institution with a ‘global’ edge. We have excellent resources at our fingertips, and the standard of teaching and discussion is generally first-rate. Student opportunities are plentiful and varied, and we are treated to a frenetic social calendar courtesy of our student bodies. Despite a few inevitable bumps each year in each student’s experience, we are pretty damn lucky. So...what’s up Doc? Why the whinge? Well, let me start with the proposition that the position of Melbourne Law School as one of the best in the world is extremely precarious. As in, we are on borrowed time. Now, I am certainly not suggesting that the sky is about to cave in and MLS will suddenly plunge down the world rankings. Moreover, even if we did, rankings are certainly not the complete barometer of student experience that they are often sought to be, and should be treated with a high degree of scepticism each year they are released. What I am chirpy about is more a shift in the culture of the law school over the past few years as the Juris Doctor has expanded to its full intake. In other words, that warm and fuzzy feeling is slowly dissipating. If I’m not making much
sense, then let the following songs get you in the right head-space:
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ – The Righteous Brothers It must have been love – Roxette Where is the love? – Black Eyed Peas Rock Lobster – B-52s (just because it’s amazing) You get the point...let me explain further. At Orientation each year, the incoming cohort is predictably told by Faculty of the diverse wonders of their fellow students. Some students already have a Masters degree, others are from overseas or interstate, some have worked full-time for many years prior to commencing their law degrees, and some have completed undergraduate degrees with no conceivable nexus to legal study. When I started in 2010 with 160 classmates, the diversity statistics were delightfully staggering. The average age of our cohort was in the mid-high 20s, there were plenty of people from interstate and overseas, and many of my colleagues h a d s o m e p re t t y i n t e re s t i n g l i f e experiences prior to starting law school. In 2011, when over 230 students began their JDs, the statistics were a little different. There was still a significant group of international and interstate students, but proportionately they were less prominent. The average age dropped, as the number of students coming through the Melbourne Model system increased. In 2012, the changes were more pronounced again, with over 320 new JDs enrolling in study.
The ratio of University of Melbourne undergraduates coming through the system increased again, and the average age continued to fall. So... Who cares? Diversity is a powerful tool for a tertiary institution, particularly a law school. The reasons behind this are simple. Of course, diversity enhances our understanding and emotional intelligence. It improves the quality of our debates and teaches us to embrace our differences, rather than fear them. But perhaps more poignantly, law schools are inevitably melting pots of ambitious, intelligent people who want to do ‘big things’. Consequently, law students are often faced with difficult decisions on their future. Many students have no idea how to achieve these ‘big things’ and how they get there. Do you embark on the traditional journey towards becoming a solicitor and hope that this gets you where you want to be, or do you take the more opaque pathways into government, policy work, academia, public interest, or corporate ventures? These are unnerving decisions. One benefit of diversity is that it encourages courageous decisions. When I look around at my classmates, it is their past experiences and future directions which give me comfort, because there is no ‘mould’, no typical story. This diversity fosters a culture of risk-taking, courage and innovation, as you merely need to look around you to see what is available for your future. The issue with the shifting demographics in the JD intake due to the Melbourne Model are that the days of a genuinely diverse student body are at risk, as are the associated benefits of this diversity. The more homogenous a student body becomes, the harder it is to foster a culture of positive tension to encourage debate and varied experiences. Students who do not fit into this typical box due to age, ethnicity, educational background, or other factors are increasingly marginalised, and as a result this law school becomes annoyingly usual.
A broader issue with the Melbourne Model is that the major undergraduate degrees foster a culture of ambivalence towards university. For many students, your degree becomes an increasingly smaller part of your life as you learn how to pass without attending lectures and by spending minimal hours on campus. When students are subsequently thrust into the wonderful world of graduate study at law school, they often come with an ingrained nonchalance towards tertiary study and student life, and as such, don’t fulfil the potential opportunities available to them. The challenge for all those at Melbourne Law School is to continue to cultivate this culture of diversity in the face of a more homogeneous student body. There are people at MLS who do remarkable things on a consistent basis. Whether this is work for particular social justice causes, contributing creatively to student life and academic research, or just balancing work/life/family, the energy and passion of people here is infectious. We should continue to highlight and celebrate these experiences. They give us the nerve to branch out from our comfort zones and try new things, often leading to great results. At present, this law school has a unique opportunity to capitalise on its reputation as one of the best in the world. In the short-term, this reputation will lead to extremely capable people applying for the JD from an assortment of backgrounds. The long-term challenge is to ensure that the current students and faculty nurture this culture of diversity into the future, to ensure students continue to draw comfort and inspiration from the courageous decisions of those around them. As Robert Frost most eloquently wrote: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by,! And that has made all the difference.’
WHAT I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT LATELY LARA FREIDIN I. Lately I have been trying to find ways to put how I’ve been feeling into words, and failing miserably. I know intuitively that there is a reason why I feel so claustrophobic, why I feel so trapped and afraid about the future. I’ve been thinking that it has something to do with the way that the law school, as an institution that is built to train legal minds, both creates and is the result of a particular culture. In other words, there is a way of thinking and behaving in the law school that is both instilled within its students and is subsequently reproduced by those students. I came to law school with the aim of gaining an understanding of the way in which the law is a particular social construct that is utilised to achieve social change. I came with a background in philosophy and social theory. I did not realise that by entering into the law school I would, myself, become a part of this system and thus lose the ability to remain an outside observer. I naively thought that I would be unaffected by the particular ways of thinking, and conceptual frameworks, that are employed by the legal system, and are inherent in its mode of operation. The law school trains its students to think in a particular way. We do not
attend law school to gain knowledge for knowledge’s sake; most of what we learn is immediately forgotten after exams (of course, this is not an issue because the law is always changing and adapting to new circumstances, albeit slowly). It is a vocational discipline whereby we are gaining the knowledge and skills to work in a particular way, for a particular purpose. We all know this, yet it is something that we take for granted and then move on. We do not stop to consider the particular affect that the legal system is already having on our thoughts and behaviour, and the way in which we are reproducing these particular ways of thinking and being. II. The law school provides us with a set of tools which will enable us to work within the legal system. In other words, our brains are being moulded to suit the particular kind of work that we are to engage in later in our careers. This involves a dehumanising aspect whereby we are taught to disassociate ourselves from that which we are learning about so that we can view it objectively, from a distance. We are taught to ignore our emotive or intuitive reactions to the problems that we are confronted with so that we can apply legal principles as straightforwardly, and with as much clarity, as possible. We use
WHAT I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT LATELY keywords like ‘policy considerations’ and ‘flood gate arguments’ to minimise the array of societal influences and perceptions that might be taken into account. Instead, we turn the world of possibility into neat little categories that can be utilised in examination hypothetical problems. We are encouraged to only question t h e l a w f ro m w i t h i n i t s o w n conceptual framework and not to question its utility or the underlying principles that contribution to its formation. We are not taught to ask why. To a certain extent we might be encouraged to consider particular avenues for law reform but these are generally limited to the options proposed to us by our professors. Many people are of the view that this sort of inquiry should not be the role of law school. They would argue that, as law is a vocational discipline, we are being taught a certain skillset and nothing more. However, I believe that this argument should not sit well with any self-reflective, inquisitive person who feels even a small sense of social responsibility. This kind of thinking also does not sit with the mentality behind the Melbourne Model. The next generation of Melbourne Law School students will have multi-disciplinary backgrounds and, in an ideal world, would each utilise this background knowledge to contribute to the way in which the law is being developed. The law school would not simply be a g ro o m i n g h o u s e f o r f u t u re corporate lawyers but a place of learning in which students can apply
their particular areas of interest and understanding to consider current issues that society is confronted with and the ways in which the law might respond to these.
III. Firstly, the law school is inherently o p p o s e d t o p e o p l e t h a t a re passionate about critiquing the legal system and the belief that the role of the lawyer should be to engage in social change. This is because the law school promotes and instils within its students a particular mode of thinking which, by its very nature, is lacking in creativity and creates no space for independent thought. Secondly, this is a result of the structure of the legal system which is inherently conservative by nature. This stems from the idea that the law is a social construct which, not in its’ particular manifestations, but as a whole system, reproduces inherently conservative power structures. This view is based on the premise that the law school exists as a microcosm of the culture of the legal system in general. To be frank, the legal system was initially created by white males – those in a position of privilege in society. As such, the legal system reflects the particular interests and perceptions of those who created it, which necessarily entails an investment in the maintenance of the status quo. In this way, the legal system is structured so that it is beneficial to those people that identify their own interests with the interests of the privileged.
WHAT I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT LATELY IV. It is no secret that there is a particular kind of person that is drawn to the study of law. When I first began law school, I remember that we used to refer to ourselves as ‘Type A’ personalities but, of course, that’s barely scratching the surface. Law students appear to possess a superiority/inferiority complex that manifests itself as defensive arrogance and an intense desire to feel superior, intelligent and validated that is hidden beneath a false veneer of effortlessness. The way in which law students subtly compare marks and fight over clerkships might be put forward as examples of the way in which law students typically possess feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy that they try to suppress or shield against. The culture of competitiveness and arrogance in the law school is how we begin to reproduce the culture of the legal system and are able to work within its confines. It is how we learn to justify the lack of creativity that exists in the work that we do, or the lack of empathy that has been instilled within us by the law school. We can defend against this loss because we are able to replace it with a sense of superiority and privilege. We need the law school to protect our egos, whilst it systematically tears them apart. We no longer have anything to cling to but the fact that we are law students and are thus superior and privileged. It is in this way that we are, at such an early stage in our legal careers, already reproducing the conceptual frameworks that the legal system is founded upon. There is, of course, privilege that exists from working within the legal
profession. It takes one day working in a community legal centre to know without a doubt that it is a huge privilege to have a law degree – to have access to this specialised area of knowledge and ability. The legal system clearly disproportionately affects the disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised members of society. In contrast, those that attend law school are often students that have come from privileged backgrounds and will continue to live in privilege. This is, p e r h a p s , r e fl e c t e d i n t h e disproportionate representation of students in the law school that previously attended private schools. Law students need to recognise that having a law degree is a privilege. The study of law, however, does not equate to superiority. The way in which the legal system is structured is such that it engenders a particular mode of thinking whereby law students will identify the study of law with privilege, so that they are able to work within its confines, and work towards maintaining its interests. It is vitally important that law students engage in self-reflection, consider what their interests actually are and whether or not these interests are in alignment with those of the legal system. If not, then there may be other career paths that students will be better suited to. A worthwhile career might be working towards social change and fighting for equality, so that those in a position of privilege no longer have the power to engage in oppression through maintenance of the status quo.
$PAYDAY’ $ $ $ $$ $ $ $ DAY OF RECKONING BRONWEN CLAIRE EVANS
With more locations than McDonald’s nationwide, the $40 billion industry of payday loans is a common sight in the depression-in-all-but-name United States nowadays. Around 10 million US homes depend on this iniquitous form of ‘vulture capitalism’ that thrives on the desperation of the most needy, a business model that is facing a burgeoning market in Australia today. The Melbourne-based Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC), a child of the merger of the Consumer Law Centre Victoria and the Consumer Credit Legal Services in 2006, is campaigning for effective regulations on these payday lending schemes. ‘Financial inclusion is not only about access to financial services, but protection from exploitative products that are inappropriate to consumer needs’, CALC wrote in its Policy and Campaigns Plan 2012-13. Hardly any product is more exploitative than the payday loan, which is used by more than half a million cash-strapped Australians, driven to shady deals by a two-speed economy where they happen to be locked in neutral down a steady decline into poverty. D r J e r e m y To b a c m a n a t t h e University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, is a financial industry specialist, and considers payday loans part of the sub-prime lending market. ‘Payday loans are
one of the most expensive forms of credit in the world’, says Tobacman, in a recent paper co-authored by Paige Marta Skiba, ‘Payday Loans, Uncertainty and Discounting: Explaining Patterns of Borrowing, Repayment, and Default’. ‘Borrowers typically pay nonannualized finance charges of 18 per cent for loans lasting two weeks. Access to payday loans … increase[s] personal bankruptcy rates’.
RMIT and the University of Queensland’s recent ‘Caught Short Report’ investigated the experiences of 112 individuals taking out small, short-term loans from non-bank groups in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Respondents said their insufficient income to meet basic living expenses was a major reason for picking up payday loans. Almost 80 per cent of the respondents received Centrelink payments or a pension, and 37 per cent of those were Disability Support Pensioners. The Report goes on to show women far outnumbering men among borrowers, with over half the respondents, of either gender, taking out more than ten loans in the last two years. Within this group of highfrequency borrowers, three-quarters had more than twenty loans to their name. Frequently, these borrowers’ comments reflect their unhappy lot, with self-described situations ranging from being ‘stuck’ or ‘trapped’.
three-quarters had more than twenty loans to their name. Frequently, these borrowers’ comments reflect their unhappy lot, with self-described situations ranging from being ‘stuck’ or ‘trapped’. Even so, borrowers countenance the unfortunate reality that non-bank lenders fill a legitimate need for instant cash that banks don’t afford. Payday lenders go so far as to endorse this view of their own indispensability, that they fulfill a basic community need. This, in turn, justifies their high premiums, on the grounds that desperate borrowers are volatile customers and carry a high risk of defaulting on loans. Many financial counsellors have nonetheless criticised what they see as irresponsible lending practices among some payday lenders. For example, some structure loans to f a c i l i t a t e a ‘ b o r ro w i n g c y c l e ’ entrapment, where the erstwhile loan shark lends to borrowers with certain vulnerability factors—mental illness, a gambling habit or simply a lack of education. For authorities, the problem remains, what to do for those with legitimate and urgent financial needs? Steven Dukas began borrowing from a payday lender in 2004 to meet his partner’s medical bills. He took $100 from two lenders and found himself paying one $65 fortnightly, the other $67.50. ‘It just went on and on’, he says. ‘It was a vicious circle’. If borrowers weren’t trapped — if they really paid off their $20 or $30 finance fees at the end of one pay period — payday lending wouldn’t be profitable at all. Indeed, many borrowers take out a loan from another payday lender to pay the first.
On the solution front, the Caught Short Report makes six recommendations, two of them proposing an increase in Centrelink payments, especially for Disability Support Pensioners, and a weekly, rather than fortnightly, payment of Centrelink benefits. Meanwhile, in the US, state legislators have taken action against payday lenders, with 12 states outlawing the practice. Among states that don’t perceive the crippling institution as a threat, Tennessee is home to the nation’s first payday lending chains, Check Into Cash. Founded in 1993 by, according to its website, ‘business entrepreneur and philanthropist’ W. Allan Jones (who by some estimates is worth more than half a billion US dollars), Check Into Cash manages more than 1,000 locations in 30 US states. A former employee of Jones’s put the situation best in a recent magazine interview. His words paint a stark, chilling picture of what could happen if this booming industry keeps growing apace in Australia: ‘Once you’re borrowing from Check Into Cash to pay Advance America to pay Check ’n Go, it’s just a matter of time.!You go to the second lender, it’s game over. It’s game over’.
JUSTICE IMPEDED BY THE PUBLIC’S POOR LEGAL KNOWLEDGE
It is widely accepted that, in a ‘rule of law’ society such as Australia, all persons must have access to independent courts and tribunals that can determine their legal disputes. It is also widely acknowledged that there are many barriers to achieving such access to justice. Barriers include cost of litigation, the potential for adverse cost orders, standing requirements, limited legal aid and pro bono work, and even practical problems such as difficulty getting through on the phone to community legal centres. This article focuses on an even more fundamental barrier to justice: the general public’s poor understanding of the legal system. It is unarguable that the average Australian has limited or inadequate knowledge of how our legal system operates. As a consequence many legal problems go unaddressed and/or unresolved. The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW’s ‘Justice Made to Measure’ Report found that, of those it surveyed, no action was taken in about one-third of the legal events experienced. The UK’s Legal Services Commission similarly found that no action was taken in about one-fifth of reported legal problems. Both reports suggested the
dominant reason for this was ‘a belief that nothing could be done’, that people do not know that their problems can be solved via legal recourse, or that they even have a legal problem. Further, the ‘Justice Made to Measure’ Report found that traditional legal advisors were used in just 12% of cases in which help was sought. By contrast, in 75% of cases where help was sought only non-legal advisors were consulted. Whilst this may be partly explained by the high cost of obtaining legal advice, a lack of knowledge of who to consult must play an important role. So what can be done to improve the average Australian’s knowledge of the legal system in ways that empower access to justice? I suggest that Commonwealth and State governments should invest more heavily in legal education, and in proactive community legal information dissemination. This two-limbed investment would seek to ‘provide the general public with the necessary knowledge base to easily recognize their legal needs’, thereby putting individuals in a position to resolve their legal
p ro b l e m s t h ro u g h t h e m o s t appropriate legal recourse. Such a proposal is both modest, in the sense that the general public’s legal knowledge base would be of a basic standard (and wouldn’t be making lawyers out of all of us); and ambitious, in the sense that it would attempt to provide all Australians with a basic understanding of their rights, obligations, sources of advice and m e t h o d s f o r re s o l v i n g l e g a l disputes. The first limb, legal education, would be aimed at high school students and could be implemented by integrating a ‘Legal Studies’ course into the national curriculum. Such a class would educate students about their legal rights and obligations, methods of dispute resolution and the proper avenues to get legal advice. Police or legal officers could also appear as guest s p e a k e r s . P ro v i d i n g a l e g a l education is essential - it would provide future generations with a base level of legal knowledge before the majority of potential legal problems affect them. The second limb, a proactive legal information dissemination program, would seek to reach those already likely to be experiencing legal issues and not at high school – adults. Potential aspects of this program could include greater distribution of legal rights and
obligations pamphlets in plain English (and other languages) at services that people regularly engage with, such as Centrelink offices, medical centres or banks; and wider promotion of the best first ports-of-call for certain legal issues, like Victoria Legal Aid. A new legal education department in the Legal Services Commission would be best placed to implement these legal education and information dissemination programs. I do not suggest that improving education and information dissemination alone is sufficient to finally provide access to justice to all. The issues caused by, for example, the high cost of litigation or limited legal aid and pro bono work must also be addressed. However, the average Australian’s poor understanding of the legal system is a fundamental barrier that may prevent a large number of people from even reaching the stage of contemplating litigation costs. Investing in legal education and information dissemination must be a vital part of any attempt to improve access to justice.
I AM A
AND YOU SHOULD BE TOO!
OLIVER COX My mother was born in England in 1945 into a middle class family. Her father was a former naval officer and her mother a housewife, who had a taste for the finer things in life. My mother’s childhood was fairly idyllic. She was the only child of her parents, and one of the eldest children of her generation in her family, and so she was spoilt not only by her parents but by her uncles and aunts also. Her family were well off – her mother believed that only gypsies got tans and had their ears pierced, and that it was ‘common’ to leave the house without gloves on. My mother was intelligent, head strong, gregarious, always laughing, and beautiful. Stunning, in fact. At the end of primary school, my grandparents wanted to send my mother to a private school. However, my mother did not want to leave her friends and refused, instead attending a state high school. I am certain, that if she had been a boy, there would have been no question about her going to a private school. In s e c o n d a r y s c h o o l , b o y s w e re separated from girls to do mathematics, while girls went to do home economics. When it came time
to decide whether to attend university o r n o t m y m o t h e r ’s p a r e n t s encouraged her. The rest of her network of family and friends discouraged her. They all said that she was too pretty for university and that university was only for women who would have difficulty finding a husband. My mother, wilful as always, did a kind of finishing course, which among other things taught her how to get out of a car elegantly (keeping your legs closed). Her aunts and uncles were proved right: my mother was pretty enough to find a husband, and she married a Manchester United football player at 19. As her first husband’s career waned, he got jobs playing in other parts of England, and later in P e r t h , Wo l l o n g o n g , Ta s m a n i a , Melbourne, and Gisborne in New Zealand. All this travel meant that my mother could not work consistently for one organisation, or even in one area. Consequently she had to rebuild networks and start at the bottom of organisations. My mother almost completed her nursing training in Wollongong, but had to leave to go back to England with her husband within a few weeks of completing it.
My mother divorced her first husband, and married my father. Within two years of marrying my father in Tasmania, the family moved to Melbourne where I was born. Again, my mother left her job to follow her husband, although she had been very involved in the management of the charity that she and my father both worked for. After 2 years in Melbourne my family moved to Auckland, New Zealand. The job my father took here, was partially given to him because of my mother’s involvement at her previous job, the selection committee in fact flew to Melbourne from NZ to interview my mother. In New Zealand, my mother commenced a form of training that would qualify her to work within the charity in a more senior role. Up until this time, my mother had volunteered so that other wives of employees would also volunteer, as she was the m a n a g e r ’s w i f e . M y p a r e n t s relationship deteriorated, and my mother, at 46 with 2 young children was again single. She returned to Melbourne as she could not continue her training at the organisation my father worked at. Although my mother’s parents had left her a large amount of money, my mother had no income, and while very intelligent and capable, my mother had no way of earning a good income. Again she started working in secretarial jobs when my sister and I were at an appropriate age for her to work. To support her children, my mother used the capital in her house
which over the years slowly dwindled. The reason I have told my mother’s story is not because it is extraordinary. I think it is in fact quite ordinary. Women of my mother’s generation would probably have made similar choices to my mother given the same circumstances and pressures. I think many things have changed since then, particularly regarding education of women – the law school apparently has more female then male students. However, I think many of societies expectations have not changed, and that women still need to be mindful of these pressures. Taking five years off work to raise children has very specific impacts on women’s careers leading to fewer promotions and less advancement. To achieve true equality the genders need to share child responsibilities more equitably - men also need to take time out of their c a re e r t o l o o k a f t e r c h i l d re n . Furthermore, one partner’s career should, where possible, never be sacrificed for another’s. Both should be given the opportunity to thrive. For some people feminism is a dirty word, but it really shouldn’t be. At its core, feminism means women having equal rights and equal ability to pursue those rights. The ability to pursue these rights means that men have to take some responsibility for the roles and tasks that have traditionally been designated for women. I am a feminist and you should be too.
GLOBAL RESPONSE? ASH BAGNALL We live in a global society, but the laws that apply to us are still mostly local. Yet the laws of other countries sometimes inspire global outcry. R e c e n t l y, t w o v e r y d i f f e r e n t countries, the United States and the Philippines, each with a large online population, have dabbled in legislating online behaviour. But only one received such public outcry against the proposed legislation that it was stopped in its tracks before it became law. If you were online in late 2011, you probably heard about SOPA - the Stop Online Piracy Act bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives. The reason you probably heard about it is that people were angry - after all, its purpose was the enable easier enforcement of existing copyright laws; something that have become increasingly easy to circumvent with online services such as file hosting sites and media streaming. Free access to copyright material is becoming something we take for granted. Despite being a US
domestic bill, it certainly made the news in Australia. From a legal perspective, the primary objection to SOPA was that its implementation ignored some of the basic tenets of due process, and that, consequently, the easily abused proposed system enabled online censorship and, in the United States, infringed on freedom of speech. The public outcry against the bill resulted in its consideration being "postponed". Eight months later and there has been no further move on the bill. On October 3 2012, the Cybercrimes Prevention Act came into effect in the Philippines. While much broader in scope than SOPA, addressing a wide-ranging number of crimes such as cybersquatting and child pornography, the minimal attention it has gained centers around the criminalization of online libel and, similarly to SOPA, its circumvention of due process.
Libel in the Philippines was already subject to criminal sanctions before this legislation. What this legislation does with libel, as well as other existing "real world" crimes, is criminalize the conduct when carried out online, only with much tougher penalties. It is the act of publishing that brings written words into the scope of libel, and through platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, we've all become publishers. Where things become particularly troublesome is the existing libel law used in the Philippines that is maintained in this legislation - a law that the UN has declared incompatible with human rights, with their main criticism of the law's formulation being the lack of distinction between malicious statements and statements made in error. So if you Tweet something that's untrue, not knowing it's untrue, and it's libelous, in the Philippines you could go to jail.
Compared to the consequences of SOPA, you might have had your internet services reduced or received a fine, the global outcry appears to be somewhat unbalanced. Clicking 'like' on a Facebook group, or adding your name to an online petition often feels like, and usually is, a waste of time, if your yardstick is change in the course of legislative development. But the attention generated by the massive, public, international outcry against SOPA contributed significantly to the death of that bill. It's too late to stop the Cybercrimes Prevention Act, but that only makes public commentary and criticism that much more important - something that is now much more difficult in the Philippines.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN SINGAPORE REFLECTIONS ON AN INTERNSHIP WITH HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER M. RAVI MICHAEL CHEN Mr. M. Ravi is one of a handful of human rights lawyers in Singapore, who represents condemned narcotics offenders and actively campaigns against the death penalty. He has a significant network of activists, foreign lawyers and nongovernmental organisations. He is also very interested in the development of future generations of Singaporean human rights lawyers, and developed an internship program for five interns in 2011. I was very privileged to be accepted as part of this internship program. To compare the Australian and Singaporean approach to human rights and capital punishment: Australia is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which is an international commitment to abolish the death penalty. In contrast, Singapore is not a party to any of them. The case of Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian national arrested in Singapore in 2007 at the age of 19 for a narcotics trafficking offence and sentenced to death, highlights the
devastating impact of the mandatory death penalty in Singapore. He grew up in poverty, did not complete primary-school education, and his parents divorced when he was three years old. His mother, who is battling clinical depression, does not know about his sentence. He had been scheduled to be executed on the 4th of December 2009, but this was extended because of a last-minute appeal by Ravi and a subsequent constitutional challenge. Ravi enlisted the help of Edward Fitzgerald CBE QC of the UKâ€™s Doughty Street Chambers when representing Yong Vui Kong in the constitutional challenge against the mandatory death penalty. At the time of writing, Singaporeâ€™s Court of Appeal had rejected the challenge and all domestic avenues were exhausted. The last hope is a clemency petition to the President. Thus, Ravi and three interns including myself went on an unforgettable trip to Changi Prison to meet with Yong Vui Kong, for him to sign his clemency petition and to receive the letters that he wrote personally for the petition. We passed through 3 security checkpoints before being allowed into the interview room.
THE DEATH PENALTY IN SINGAPORE I will never forget the sight of this skinny, friendly young man, who was so keen to patiently explain his philosophies to us interns. He was shaved bald and wore a plain white shirt with his number and surname printed on it. While there was a bit of a language barrier, Vui Kong has achieved a high standard of written Mandarin and is conversant in Mandarin through his studies in prison, and conversed in Malay with Ravi. He is also devoted to Buddhism, and is definitely does not pose a violent threat to society. The sound of the security door closing made a tremendous, ominous echo. While Vui Kong appeared brave and calm, I can only imagine the kind of mental anguish faced by him and other death row inmates, many of whom are young people, every day of their remaining lives.
out the best way to present arguments and draft the submissions.
During the internship, I was also involved in drafting submissions for a constitutional challenge in the appeal court by another prisoner, who had been sentenced to death for a narcotics trafficking offence. The argument involved a constitutional challenge on the grounds of Articles 9 (Liberty of the person) and 12 (Equal protection under the law), as well as a legitimate sense of grievance described in Singaporean and Australian cases. Indian precedents on sentencing and criminal procedure were researched as well. It was an invaluable experience to discuss strategy and the arguments with counsel himself, and finding
It was truly an honour and privilege to be able to undertake an internship with Ravi, and my legal knowledge has improved greatly. As Ravi said at the beginning of the internship, even though we are involved in serious human rights work, we still ‘have to be stylish’. While the work is tough and it is often an uphill battle, we must not lose sight of the humanity behind it and must strive to keep our chins up no matter what. After all, it is a cause for the people’s benefit, and it will ultimately prevail.
The culmination of the inter nship was the appellate advocacy session, which was a moot court held in the conference room, with a panel of three judges led by Ravi himself. It was an unforgettable experience, with advocates having to wear robes, while using an authentic stand to hold our notes. It was truly educational, and reminded me of the importance of being prepared, especially when a ‘Justice of Appeal’ is asking tough questions about a precedent being relied upon. The insights gleaned from the session were extremely valuable and helped me to refine my arguments for the actual appeal submissions.
YES-MAN ANDREW FRAWLEY
I have long had the travel bug. I’m not sure at exactly at what point I caught it, but if I had to put my finger on it, it was probably at some point on my trip through a couple of Indian provinces when I was 16. It wasn’t so much the escapism that travel gives you that attracted me to it generally, nor was my attraction part of some greater save-the-world-style purpose certain other volunteers I have met seem to espouse. For me there is no greater solution to being an apathetic no-man than getting out and seeing the world. Joiners and Yes-Men (and Women) are created through new experiences; by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Travel is great when it is quite literally beyond the scope of one’s imagination and gives you an authentically new experience. For that reason I kind of never really got on board with the Route 66 holiday, nor the European Topdeck tour, although most of my closest mates did. While those trips looked like a whole lot of fun, and I dealt with pretty serious FOMO (fear of missing out) at points, I packed up my things and went to West Africa for 3 Months.
Over that time span I travelled in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Togo working with and meeting people who would never be the kind of guy or girl you would bump into on the streets of Melbourne, nor the kind of experience you could have unless you pack up your bags and go and see the world. In three months, among other things, I spent a night in a former slave trading fort, met a former child soldier, spent a week in a village on the edge of the Sahara Desert, helped build a school, swam in a waterfall, sat on a fully grown crocodile, bought stuff from Africa’s biggest hand craft market, bought a beer for an on-duty cop (which confirmed exactly how corrupt it is) and worked with some of the most amazing kids I have ever met in Akwakwa Orphanage. These experiences weren’t a save the world mission, nor were they in anyway special or out of the ordinary. They were a whole-heartedly selfish attempt for me to stop saying no to doing and trying new things. Did it work? Well I’m not sure yet - I will need to keep travelling to find out.
VOLUNTEERING IN THE COMMUNITY My decision to apply to law school stemmed from a vague fantasy. I aimed to be a highpowered (and well-paid) litigator of some sort, the type who shouts constitutional maxims in open court before hopping in a beautiful car, going home to an expensive house, while living the high life. In my spare time I would, without regard to cost or consequence, defend the impoverished, the imperiled, the oppressed; people who had no other ally in the world. It was an ambition that, though it might look good on a television screen, was all but unrealistic. At the heart of it was a notion that the practice of law was and is a mechanism for effecting positive change in the world. Two weeks studying torts might have the effect of obliterating that notion. It is difficult to remember among the noise of negligence that positive contributions need not be something on the scale of Mabo or the Plaintiff M70 case. In my (albeit limited) experience, it is the small contributions, the seemingly trivial
acts, which often have the greatest impact on our communities.
VICTORIAN AIDS COUNCIL When I arrived in Australia little more than a year ago, I decided to volunteer with the Victorian AIDS C o u n c i l . T h e VA C p r o v i d e s assistance and education to the LGBT community in general, but particularly to people in Victoria living with HIV/AIDS. Through the VAC I have had a number of opportunities to work with other organisations. The most peculiar of these, yet most rewarding, has been working with the Victoria Police Academy. Every fortnight, the academy welcomes a new class of cadets. Before they are put through the paces of education and physical training, the cadets participate in a session called Community Encounters. In these sessions, I, along with several of my colleagues, represent various diverse and minority communities, and with the cadets do something revolutionary: we talk.
The cadets ask us questions, and we, as representatives for our respective communities, talk about our experiences. I talk about my experience as a gay man living with HIV. My colleagues talk about their experiences being Aboriginal, or transgendered, or Muslim, or Sikh, or African or Jewish, or being a member of whatever community to which they belong. We talk about discrimination and misconceptions. We talk about the daily challenges we face. We speak, as well we can, to the experiences of others within our communities. Many of the cadets with whom Iâ€™ve spoken, g re w u p i n s m a l l , re l a t i v e l y homogenous settings. Some havenâ€™t met a gay person, much less one with HIV. Some have never met a Muslim or Sikh. Fewer have known the difference. On paper, it seems simple, unremarkable. In practice, however, these brief conversations have an enormous impact. In the space of a conversation, my colleagues and I have helped these cadets understand the variety of
backgrounds and experiences that they, as enforcers of the law, will encounter in their day-to-day work. These future police officers will approach their own jobs with more knowledge, better understanding, and greater compassion for those who are different from them. The b e n e fi t s a re n o t n e c e s s a r i l y immediate, nor are they apparently tangible; but by changing perceptions and understanding, it is possible to change the way we interact with one another. Beyond that, it has the potential to change how we approach and interpret the law. As law students, we can engage that desire to be agents of positive change by simply having a conversation. One of the best ways to do this is by volunteering what spare time we have with community organisations. Whether related to the law or not, they provide us with a means to expand our personal experience and understanding. Increased awareness of our communities can ultimately make the law, and those who practice it, more responsive to the communityâ€™s needs, and more capable of effecting positive change.
John Manwaring Want more information? Visit http://www.vicaids.asn.au/
NTSCORP PILCH Melissa was born a heroin baby. Her mother was a long time opiate addict and continued to use while she was pregnant. This meant Melissa was born addicted to heroin and suffered excruciating withdrawal symptoms within only minutes of entering the world. Melissa was born into a life of drugs, squaller and physical abuse - a life she did not choose. She endured a tormented existence, inconceivable to those of us who have never experienced the pain of addiction. Melissa suffered homelessness and poverty for the majority of her life before dying from an overdose at fifteen years old. Melissaâ€™s story is tragic but unfortunately it is not uncommon. Poverty, addiction and homeless are intersecting problems that affect many members of our community. The Australian Council of Social Service released in its Poverty Australia report (2013) that 2.26 million Australians are currently living in poverty. Coupled with the 2011 census finding that over 100,000 Australians are homeless, it is not surprising that the occurrence of drug and poverty related deaths are increasing. Affordable housing plays a critical role in improving the lives and wellbeing of individuals suffering substance abuse. The overriding benefit permanent housing provides is stability. Stability allows individuals to treat addiction, to engage in training, education and work and to build enduring relationships. Volunteer organisations, like the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH), fill a gap in the legal landscape by providing free legal assistance and advocacy to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness within a human rights framework. PILCH also undertake significant law reform, public policy, advocacy, legal education and community development activities to promote and protect the fundamental human rights of people experiencing homelessness.
I was incredibly fortunate to volunteer at PILCH’s Homeless Persons Legal Clinic (HPLC) this year. I interacted with an eclectic client base, gaining an insight into the wide variety of circumstances that resulted in their homelessness. My chief responsibility was to receive client inquiries. Many of PILCH’s clients suffer delusions, memory loss and severe paranoia as a result of prolonged substance abuse and mental illness. Additionally, a large proportion of females who contact HPLC are victims of domestic physical abuse and are seeking refuge in crisis centres. These people are exceptionally vulnerable. As a volunteer you are their first point of contact and have a responsibility to ensure that they feel respected and heard. HPLC clients frequently inquire about public housing policies. Although these are not legal inquiries PILCH treats them as though they are. This is because the primary objective of PILCH is the promotion of access to justice. Through their advocacy work PILCH is able to give clients a voice that would otherwise not be heard. For example, many rough sleepers incur public transport fines because they use trams and trains for safety and shelter, particularly in the winter months. Whilst PILCH assists clients legally by requesting for the removal and reduction of fines, these offences are likely to reoccur if their homelessness is not also addressed. Consequently, PILCH invests a considerable amount of resources and energy into advocacy work in order to achieve a holistic solution for clients. During my placement I worked closely with HPLC lawyers on their submission to the Victorian Government in response to the ‘Pathways to a Fair and Sustainable Social Housing System’ Public Consultation Discussion Paper. The submission was informed by the interviews I conducted with individuals suffering homelessness. I found it incredibly rewarding to contribute to a project that seeks to implement real social change. Volunteering at PILCH has opened my eyes to the dire state of Australia’s public housing system. It has been humbling to make a small contribution to PILCH’s advocacy work in this area. There are many misconceptions associated with addiction but one of the greatest is that there is nothing you can do to help.
Natalie Tavassoli Want more information? Visit http://www.pilch.org.au/
COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRES & VOLUNTEERING FITZROY LEGAL SERVICE During a particularly mild northern winter, surrounded by family, particularly serious life decisions were being made. When broaching the option of me studying law, I was asked why. My meek, and somewhat accurate reply, centred on the notions of writing and arguing. I’m not too bad at either. Then in her eloquent Milanese drawl, my aunty adds, ‘Surely, you want to help people?’ Previous to this, my exposure to the profession had been through work experience at a mid-tier firm. It did not leave me with the impression that the plight of others was a pressing concern. Yet, it is. Being a lawyer, at its absolute essence, is about helping people. As one particularly inspiring lecturer of mine has put it, ‘sometimes you are the difference between justice and injustice; a last resort’. My volunteering experience at the Fitzroy Legal Service has so far been short, but ever so rewarding. Along with the range of specific legal experience you attain (letters, statutory declarations, talking to people), you are getting to the crux of what it means to call yourself a lawyer. People, often desperate, are looking to you to provide. With no discrimination and no hesitation, you do so. This vocation goes deeper than clerkships, marks and competing against your fellow colleagues with ruthless abandon. It centres on empathy, and there is no better way to train that trait by volunteering at any community legal centre. It’ll make you a better lawyer, and more importantly, a better person. Steven Finnochiaro Want more information? Visit http://www.fitzroy-legal.org.au/
FLEMINGTON AND KENSINGTON COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE We started volunteering one day a week at Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre at the beginning of 2012. The centre, which commenced operation in 1980, offers a generalist legal service, which deals with criminal and a variety of civil matters for those who live, work or study in the Flemington and Kensington area. FKCLC also runs the Police Accountability Program. This is a significant initiative that seeks to hold to account the Victoria Police for police misconduct and racial profiling. The program also aims to inform victims about their rights and campaign for the introduction of a fully independent, effective and human rights compliant police complaint mechanism. An immigration service, specialising in offshore refugee migration, also operates out of the centre. The team at FKCLC currently includes three solicitors, a migration agent, a youth engagement officer, and a small, dedicated group of managerial and administrative staff. These are hardworking, engaging and intelligent people who have had varied careers and experiences, and are fiercely passionate about advancing the rights and circumstances of the local community. FKCLC’s volunteers range from the legally qualified to graduates completing legal practical training to law students. Day to day case-work that you can expect from volunteering at a community legal centre includes contacting clients, writing memoranda to counsel, applying to legal aid, requesting briefs from informants, referring clients, completing legal research tasks, and general administrative work. Completing such work has been a great way to develop practical legal skills as an adjunct to studying law at university. Volunteering at FKCLC has been a great opportunity to get an insight into how the law operates ‘on the ground’ in the local community. It has been a privilege making a small contribution to the fantastic work that the FKCLC team do.
Alison Martyn Want more information? Visit http://www.communitylaw.org.au/clc_flemingtonkensington/cb_pages/ about_us.php
MENTAL HEALTH LEGAL CENTRE I have been volunteering at the Mental Health Legal Centre since August last year. So far, I have really enjoyed my experience there. The centre provides a wide range of legal services to mental health patients, including applications to the Mental Health Review Board, complaints against health providers, Freedom of Information applications, and representation for summary offence charges. I started by volunteering for the day-time service, where my main task was to contact clients, government agencies and commercial entities such as credit card providers and utility companies. I now volunteer for the night service, where I answer phone calls from clients who need urgent assistance. Most clients are polite and grateful for the help that the centre provides, even when struggling with their illness. Taking the time to listen and provide clients with information is personally rewarding: the work the centre does genuinely helps people in need. Xinyu Zhang Want more information? Visit www.communitylaw.org.au/mentalhealth
FOOTSCRAY COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE Finding a safe place to live is one of the most basic requirements of human life. As part of my volunteer work at the Footscray Community Legal Centre, I had the opportunity to gain an appreciation of how hard that can be for some Australians. In my role as a volunteer, I assisted in the writing and editing of a report on refugee housing in Melbourneâ€™s Western suburbs which revealed disturbing accounts of dodgy real estate agents, exploitive landlords and the challenges faced by people who attempt to use VCAT to resolve their legal problems. Volunteering at a community legal centre present all kinds of opportunities and I thoroughly enjoyed working on the report, attending VCAT with the solicitors, speaking with clients and trying the very best of Footscrayâ€™s lunch options! My time as a volunteer was an eye opening experience as it revealed the gravity of legal problems that vulnerable members of the community face and the power of adequate and appropriate legal representation. Jessica Dawson-Field Want more information? Visit http://www.footscrayclc.org.au/
YOUTHLAW Youthlaw is a specialist community legal centre which helps disadvantaged young people between the ages of 12 and 25 with a range of legal issues. It works towards social justice for young people by engaging in policy work, law reform proposals, community legal education and providing free legal information, advice and representation. Youthlaw seeks to address the factors that lead to youth offending, and ensures that young people who have been engaged by the criminal justice system have access to assistance. Generally young people experience the law in different ways to adults, and marginalised young people in particular have a unique set of legal needs. I have been involved with Youthlaw since last Summer, and have been lucky enough to be involved in both a policy context and as a legal casework volunteer. There are about 20 volunteers for Youthlaw, and we do everything the lawyers need from answering phones, sifting through case files, writing letters to clients or to courts, lodging special circumstances applications and so on. My core legal skills have definitely been refined and I find I learn something new every week. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep perspective when sitting up on level 3 with your head in a Corporations Law text book, so itâ€™s been incredibly enriching for me to be part of an organisation that helps genuinely disadvantaged and marginalised young people. I have found it to be a challenging and rewarding experience and I encourage any law student with a passion for social justice to get on board with an organisation that reflects your interests and values. Bronwyn Montgomery
Want more information?
Visit Youthlaw at http://youthlaw.asn.au/
TENANTS UNION OF VICTORIA How would you respond to an agitated and jittery person coming in to the office reception demanding advice on a rent arrears eviction notice? If you answered: ‘Pull out the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) and read out s 246 until they leave’, you may benefit from working at the Tenants Union of Victoria (TUV). Over the last nine months of working on the free telephone advice line of the TUV, I’ve learned about the human side of the law whilst satisfying and challenging my social conscience. The information asymmetry and power imbalance in the relationship between a tenant and their landlord can be perverse. Legal difficulties in this setting can be sudden and life-shattering. Fourteen days: the number of days a tenant must be in rent arrears before a landlord is permitted to issue a notice to vacate; and it’s seven days for rooming houses and caravan parks. Tenancy difficulties are usually symptomatic of larger problems such as mental health, financial difficulty, educational disadvantage, language barriers and a lack of cultural awareness.
The TUV is a specialist CLC that takes referrals from Community Legal Centres, public housing advocacy bodies and statutory authorities around Victoria. Providing advice to the tenants of Victoria on the TUV telephone advice line can be equally emotionally draining and absolutely satisfying. Nothing forces you to listen carefully, pause then provide clear and concise advice like advising someone via an interpreter on the National Relay Service (a telephone service for the hearing impaired) about a tenancy-threatening situation. I didn’t enjoy property law. Something about the pre-cretaceous principles on squatting never grabbed me. But dropping yourself into a related area of the law, having to understand a body of legislation and swiftly advise on a stream of hypotheticals coming through on a neverceasing advice line queue is a thoroughly satisfying challenge. The TUV has solicitors with backgrounds in administrative law, prisoner’s rights, generalist CLCs and the bar. The compassion fatigue that is heard of amongst many with long-time service to not-for-profits is sparse at the TUV. Sure you will struggle to withhold a groan at the odd caller from South Yarra asking for advice on their internet connection, but the next call may just be the recent migrant living in public housing being given the run around about a serious gas leak. The willingness of the TUV advisers to provide that follow-up phone call, outreach home visit or extra few minutes of secondary advice is heartening and makes for a special workplace environment. Upon telling friends or acquaintances at BBQs that I work at the TUV, I’ve been asked how to get a landlord to fix the TV aerial; it’s a hoot at parties. But I’ve also learned plenty that will save myself and others close to me some time, money, effort and drama and it has been a key driver in my recent consideration of practising law well into the future.
Want more information? Visit http://www.tuv.org.au/
VICTORIAN ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE (VALS) As a volunteer at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) I get my fair share of fulfilling and inspiring experiences. I also thought I’d broken the printer two weeks ago. It was, without a hint of hyperbole, the most stressful afternoon of my life. But as it turns out it was just one of those truly hateful coincidences. The eager young volunteer is seemingly critically involved in the demise of the single most important item of office infrastructure; unhappily in the wrong place, printing at the wrong time. But amongst all the photocopier anxiety and fretfulness over tea-room etiquette is an opportunity to learn at a level unattainable within the confines of the law school. As a first year JD I’m yet to experience the joys of Criminal Law and Procedure, but those trusting solicitors seem unfazed by my complete lack of experience. They lazily hand over client file after client file, with vague instructions for research into various evidentiary rules, sentencing precedents and the definition of ‘building’ (I thought it was pretty clear, but apparently not). ! It’s about being thrown in the deep end. Testing those real world skills. Can I actually use LexisNexis? What do I do when the relevant statute isn’t in my reading guide? These are experiences that build your ability to learn without someone telling you how and where and when. But the best part is seeing what’s waiting for you in the wake of the artificial environment of the law school. It’s not glamorous. You won’t be counsel appearing before the High Court. It will be a long repetitive grind, but it’s so necessary and that is really exciting. Oh and don’t forget that you will undoubtedly have a couple of volunteers on hand just asking for some printer-related torture. Charlotte Inglis Want more information? Visit http://vals.org.au/
INTERNSHIPS TWO INTERNSHIPS LEFT OF CENTRE Did you find it tough displaying “commercial acumen” on your clerkship applications (if you applied), because you just, well, don’t have it? Did the suggestion of “being on top of the current issues in the Financial Review” (as a means to pretend you are on top of the commercial world) make you wonder that if you find the financial review boring, how would you be devoting your career to it? If you, like me, have on the whole enjoyed your law degree but are not tempted by the commercial carrot (not that there is anything wrong with that), then I’d like to share some possibilities of internships in the legal – non commercial – area.!
KIMBERLEY LAND COUNCIL The KLC is the peak regional Aboriginal organisation for the Kimberley region, with the main office in Broome. The Aurora Project offers internships for around 6 weeks in Aboriginal representative bodies all over Australia. Last summer I interned with the KLC. This was easily the most interesting experience I’ve had since being in law school. Packed into those 6 weeks were 3 experiences “on country” (traveling with KLC staff to Aboriginal communities to facilitate meetings), witnessing the Federal Court sitting in Broome to hear a rather controversial native title issue, a visit to the remote town of Fitzroy Crossing – including a Kayak trip and camping on Geikie gorge, and dressing up as Santa Clause at the KLC Christmas party. No one else would do it. I don’t think the older kids were convinced. What is native title law, you may ask? Well, a whole conglomeration of things. Of course, there is the Native Title Act – a rather straight forward piece of legislation, which, given its uniqueness, can throw up an array of interesting issues. But the day to day life of a native title lawyer might include admin law (it’s much easier in practice, promise), environmental law, trust law, and - crap, I’m about to contradict what I said above – commercial contract and negotiations. As, these days, a lot of the legal work in this region involves representing Traditional Owners’ interests against mining companies.!
But despite all of this unique exposure to an array of law, I have to say that the work environment of the KLC is what really grabbed me. Broome is a small and friendly place (and beautiful), and the organisation is comprised of hardworking, dedicated individuals. Experiences on country are second to none. Most importantly, though, is that I don’t think there would be any other internship in Australia that allows participants to critically engage with their own place in settler colonial Australia. Want more information? Visit http://klc.org.au/
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION: FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON TOBACCO CONTROL The WHO is a UN Specialised Agency which looks after all things health in the world. As part of the class, Institutions of International Law this year, we were presented to by the FCTC Secretariat. The FCTC is the only convention of the WHO, compared to over one-hundred of the International Labour Organisation, and there is a small legal team that looks after it. I have just finished my first month with them. Luckily for me, the second week I was here, there was conference involving a working group of the convention. It truly was an amazing experience to witness negotiations between thirty-two different States in all UN languages (simultaneously translated). And, every nerds dream, a (very insignificant) provision that I drafted for the Secretariat was put up on the screen for consideration – interns here get to do real work. The legal team deals with a number of issues. As a Secretariat, they are answerable to the State parties to the convention. So, work often involves preparing for further conferences of the Parties, responding to concerns of member states, and assisting them in the implementation of the Convention. As an aside (and not that it should matter) it is quite nice being Australian around here given the leadership that we are showing in tobacco control. As you all know, it is the first country to introduce plain packaging in the world, which conforms to the FCTC. I can hold my head high, which is much more than what my peers at the UNHCR must be dealing with at the moment… Anyway, the WHO is huge. There are two-hundred interns at any one time. It’s a little unbelievable, but really fun. The intern community is great. They have “expert for interns” talks and organise a lot of social activities. Lunch in the big WHO cafeteria feels like school again, there are so many people to chat to. The interns also run free exercise classes, which are great, because interns are unpaid and Geneva is a very expensive city (prohibitively so). There is a whole world of interesting non-commercial experiences to be had out there. If you are non-commercially inclined, like me, I encourage you to try the most left of field things you can. Want more information? Visit http://www.who.int/en/
OAKTREE FOUNDATION Looking for a great volunteering opportunity? Need a break from law school (and law students)? Want to learn a whole new set of acronyms? Then get around (and into, on, up in, on top of and amongst) Oaktree, Australia's preeminent entirely youth run aid and development organisation that aims to end global poverty. Oaktree's work focuses on education projects in developing countries; programs in Australia that educate youth about global poverty; and placing pressure on political leaders to commit to the goal of reducing global poverty. Volunteering with Oaktree o"ers a variety of opportunities: - Doing something you are really passionate about and making an impact - Working with great like-minded people and making fantastic new friends - Doing interesting work, and having autonomy in managing your own projects and teams - Meeting awesome people: I got to meet Julian McMahon, Michael Kirby (though, by the end of second year, which law student hasn't?), Tim Costello, and Justice Hayne. - You can do a lot of work from home via e-mail and phone - For anyone out there interested in picking up ladies, Oaktree is a babe magnet - Any role at Oaktree will employ your teamwork, communication, public speaking and leadership skills, conveniently asked about a lot in any application for anything. Ever.! - For committed volunteers, there are opportunities to vist Oaktree's projects overseas, and a BCG scholarship for women who are interested in the positions of Chief Financial Officer or Chief Business Development O f fi c e r :! h t t p : / / w w w . b o s t o n c o n s u l t i n g . c o m . a u / j o i n _ b c g / Oaktree_position.aspx Challenges of working at Oaktree - Oaktree is based in Camberwell. On the Alamein line. It's two trains from the city. - Like any child under the age of 9 Oaktree sometimes gets over excited, moving quickly from one idea to the next. This can impact how your work is continued after your leave or how comprehensive your hand-over is when you begin. - Because everyone is young you can be working with people who don't always have the necessary skills to execute their roles - It does take up a lot of time (but also an opportunity to practice your time management!)
Ultimately, it's a really great organisation to work for and even when it's busy and stressful, Oaktree is a whole lot of fun. Just ask any volunteer about the annual volunteer National Conference. Think Obs with Arlen or Crim with Kevin (or any great lecturer you've had/subject you've taken) crossed with law camp, crossed with law ball (the one where you hooked up with that cute, mysterious guy from class, not the one where you threw up on the way to the bathrooms and were home by 11) and you have the Oaktree National Conference.! But don't take my word for it (I did run the last two National Conferences...), apply and find out for yourself! Visit:! http:// theoaktree.org/join-us/
Georgina McKay Georgina McKay is an Oaktree alum and is still very fond of Oaktree. Now that says something.!
UNION SUMMER INTERNSHIP (VICTORIAN TRADES HALL COUNCIL) Social justice takes many forms. One of the institutions that has led the call for social justice in the workplace and wider society has been the Victorian Trades Hall Council which has been the voice of Victorian workers and the trade union movement since 1856. Over the summer holidays, I participated in the Union Summer program run by the Young Unionist Network which was an opportunity to go behind the scenes of Trades Hall and the union movement. As part of the program, I participated in briefings about union organising, the history of unions and occupational health and safety law. During the program I also completed a placement with the National Tertiary Education Union where I attended hearings at Fair Work Australia and wrote a report on young people in the union movement with my fellow intern. It was a fantastic opportunity to see how the union movement works and to get a perspective on workplace law and industrial relations which I would highly recommend to law students. The program will open for applications for 2013 shortly through the VTHC website.
Jessica Dawson-Field Want more information? Visit http://www.vthc.org.au/
Reprieve Australia is a non-profit organisation that works against the death penalty.! Every year, Reprieve Australia sends a number of interns to the US to assist in capital defence offices in the Southern states.! During summer 2011-2012 I had the opportunity to intern at the Gulf Region Advocacy Centre (GRACE) in Houston, Texas. !GRACE is a legal office that is dedicated to representing people who are facing the death penalty.! Interns play an essential supporting role in this work, as! like most public interest institutions, its under resourced and overburdened. I worked on litigation and mitigation aspects of capital defence cases. ! Although my days were busy, there always time to balance that with what the city of Houston has to offer, including $6! margaritas and ridiculously enormous burgers (which, worryingly, won't look so big after three months).! !! This internship offers the opportunity to work with committed and dedicated people. ! If you want to make a meaningful contribution to the global fight against the death penalty, and gain practical legal experience in the process, I would recommend a Reprieve internship.
Katerina Stevenson Want more information? Visit http://www.reprieve.org.au/
STREET LAW Street Law is a new subject offered at Melbourne Law School as part of the Public Interest Law Program. The subject is modelled on the DC Street Law Program which has been running very successfully at Georgetown University since 1972. The basic premise of the subject is to get law students out of the law building and into classrooms at under-resourced schools where they will teach three lessons on areas of law relevant to Year 9 students. The three areas of law chosen this year were Human Rights, Discrimination and the Consequences of Sexting. You may think that you’re pretty good at solving legal problems, but there’s nothing quite like being put on the spot by an impertinent Year 9 boy asking you whether the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 means that he can wear a dress to school or a Year 9 girl demanding to know “Miss, what’s ‘unlawful sexual behaviour’ mean?” There’s also not much more shattering to your self-confidence than when a carefully prepared lesson plan that you’ve spent hours putting together is met by complete disinterest from the class. I’m probably not advertising the program very well right now, but I want to be realistic. Teaching also has lots of awesome experiences, like managing to elicit a voluntary response from the quiet girl up the back who has never spoken in class before. Or the moment when you explain the law about sexting without inducing a single giggle (or almost no giggles). On a more serious note, Street Law has some very legitimate goals including developing personal qualities that you’ll need for your future in law. Teaching a class of Year 9s definitely builds confidence (in a bracing, jumping into ice-cold water kind of way). It also helps develop your communication skills and your ability to adapt quickly to your audience. I can’t think of any branch of the legal profession where these skills wouldn’t be highly prized. More importantly (hopefully) is the fact that although you may not feel like it, you’re building pathways towards tertiary education for kids who may not have realised it was an option.
Unfortunately many kids from lower-income areas of Melbourne still face significant financial or cultural barriers to universityeducation. Just by being in the classroom you’re a tangible and hopefully approachable link to university and tertiary education in general. In conclusion, Street Law is a great program which has given me the opportunity to learn new skills, interact with a great bunch of kids and get out of the law building. The academic staff for this subject are great and provide you with heaps of support. So, if you’re looking for a challenge, a break from the hum-drum, a new found appreciation of teachers (they are heroes), or maybe even a cool talking point on your CV, get involved. I’ll leave you with some interesting statistics from Class 9A of Reservoir High School (Class 9A has 22 students). Interest in University Number who want to go to University Number who had been asked by someone before me if they wanted to go to university
Class taught by me that they found the most helpful Human Rights 4 Discrimination 10 Sexting 6 Class taught by me that they found the most interesting Human Rights 2 Discrimination 5 Sexting 15
AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION (ACF) I have volunteered as a legal intern at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) one day a week over the last six months. The ACF is a non-profit that has promoted environmental advocacy, research and outreach for over 40 years. The volunteer position saw me support the ACF’s General Counsel over numerous areas of law. The work was incredibly diverse - one day would see me reviewing executive director responsibilities for the organisation, the next I would be comparing trademarks across intellectual property databases. The experience also gave me an insight to the legal requirements of operating an NGO, which includes elements of corporations, taxation, and employment law. I also undertook some legal drafting, mainly contracts and grant agreements with research bodies, which I found highly valuable. Drawing on my background in commerce, I also conducted research into the economic policy of climate change, the West Kimberley National Heritage assessment, mining exploration in the Pilbara and political bias in the media. A common theme that struck me was the interaction of policy and the law. These two forces are distinct in our studies at law school, but share a much closer relationship in reality. Another highlight was working at ACF’s headquarters in the 60L Green Building. As a model of the sustainable office, some notable features included the use of natural light, recycled building materials and collected rainwater/treated water. The building’s energy systems produce close to zero greenhouse emissions. Overall the ACF has been very accommodating to legal interns, and if undertaken under the University’s internship program, the internship could be credited towards the Legal Internship subject. I highly recommend you express your interest in ACF through the Law School’s summer intern programs if you are interested in a career/internship in the social justice field, or interested in NGOs or conservation in general.
David McGregor Want more information? Visit http://www.acfonline.org.au/
NTSCORP In January this year I departed for a six week internship at a native title representative body ('NTRB') in Redfern called NTSCORP. I majored in Australian Indigenous Studies and always had a passion for Indigenous affairs, and thought that native title would be the perfect nexus between that passion and the law. When I arrived, it became clear that I was working in essentially an administrative law firm: the Native Title Act 1993 governs all of the native title process including the kinds of land agreements, how and when to hold negotiations, and what claims can be brought before the National Native Title Tribunal and the Federal Court. While the overarching goal and the subject-matter of affidavits and negotiations reflected social justice and remedying dispossession, the law that we learn in class was directly applicable. It was a unique experience working towards social justice “within the system”, rather than petitioning or fundraising which had characterised my earlier volunteering experiences. What became evident over the weeks, however, was the fact that the “system” was not perfect. Often NTSCORP would be approached by Aboriginal people in rural NSW who wanted a plot of land to build community centres or women’s shelters, but because of native title’s restrictive requirements, I was asked to research ways around it. I was also struck by how the interaction between the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983! (NSW) and the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) pits Aboriginal people against each other in legal battles between Local Aboriginal Land Councils and traditional owners. I also came across Aboriginal people who refused to get involved in native title because of the way it encourages corruption: by allocating only one person to make decisions on behalf of the group. I was surprised that the system was so restrictive, and that claims had run for over 10 years. But I was also encouraged that solicitors working at NTSCORP were dedicated and passionate about what they do. While native title is not perfect, after six weeks in the system, I still think it is a step in the right direction. Stephanie Batsakis
Want more information?
AURORA During my winter break this year I decided to apply for the Aurora Native Title Internship Program. To be honest my motivation for applying for the internship was merely to get some legal experience on my resume before the clerkship season opened. Indeed all my friends would tell you that at heart I am destined to be a commercial lawyer (or at least I aim to be). However, I can honestly say that my internship has been one of the best experiences in my life. The Aurora Internship Program matches up willing student volunteers with a variety of different organisations, working in native title, land rights, policy development, social justice and human rights, all with an Indigenous focus. I was matched with the Aboriginal Peak Organisation Northern Territory (APO NT) in Darwin. APO NT is an alliance comprising the Central Land Council (CLC), Northern Land Council (NLC), Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT), North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS). APO NT deals with the overarching policy issues facing Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Most of the work I did during my internship was data analysis. The primary reason I was matched with APO NT was because my undergraduate degree is in Statistics. I spent most of my time going through the 2011 ABS census data. The aim of my analysis was to provide some evidence of overcrowding within Indigenous households. I found that in the Northern Territory the weighted average number of people per household is approximately 4.8. In some regions, seven Indigenous regions make up the Northern Territory, the weighted average number of people in an Indigenous household can be up to 8.3 per household. This has massive implications in terms of health within Indigenous communities. Indeed my analysis found that there is an inverse relationship between overcrowding and the general health of the Indigenous community. That is the higher the overcrowding in an Indigenous community the lower the general health of the community.
Other work I did was to liaise with different government departments to attempt to collect data for my analysis. I also summarised submissions made on the Parliamentary Inquiry into Youth Suicide in the Northern Territory. I met with a demographer from Charles Darwin University and drafted a letter to the Chief Minister. Some of the work experience of the other Aurora interns placed in Darwin at the same time as me, include: one intern was essentially an associate of the Magistrate court Judge, two interns worked for the Northern Land Council. Most of what they did required them to do 1-2 day trips to meet land owners. Some interns would tag along with barristers briefed by NAAJA and worked with NAAJA. The available experiences for interns are diverse. Interns should expect a healthy balance of interesting and challenging work along with a fair share of administrative and more mundane tasks, and be willing to help out in whatever is required by the host. The best thing about the internship is the people you meet. Aurora gives each intern a list of the other interns contact details so you will be able to catch up with any Aurora intern in your area. I had two different trips to the Litchfield National Park with friends where we got to swim in stunningly beautiful waterholes. I did a sunset cruise, went to a deckchair cinema, had numerous dinners and did many other things with the other Aurora interns. You will have plenty of time to be social. Overall, an Aurora internship is an experience that I would recommend to any person. Tyrone Luow
Want more information? Visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/nativetitleinternshipprogram Applications are open in March and August each year.
COMMONWEALTH DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS This semester I was lucky enough to do an internship at the office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), which I have credited to my studies through the ‘Legal Internship’ subject at the Law School. Whilst certainly a large commitment on top of work and study, the internship was invaluable and eye-opening and provided a fantastic opportunity to learn new areas of law and to experience legal work in a public office. The CDPP is the body responsible for prosecuting and bringing proceedings against those people charged with Commonwealth offences – everything from tax fraud and corporate crime to terrorism-offences, people smuggling and drug importation. While I got exposure to a range of the office’s work, different practice groups and several court hearings, my work as an intern predominantly involved researching and drafting sentencing submissions over many cups of coffee and chats with our supervisor and other office staff. These submissions – giving an overview of what courts must consider when giving a sentence for Commonwealth crimes – will be used as a template throughout the office and adapted to casespecific submissions in the future. My main areas of focus were Centrelink fraud and tax evasion – which were, believe it or not, not as boring as they sound! I’ve always had an interest in criminal law and, whilst my criminal law course at the Law School was fantastic, it didn’t cover in any great detail Commonwealth crimes or sentencing law. The internship was a great opportunity to explore these other areas of criminal law, to see how the principles we’ve learnt operate in practice and gain an understanding of the interplay between State and Commonwealth laws. In particular, I found the laws of sentencing fascinating insofar as they reveal a peculiarly ‘human’ element of the law. Under Commonwealth legislation courts have to take into account a number of factors when sentencing someone for a Commonwealth crime. Such factors include, amongst others, the effect that a sentence will have on the person’s dependents, the person’s psychiatric and mental state, their age, and criminal history. Such considerations and an exploration of the facts of each case gives, an often confronting, insight into the motivations, difficulties and circumstances of offenders. My internship experience certainly fuelled my interest in the law and my desire to work as a lawyer more generally. Regardless of which area of law you wish to work in, I believe that any volunteer work, internship or work experience is invaluable. Such experiences allow you to test life in a legal office whilst you’re still studying, apply your legal knowledge, improve research and drafting skills and see, firsthand, the significant impact that the law has on public life. On these bases I thoroughly recommend an internship at the CDPP and I would be happy to talk about my experiences in more detail with anyone!
Tim Hamilton Want more information? Visit http://www.cdpp.gov.au/
X RURAL LAWYERS After another crazy clerkship season in Melbourne, it is easy to forget why we are putting ourselves through this punishing regime often to be left with nothing at the end. Hours and hours are spent filling in applications and tailoring cover letters to convince future employers that you are their missing piece. But even the most carefully written letter is sometimes met with a firm but polite rejection letter that leaves the recipient crushed and exhausted thinking: did I even want this in the first place? Although the dream of working at an inner-city-big-firm is the most popular item sold at law school there are, of course, other options. What else is there? Working in the law outside Melbourne may have never crossed your mind, but if you find yourself dissatisfied with the idea of joining the rat race, take five minutes to consider a change of scenery. Why work outside Melbourne? Working in the country, whether in a regional centre like Geelong, or a rural town like Colac can be beneficial for a number of reasons: 1. Rural lawyers may be more likely to fast track their professional careers by
taking on diverse and challenging work soon after commencing. 2. With less competition from other clerks or grads, rural lawyers have more face time with clients and are less likely to be stuck in discovery for weeks on end. 3. Working in a smaller town may help you achieve the elusive work-life balance through reduced travel time, cheaper rent, and involvement in the local community. 4. After a few years in a reputable regional office it is always possible to transfer back to the big smoke - but you may not want to.
Want more information? Visit http://rrrlaw.com.au/development-opportunities/programs/
CIVIL JUSTICE, ACCESS AND EQUITY DIVISION Many students have begun a law degree because of their interest in the fideas of justice and fairness in society, only to have such lofty ideals crushed by the avalanche of readings and ominous letters detailing the extent of their HECS-HELP debts. Through the blizzard of paper, it is often difficult to rediscover the things that inspired you to do the course in the first place (the constant need to shift small towers of printed materials around your bedroom so that you can use the furniture/open the door provides a further distraction from the task). An internship at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is the perfect antidote to this malaise. VLA is a government-funded organisation that gives legal assistance to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society. It operates advice lines, handles casework and provides duty lawyers to courts all across Victoria. VLA runs an internship programme specifically for Melbourne Law School students: in winter 2011, interns were placed in the Civil Justice, Access & Equity division, assisting individuals with unpaid fines â€”sometimes totalling to over $100,000â€”that could be waived because of the client's mental illness, homelessness or drug dependency. There are also opportunities to contribute to practice resources that are used throughout the entire organisation. The high degree of responsibility given to interns is humbling, and probably unhelpful if you already suffer from hypertension as a result of your degree. Students conduct client interviews and manage casework, from the initial application for a grant of legal assistance to briefing counsel for court appearances. It is surprising how simple things like conducting an interview and having to call the client up can develop rapport between yourself and the person that you are helping. The VLA staff also ensure that interns work on a few of the same files on a regular basis, so that students acquire familiarity with the case and a desire to see the best outcome for the particular client. Another rotation allows interns to assist VLA duty lawyers in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, which is all the more nerve-wracking if you are sitting in on a hearing for a client that you have previously dealt with. The Infringements Court is where applications to waive fines on the basis of mental illness or other special circumstances are usually heard. It is a closed courtâ€”here, justice is not imposing, intimidating or rigid, but is instead adapted to be sensitive to the situations of the clients who are required to attend.
Often clients are looking to start anew, and having their fines wiped finally allows the burden of their past hardships to be lifted. Working alongside the duty lawyer is a valuable lesson in advocacy, as VLA advocates are well-known to be very, very good at what they do. After observing hearings, interns are further permitted to represent clients in court. If you undertake the internship as a subject in your degree, ask a Professional Services Lawyer (PSL) about possible research topicsâ€”these lawyers often have a particular fondness for subjects such as access to justice for the mentally ill, as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of relevant areas in the law. One rotation involves working with a PSL, whose responsibility it is to update lawyers on new legal developments. This rotation is particularly good for students who get anxious when left alone to do a task that they feel unprepared for, as supervising lawyers are always ready to give both encouragement and useful feedback on case summaries and practice notes. Interns may also be asked to produce material for use by those manning telephone advice lines. This is good training if you want to be able to communicate with non-lawyers after three years of law convinces you that using triple negatives in normal conversation is reasonable. Needless to say, seeing your work published on the organisation's intranet will not do wonders for your hypertension eitherâ€”but it is fulfilling. The training is intense, the work challenging, and the job satisfaction significantly high: VLA gives its interns an opportunity to make a real contribution to the organisation's very commendable work. If you have gone thus far in your law degree under the impression that the milk of human kindness is not a product sold at the Milk Bar of the Law, think again and consider applying for an internship at VLA.
Natasha Sim Winter Intern 2011
Want more information? Visit http://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/
HOW CAN I GET
There are a variety of opportunities to give back to your community while exploring your interests within and outside the law. Here are just a few...
CLC’S IN METROPOLITAN MELBOURNE A great starting point is the Federation of Community Legal Centre’s website, which provides a directory of CLC’s in Melbourne: http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ Barwon Community Legal Service www.barwoncls.org.au
Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre www.rilc.org.au St Kilda Legal Service Co-op http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_stkilda/cb_pages/about_us_about.php
Disability Discrimination Legal Service www.communitylaw.org.au/ddls
Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service http://www.villamanta.org.au/
Job Watch INC – Employment Rights Community Legal Centre www.jobwatch.org.au
Women’s Legal Service Victoria http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_women/cb_pages/about_us.php
North Melbourne Legal Service www.nmls.org.au
OTHER VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES IN METROPOLITAN MELBOURNE Asylum Seeker Resource Centre www.asrc.org.au
Liberty Victoria http://www.libertyvictoria.org.au/
Consumer Action Law Centre www.consumeraction.org.au
Melbourne City Mission http://www.melbournecitymission.org.au/
Environment Defenders Oﬃce http://www.edo.org.au
Senior Rights Victoria www.cotavic.org.au
Human Rights Law Resource Centre www.hrlrc.org.au
Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning Program (SAIL) http://www.sailprogram.org.au/
Lawyers Beyond Borders http://www.lawyersbeyondborders.com
SUBURBAN VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre http://www.communitywest.org.au/ Broadmeadows Community Legal Service http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_broadmeadows/cb_pages/ about_us.php Casey Cardinia Community Legal Service http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_caseycardinia/cb_pages/ about_us.php Conservation Volunteers Australia http:// www.conservationvolunteers.com.au/ Darebin Community Legal Centre http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_darebin/cb_pages/about_us.php Eastern Community Legal Centre http://eclc.org.au/ Essendon Community Legal Centre http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_essendon/cb_pages/ about_us.php Monash Oakleigh Legal Service http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_monashoakleigh/cb_pages/ about_us.php
Moreland Community Legal Centre http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_morelandhome/cb_pages/ about_us.php Southport Community Health Centre http://www.ischs.org.au/ Springvale Monash Legal Service http://www.smls.com.au/ National Welfare Rights Network https://www.welfarerights.org.au/ West Heidelberg Community Legal Service http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_westheidelberg/cb_pages/ about_west_heidelberg.php Western Suburbs Legal Service Incorporated http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_westernsuburbs/cb_pages/ about_us_about.php Whittlesea Community Legal Service http://www.communitylaw.org.au/ clc_whittlesea/cb_pages/ about_us_about.php
WHAT DOES SOCIAL JUSTICE MEAN TO YOU?