The Australian National University (ANU) Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) program provides students with opportunities to make a difference in the legal space and apply what they have learned in the classroom to tackle real-world issues they feel passionate about. This series will spotlight the various projects under the umbrella of LRSJ and how students can get involved.
By Neha Kalele (student ambassador)
The opportunity to make tangible positive change in social justice spheres is a key driver for many people who choose to come to law school.
The LRSJ Research Hub provides students with a platform to advocate for change by composing submissions for law reform to parliamentary and other public inquiries.
These submissions are, in essence, responses to inquiries undertaken by parliamentary committees.
Covering a range of international and domestic topics, students working within the Research Hub coordinate with passionate ANU academics, specialists in their field, to produce these submissions.
The submissions will often be cited in the parliamentary committee’s final report. This report is presented to parliament, who will typically produce a formal response to the report’s recommendations.
Isabella Keith, an ANU Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Politics, Philosophy and Economics student, is one of the co-leaders of the Research Hub.
“I think my favourite thing about the Research Hub is the perspectives you gain on important law reform issues in real-time,” Isabella said.
“Being able to apply what you’ve learnt in lectures and tutorials to brainstorm solutions to these issues with your peers is an incredible feeling, and one that you can get involved in from very early on in your degree.”
Isabella first became involved in writing submissions in 2020, contributing to the NSW parliament inquiry to the Select Committee on the High Level of First Nations People in Custody and Oversight and Review of Deaths in Custody.
“Members of our group were even invited to give evidence at a public hearing of the inquiry,” she said.
Since then, Isabella’s passion for contributing in such a meaningful way has only grown.
She has been involved in numerous submissions, including an inquiry to the Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, an inquiry into the Constitutional Alteration (Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press) 2019, and an inquiry into the Operation of the Australian Crime Commission Amendment (Special Operations and Special Investigations) Act 2019.
Isabella said the submissions she has been involved in have often been “referred to and cited in the final reports”. She has found this to be “quite a surreal feeling”.
"At the end of last year, having contributed to these submissions as a member of the Research Hub, I saw that they were looking for new co-leaders for 2022,” Isabella said.
“I had really enjoyed the process of writing submissions and working closely with the co-leaders to finalise them, and so I felt that being a co-leader was the perfect next step as I entered my final year at ANU.”
Isabella helps run training sessions and guides students through the submission-writing process with her fellow co-leader, Jessica Hodgson.
Getting involved with the Research Hub is not only a way to apply what you have learned from law school to issues you are passionate about, it also allows students to hone their research and writing skills.
“One of the things that we try to aim for is succinctness, as parliamentary inquiries often receive many submissions to work through. Presenting your argument in a very clear and precise way is absolutely an essential skill as a law student (and indeed as a lawyer too!),” Isabella said.
The Research Hub is also an incredible way to get involved with ANU academics beyond the classroom, and engage with them on subjects they are passionate about.
“Particularly as an earlier-year undergraduate taking largely compulsory courses, having the opportunity to interact with academics in this way is something which many students will not have experienced yet in their degree,” Isabella said.
The Research Hub also helps students to delve deeper into the issues they are interested in and the areas of law they may wish to pursue.
Isabella said the Research Hub has helped guide her during the course of her degree. This has included helping her to select elective classes and refining the topic for her supervised research paper.
“It’s also a great way to meet like-minded students (as well as to have your ideas challenged!) from different year groups and at different points in their degrees, who you may not have otherwise met,” she said.
Though the Australian elections in May have impacted the creation of parliamentary committees in the first half of this year, students have nevertheless made incredible contributions to the inquiry into the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the inquiry into the Agreement between Australia and Japan concerning the Facilitation of Reciprocal Access and Cooperation between the Australian Defence Force and the Self-Defense Forces of Japan. Students involved in the Free Trade Agreement have also been invited to appear at a public hearing on Tuesday 20 September.
“The second half of the year is looking busier in terms of open inquiries, and we are very excited to see what Hub members come up with,” said Isabella.
The Research Hub is currently looking for students interested in assisting with the following submissions: Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Save the Koala) Bill 2021, Inquiry into the 2022 Federal Election, inquiry into Missing and Murdered First Nations Women and Children, and Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID Infections.
Interested in getting involved? Join the LRSJ Research Hub Facebook group or reach out to the team via email.