I would say just give it a go. It can be overwhelming and confronting and the whole thing seems huge, with very esteemed people writing to it but you can target yourself to your strengths.
When Charlotte Michalowski and Andrew Ray were encouraged by one of their lecturers to make a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, The Australian National University (ANU) law students didn’t hesitate to answer the challenge.
Despite having just two days to file their submission, the pair responded to a bill that would grant immunity for Defence Force personnel against civil and criminal action when deployed to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.
On 30 October, Charlotte and Andrew gave evidence to a Senate Committee via teleconference – an experience that was both “terrifying and fun”.
“(The bill) had been justified on the basis that it mirrors state and territory immunity afforded to emergency services personnel, but we pointed out that it doesn’t,” explained Andrew, a final-year Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Science student.
“Most of the legislation at the state and territory level only affords a civil immunity, not immunity from criminal prosecution which is quite different,” he added.
No strangers to participating in the democratic lawmaking process, Charlotte and Andrew have previously filed submissions on supervision of power and national security – notably the Australian Security Intelligence Orientation and Australian Federal Police inquiries into the scope of both agencies’ powers.
“We’ve done a few different submissions together; some with LRSJ (ANU student research and policy group Law Reform and Social Justice) and some with academics from other universities,” said Charlotte, a Bachelor of Economics/Laws (Hons) student.
“We turned around our submission very quickly and received a call last week inviting us to give evidence to the Senate. It was pretty exciting.”
Both students prepared for the Senate inquiry by reviewing other submissions into the bill including those by renowned constitutional law scholar Professor Anne Twomey (University of Sydney) and Associate Professor David Letts AM, CSM (ANU Centre of Military and Security Law).
They also received help from the ANU College of Law academic who encouraged them to make their submission: Associate Professor Heather Roberts.
“She gave us some hardball questions to help us prepare. We also spoke to (Associate Professors) Matthew Zagor and Wayne Morgan, both of whom have appeared before government committees previously,” said Andrew.
Charlotte and Andrew, who have collectively made "about 25" prior submissions, handled their Senate debut with aplomb.
“I don’t think there were any ‘easy questions’; the Senators had obviously read our submission and were well-prepared,” Andrew stated.
“(Making a submission) is one of the few ways you can engage directly with the democratic lawmaking process. I think you should get a team and give it a crack because the worst thing that can happen is that you won’t get called to give evidence,” he added.
Charlotte explained that students interested in gaining experience in submission writing should get in touch with the LRSJ Research Hub, which regularly works on proposals for parliamentary committees.
“I would say just give it a go. It can be overwhelming and confronting and the whole thing seems huge, with very esteemed people writing to it but you can target yourself to your strengths,” she said.
“It’s something you can learn quite quickly – you write your section and talk about it. It draws on skills you already have through law school; you’re just putting them into action in the fastest way possible. I’ve also been lucky enough to link this work back into my studies this semester by reflecting on my experiences writing submissions as part of my assessment for Unravelling Complexity (LAWS4001). You definitely have the opportunity to integrate these extracurricular activities into further study.”
The Senate Committee's report, which cited Charlotte and Andrew's submission extensively, can be viewed here.
Read a transcript of Charlotte and Andrew’s oral evidence to the Senate inquiry on 30 October 2020 here.