Funding positions ANU as national leader for early career legal research
Three researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law have been awarded almost $1.3 million in Federal Government funding for their interdisciplinary, socio-legal projects under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA) scheme.
The awards to Associate Professor Rebecca Monson (PhD ’12), Dr Moeen Cheema (PhD ’19) and Dr Eve Lester make ANU the first Australian university to secure three DECRA grants in the Law and Legal Studies field of research in a single year.
Established in 2012 by the Australian Research Council, the DECRA scheme provides focused research support for early career researchers in both teaching and research, and research-only positions. In 2017, Associate Professor Heather Roberts (BA (AsSt) (Hons)/LLB (Hons)/GDLP '00, PhD '08) became the College’s inaugural DECRA fellow for her research into the records of Australian judicial swearing-in ceremonies.
ANU College of Law Associate Dean (Research), Associate Professor Jeremy Farrall, said the new DECRAs position the College as Australia’s leading law school for early career research.
“These prestigious and highly competitive grants will allow our researchers to pursue projects that stand to deliver real-world impact in their fields,” he said.
“I’m particularly pleased to see three interdisciplinary and socio-legal research projects all with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region, which continues the proud legacy of the University’s long-standing international engagement to deliver expertise in alignment with our unique national responsibilities. I also look forward to welcoming Dr Lester when she joins our College next year.”
Justice, property and gender in the Pacific
Associate Professor Rebecca Monson’s research is primarily influenced by approaches in interdisciplinary studies of ‘law and development’, political ecology and feminist thought. Her DECRA project aims to investigate the strategies that Pacific women use to challenge gender inequality, and improve understanding of the pathways to justice in Pacific legal systems.
“The project will investigate a number of campaigns around natural resource rights in the Pacific, paying particular attention to discussions around women’s rights. It responds to a gap I see in a lot of development discourses regarding the Pacific, as well as in global debates about legal pluralism,” she said.
“My focus is on discussions and debates about natural resource rights, but I hope that this will generate broader insights into the operation of legal systems, and the ways in which people navigate them.”
Associate Professor Monson noted her DECRA, the funding of which comes to $443,744, will afford her “valuable time and funding” to pursue her project, attributing her success to a team effort at the College level.
“While the DECRAs are framed as an ‘individual’ research award, these grants never are,” she said.
“I’m incredibly thankful to the wonderful Finance team, Research Office, and other colleagues who reviewed my application, and provided feedback and encouragement. Similarly, the project itself couldn’t possibly be an individual enterprise, and I’m really looking forward to deepening existing collaborations and developing new ones, with peers and colleagues across the region and the world, who share similar interests in the ways in which people’s rights may be strengthened within pluralistic legal systems.”
Rule-of-law reform in Pakistan
Justice and security reform in Northwest Pakistan is the focus of Dr Moeen Cheema’s DECRA-funded project. His research aims to provide a valuable assessment of the process of establishing criminal justice institutions in what he described as “a highly understudied part of the world despite its strategic … and geopolitical significance”.
“The project will investigate the extent to which these reforms are responsive to the demands of the local populations, and hence capable of garnering legitimacy and public support,” said Dr Cheema, whose research and teaching covers the fields of comparative public law, criminal law, and legal and political developments in South Asia.
Dr Cheema said his funding, worth $447,798, will allow him to work closely with government institutions, international development partners and local communities in one of the least accessible and most difficult regions to conduct research, he said.
“I hope that this project will lead to a deeper understanding of the progress of criminal justice reform in the region and how the challenges of creating efficacious, responsive and legitimate institutions are being met.
“Insights and lessons learnt from this project may also be applicable in other contexts in which post-conflict state-building and rule of law reform is being undertaken with the support of international development partners,” he added.
Cambodian ‘boat people’ under a socio-legal lens
Dr Eve Lester is an expert on refugee and migration law who will join the ANU College of Law in 2021. With many years in the NGO sector, including with Amnesty International, her project aims to establish a socio-legal account of the arrival of Cambodian “boat people” in Australia from 1989 to the present.
Interweaving archival and oral history sources, it seeks to both describe institutional responses to these events and show how participants experienced and remember them. Significant societal benefits will flow by generating new historical knowledge and understanding, and better-informed policy, she added.
Dr Lester thanked College’s academic and professional staff for their “generous support” throughout her application process as an external candidate. Being named a DECRA fellow was an “honour” and “privilege”, she added, especially in light of the high calibre of applicants; in the 2021 round, there were 200 successful applications from a pool of more than 1,100 nationwide.
“In essence, my project splices oral and institutional history in the telling of the arrival of Cambodian ‘boat people’ in Australia, who were the first cohort of asylum seekers to be subject to mandatory detention,” Dr Lester said of her project, which received $394,700 in funding.