My Summer; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tunnel

By Jack Townsend

I returned from a subject taught in China late Saturday night. It had been a long, tiresome fortnight filled with an unnecessary amount of stress and illness. Safe to say, I was not at my best when I walked through the doors of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) at 8:45am Monday morning. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fellow interns were not all law students. Rather, seated around the table were a diverse group of engineering, accounting, media, urban planning and HR students.

Tasked with building two nine km tunnels through the city centre and delivering five new stations, improved signalling and new high-capacity trains, MMRA was established to deliver the state’s largest ever transport infrastructure project. The Metro Tunnel project is necessary to take trains out of the city loop, thus creating higher capacity throughout the network, so that our aging public transport system can meet the needs of a rapidly growing city. Needless to say, a nerd like me was excited.

It had been a while since I’d worked in an office, and when I opened my emails for the first time I was shocked to discover the sheer volume of meetings I was required to attend. I spent a day dazed and confused at the barrage of train-related acronyms that were being thrown my way. At the end of the first meeting I attended (my major contribution to which was nodding politely, pretending to understand the ins and outs of the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009) I was told I’d be preparing papers for the Governor-in-Council. Terrifying.

Yet, at no time did anyone ever doubt my competence or treat my lack of experience with condescension. HR invested time and energy in developing our skills, providing us with nearly weekly training sessions on topics ranging from mindfulness and resilience to applying for grad programs. What I relished most was the opportunity to engage with such a wide variety of work. Not only did I further engage with areas that I’d enjoyed at Law School, such as property and administrative law, but I was able to come to grips with areas I never dreamed I could be interested in such as procurement, construction law and contract management. I left feeling confident and assured in the skills I’d developed and grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful team.

Law firms seem to love to tell you how dull and stagnant working for government is, as if government agencies were bureaucratic wastelands devoid of innovative or creative thinking. This was far from my experience. Delivering such an enormous and complex project simply isn’t possible without novel solutions to tricky technical, logistical, geographic and legal issues. Working for government isn’t without its drawbacks, but the work I was given was engaging, exciting and consequential.

I took a chance applying for this position. I didn’t really know what it entailed, and I didn’t really find out until I’d started. I’d spent hours and hours preparing for clerkship applications, attending interviews and awful cocktail parties but throughout the whole process I’d never really stopped to think about what I felt passionate about or what kind of career would make me fulfilled and satisfied, instead of cashed-up and miserable. I did a clerkship at a commercial firm after MMRA. In comparison, it seemed bland and ungratifying. The work I did was nothing of the calibre I had been doing. More importantly, I never felt that I achieved anything. It just didn’t suit me. MMRA showed me that there were a wealth of opportunities and careers available that could actually engage and inspire me. If you’re a law student reading this article, I encourage you to take a chance on something a little different, to try and find something you’re passionate about. It could be trains; it could be multi-billion dollar IPOs or anything in between. Find something that excites you and pursue it – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

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Music Review- Adele Live 2017

By Nathan Grech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last fortnight, you’re probably aware that one mammoth voice shook the concrete foundations of Etihad Stadium to their core on March 18 and 19 this year. That voice belonged to the 28 year old humble but uber-talented Adele, the voice behind a James Bond theme, countless breakup songs, and three critically acclaimed studio albums.

Adele has been on tour for a good 12 months, and brought her world tour to Australia in support of her commercially record-breaking album 25 – a record about growing into her adult skin and healing from the trauma of the relationship breakdown that spawned 2011’s soulful and raw 21 album.

Opening the concert with the single that reached number 1 in almost every country it charted in, Adele announced her arrival with the haunting piano ballad “Hello”, an appropriate opening number that signalled her arrival at the show and served as a prelude for the rest of the evening to come.

Adele walked her circular-designed arena stage to belt out tunes from her three studio albums, and included the James Bond theme “Skyfall” accompanied by an all-male choir encircling her on stage to enhance the sonic experience for her audience. But perhaps more impressively, we saw why she has such a loyal and strong cross-generational fan base when she paused between songs to give insight into her life, her career and gain insight in return into her audience’s lives.

Her down-to-earth banter and engagement with the crowd both close to the stage and in the tiered seats high above (including people in penthouses in apartments outside the stadium who were lucky enough to have a view below into the Stadium) are a testament to her showmanship and skill as a performer. Across two nights in Melbourne, she managed to give a fan in the highest level of seating a personal letter out of pity for her impeded view, shoot signed t-shirts from a gun into the audience as mementos, use an electric fan on stage to mimic Beyoncé’s sassy hair flick and cool herself down, bring a small girl on stage to sing, and facilitated a man’s proposal to his partner by lending him her microphone.

These actions explain why Adele is so popular with everyone lucky enough to hear her sing. The importance of Adele’s concert lies not in her incredibly on-point vocal delivery. Rather, it is her ability to balance belting out her signature tunes with audience interaction and banter that creates a connection that is not replicable for many of her musical contemporaries.

Her concerts did not need choreographed dance moves or a glittering laser show to wow the audience. Instead, her pitch, tone, and the intimate nature she managed to create with the 70,000-strong crowd were more than enough to leave memories that will last a lifetime.

Although it’s unclear whether and when she will ever return to tour so far from her native England again, fans will eagerly await to see what the next move from Adele will be. And all the while we will be listening to her life story through soul, pop and rock-inspired tunes that invite us into Adele’s world and live her journey alongside her.

Economics and Business Law in Asia: Studying Abroad in Shanghai and Hong Kong

By Lizzi Chow

Last year MLS introduced the study abroad subject Economics and Business Law in Asia. I was lucky enough to take part in the subject travelling to Shanghai and Hong Kong for a unique albeit intense cultural and academic experience. Here is a rundown of my experience and a bit of information about the subject.

What is the subject about?

The subject took place over the course of 10 days. The subject is led by Andrew Godwin, a leading Melbourne Law School academic with a wealth of experience practising in China for over 20 years and Hop Dang, a partner at Allens in Vietnam. In Shanghai we were based at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and were lucky enough to take classes from a range of guest lecturers as well as from Andrew and Hop. We also visited the Minhang District Court, Zhong Lun Law Firm and Dorsey & Whitney.

In Hong Kong, the subject was based at the beautiful Hong Kong University campus. We were again spoilt with guest lecturers (in particular Justice Reyes who sits as an international judge on the Singapore International Commercial Court) and visits to international law firms such as Skadden.

Throughout the subject we undertook a comparative study of economics and business law between different Asian jurisdictions particularly between China and Vietnam as well as looking at the relationship between China and Hong Kong.

What did you enjoy?

A definite highlight was eating my bodyweight in dumplings.

Dumplings aside I really enjoyed learning about the differences in legal practice and legal culture itself. The classes were also structured with a practical focus on deal making which was really different to what I was used to at MLS. Last year the subject was open to students of all year levels which created a diverse and insightful group. I really enjoyed getting to know my fellow students in such a short period of time and bonding over our shared experience.

 What surprised you?

I was surprised at how different the legal culture actually was and how quickly the legal market has grown in China. It was definitely a culture shock that I was not expecting. It was also interesting to see how different legal practice in Mainland China as compared to the western influenced Hong Kong.

 What else did you do?

After class groups of us would usually split up and explore the sites in Shanghai and Hong Kong. We went to the propaganda museum, explored the old streets in Shanghai, found some bargains at the fake markets and ate a lot of egg tarts.

 Applying for overseas subjects:

  1. Keep an eye out for study-abroad opportunities in the MLS newsletter and on LMS.
  2. There are various grants and scholarships available through MLS and Centrelink if applicable.
  3. If applicable you should also contact Centrelink early and submit documentation to show that you are studying abroad in order to continue receiving payments whilst abroad!

 

Neverest 2017

By Nicholas Montgomery

There are several things that take a long time. The train to Uni, a week of property readings, a flight to the USA. Now imagine all those things one after the other, don’t allow yourself to sleep, and imagine you have to walk the whole time: all night, and almost all of the next day. Now make the walk entirely up and downhill. And 108km long.

This ridiculous challenge, called Neverest, held in late March near Melbourne, was my way of testing my limits. It is the third year of the event, which was started by an equally-crazy friend of mine, and in those three years over $110 000 has been raised for the Australian Himalayan Foundation, as they help with Nepal’s recovery after the 2015 earthquake, and fund locally-delivered education programs for the poorest Nepalese. Because of the crowded field of charity fundraising, you have to do something large and hard to get attention.

The idea of the challenge is to climb and descendt the height of Mt Everest, in one session. ‘Everesting’, originally a concept for cyclists, requires going up and down the same hill, until one has climbed over 9000 vertical metres [insert DragonballZ joke here]. For me and two other finishers, this was 35 laps of the Lyrebird Track in Upper Ferntree Gully, next to the famous Thousand Steps.

So, what does it feel like? It’s hard to answer this succinctly, so here are a few vignettes.

8pm, lap 2: I have a feeling of impending doom as I put on my head torch and get ready for 11 hours of slogging up and down the same track in the dark. Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t bed and sleep have been a good option? How will I get my property reading done by Monday?

11:30pm, lap 9: At least all the niggles in my legs have gone away, and have been replaced by a general soreness that covers just about all my muscles, so there is no longer any specific pain to concentrate on.

1am, lap 12: I feel like every podcast is about the same topic: how badly America treats its very poor people. It’s a sobering thought, especially because I get to stop working hard in about 16 hours, while the poor in America are often condemned to it for years. Surely it’s worse for poor Nepalese people? I am too tired to pursue this thought deeply, so I switch over to music, and manage to listen to the whole of Bizet’s opera Carmen. I think how Don José should have just married the village girl Micaëla, it would have saved so much hassle! Unfortunately this is only 2 hours 40 minutes long, or a little over 10% of this absurd activity.

5am, lap 18: The halfway point was about now, but I can offer none of my thoughts from this period: amnesia is now protecting me from the strange thoughts I likely had. I do remember looking forward to sunrise though.

7:30am, lap 21: The sun is up, I can walk without light, there are people on the track, and I have *only* 15 laps, or 46km, to go! I can do this!

2pm, start of lap 30: 5 laps to go! Suddenly this thing seems quite achievable; I have only 15km to go and my legs are holding up well. I take more frequent breaks, but realise the laps are definitely counting down. I am able to jog slightly more of the downhill, as I get a bit of confidence that I will finish.

6:21pm: I slump deep into a camping chair set up at the bottom, shove food into my mouth, and let my muscles start to stiffen up, knowing I won’t be able to walk properly for another three days. It’s fine, I don’t need my legs anyway now. I swear that I won’t do it again next year; it is just way too much to contemplate doing again. After 22 hours 21 minutes, 108.7km of walking, approximately 200000 steps and 12000 calories burned, I am done. I try to lock in the thought of ‘not doing this again’, knowing that my ego will swell over the next year and I will convince myself that the pain wasn’t that bad anyway. Maybe this article will help me stick to my resolution?

[donations can still be made at http://bit.ly/2oLTNZp%5D

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Four REALLY unconvincing reasons why you should get into magic.

By Chi Han Yeo

 

Comedian Pete Holmes once said that ‘Magic is the only form of entertainment where 90% of the crowd is trying to ruin it for themselves.” People don’t stand up in the middle of the theatre and yell ‘He’s not actually dead, he’s just an actor pretending!’ (unless I’ve been going to the wrong theatres all my life). And magicians don’t always make it much better. Not naming names (totes talking about Voldemort here), but there are some guys and gals out there who like to act all high and mighty, belittle the audience, and just be unpleasant. If you’ve been a victim of one of those people who insist on shoving a card under your nose at a party, when all you want to do is join your friends at the garden hobby horse race, I can only apologize on behalf of my magic brethren (and occasionally myself).   But that’s why you should consider taking up the art of conjuring. Because no matter who you are, what your skills are like, I know you can be an amazing magician. But if after all that you’re still on the edge, here are some totally bogus reasons why you should consider doing it anyway.

  1. You write the rules

People have this image in their head of what a magician is. The coattails, the hat, the bad lines. That’s the image that was made popular by a guy called Jean Robert-Houdin, who’s probably best known among the public today as the guy whose name got ripped off by Harry Houdini (aka Erik Weisz). Believe it or not, that was once considered to be the absolute opposite of what people thought was a magician. Back in Houdin’s day, a magician was someone who had robes, a sorcerer’s hat, and spoke all old timey like the bad guy from Flash Gordon (Ming the Merciless, saved you a google search). Houdin updated it, brought it to the fold, and that image is still changing today.

I watch a lot of magic, and the best stuff are the people who are not afraid to be different. They’re the David Blaine’s, the Lennart Green’s, the Kyle Eshen’s (this last guy imho one of the best entertainers of all time). Magicians are constantly rewriting the rules, constantly changing how things should be done, and you can do that too.

  1. It’s not actually that hard

This is a blatant lie. Dai Vernon, possibly the greatest magician you’ve never heard of once said ‘If you don’t like to practice, you should get another hobby’. But I’m not going to let a little inconvenience like ‘the truth’ get in the way of selling this magic gig. I suppose I should say…it’s not as hard as you think.

Back when I was 18, I was pushed into learning to drive. Being young, frightful, and very good looking, I was a little reluctant. My dad asked me, ‘what are you so afraid of?’ I replied honestly (as was the fashion at the time). ‘I’m terrified that I’m going to crash’. To which my dad replied ‘I wouldn’t worry about that. I know a lot of really stupid people who can drive, and I don’t think you’re that much dumber than they are’.

Not every trick in magic requires the exact pronunciation of ‘wingardium leviosa’. Some you can learn the ‘trick’ in a few minutes, then it’s all up to you to make it magic. To be honest, the hardest part of magic is getting started.

  1. (almost) ANYONE CAN DO IT

Magic transcends language, and culture. That portrayal of the impossible is something that I have done for people whose language I didn’t speak a word of. I’ve seen someone without hands (Mahdi Gilbert) perform better sleight of hand than I’ll probably ever achieve. Small children on youtube have baffled me to oblivion with just some amazing magic.

Who can’t do magic? If we’re talking for physical reasons, very few. The only people I’ve seen who couldn’t do magic were the ones who told themselves they couldn’t, and stuck to that script on every occasion….also Filch…the squib. (Is it obvious I like Harry Potter?)

  1. There are no good reasons to get into magic.

I lied again, it’s all a sham. In my opinion there are no good reasons to get into magic. I do magic because I like it, and I want to do it. I want to do it for the same reason people who watch soccer want to play soccer. Some say it’s not the magicians who choose magic, but the magic chooses them. It inspires, it seduces, and at the end of the day it delights me. If you don’t already think somewhere in the back of your head, I want to do that…I want to do that because I want to show people something cool…I want to give them a feeling that they can’t get from stand up, or movies, or music…I want to learn magic…then I can’t persuade you.

I can however recommend speed stacking. Actually, forget everything you’ve just read. Go check out the speed stacking Olympics, that stuff is dope.

This Land is Your Land: Getting Down with the Fitzroy Learning Network

By Declan Fry

 

So many of us in limbo

How to get it on, it’s quite simple

Three stones from the sun

We need a piece of this rock

Our goal indestructible soul

Answers to this quizzing

To the brothers in the street

Schools and the prisons

History shouldn’t be a mystery

Our stories real history

Not his story

– Public Enemy, Brothers Gonna Work It Out

 

It is often said that Australia is a nation of migrants. But Australia was a multicultural country long before migrants arrived. It is estimated that over 500 language groups held title to land prior to colonisation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples owned, lived on, and were taught knowledge of particular tracts of ‘country’ – the term used to refer to one’s territory/land of origin, or a person connected to that same piece of land.

After colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would experience their own migration – not in the sense of crossing the ocean to arrive in this country, but in the sense of mass-scale displacement: through dispossession, the Stolen Generations, and various assimilation and protection policies. Many people were removed from their traditional countries but carried the knowledge of country with them. We might conceive of this dislocation in the sense that, in Chinese, we speak of 外地人: a person foreign to a particular geographical location within the land.

The effects of removal and dislocation link Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to place in multiple ways. Yet how we relate to country and conceive of inter-generational relationships, extended families and communities, and the ties that we create through descent, place, and shared experiences, are part of the inheritance of all Australians. In Noel Pearson’s memorable formulation, Australia is a nation of three interconnected parts: the heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the British heritage and its legal structures, and the multicultural achievements of the present day. The idea that, in a sense, the entire nation of Australia is a land of uprooted peoples – albeit in very different ways – offers us the hope that, if this country is to have an honest understanding of its history, it will require each of us to acknowledge the ways in which displacement is inherently part of Australia. As Stan Grant writes:

We talk of a pan-Aboriginal identity and it is true, but we are also very different….For all that has divided us we are here together in a land that has become home to us all. We can go nowhere else – and I have tried. There are white Australians who down the generations have become in their own way indigenous. They don’t share our antiquity or our culture but they have made their own here and it has formed them. From wherever their ancestors’ journeys began, these people are now from here; they can be from nowhere else.

This is reminiscent of a quote that sits in the offices of the Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN), an organisation dedicated to helping migrants in Australia. Often attributed to Murri artist and activist Lilla Watson, its origins remain somewhat unclear:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.

The FLN’s work is deeply imbricated in questions of place and belonging. A large part of their mission is to empower people and give them a voice in the community.

On Friday 24th March, the FLN, in partnership with Yarra Libraries and Fitzroy Legal Service, hosted the Bridges to Harmony Festival in Condell Park, right in the middle of Fitzroy.

FLN CEO Jemal Ahmet began by introducing Aunty Georgina Nicholson, who told attendees about the history and geography of the Wurundjeri country on which the festival took place. Wurundjeri country encompasses the Melbourne CBD and extends north to the Great Diving Range, east to Mount Baw Baw, south to Mordialloc Creek, and West to the mouth of Werribee River.

Author and human rights advocate Arnold Zable talked about the history of the FLN, recounting stories of how refugees from Afghanistan, having been detained in places like Woomera and Baxter, eventually ended up living in Fitzroy’s high-rise flats. He related how some of them came to access the FLN after having seen a sign outside their office saying ‘Welcome’.

He went on to connect the tens of thousands of years of Australian Indigenous history to that of his journey as the son of Polish-Jewish refugee parents. His own family having been victims of genocide, he told us of his shock at realising that in Australia, the country where he grew up and went to school, he had never once heard the words Wurundjeri or Kulin, words representing cultures that are integral to Victoria’s identity. Standing in front of a map depicting the sites of Victoria’s massacres of Aboriginal peoples, Zable realised he had once seen a similar map depicting the places where his Polish ancestors had lost their lives. Movingly, he described how he was told to see Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, Wurundjeri Elder of the Kulin Nations. Her door had ‘opened into 40,000 years of history’, and Zable had gone on to learn about her great-great-uncle William Barak, a prominent figure in 19th-century Victorian history.

Zable then found, as he drove around the city, that he was able to begin to connect Victoria’s present to its past. He realised how, even in urban areas, we are still ‘on country’.

Having set up the tents and gotten things ready in terms of initial preparation for the festival, I got on to the more important part of preparations for the evening: playing with the dogs.

First up to perform that night was the Senegambian Jazz Band. Their acoustic set was something majestic, and you’re doing yourself a serious disservice if you don’t check them out.

Next up was Fadil Suna and Matt Stonehouse.

In the space between acts some of the kids were really starting to get into things (could it have been the star presence of MC & DJ Chris Gill of Northside Records? Or maybe the special appearance of Australian icon – and voice of many a childhood Sunday spent listening to Roy and HG Nelson’s This Sporting Life on Triple J – Greg Pickhaver?).

Midway through, we got to experience what was perhaps the highlight of the day: Girl Zone! They’re part of a roster of Fitzroy Clubhouse rappers at the FLN. Even if you’ve listened to the great masters of hip-hop, nothing can prepare you for the attitude these girls bring to the game:

Between acts DJ Chris Gill made sure to teach the children their James Brown. A few of the kids caught my attention because I remember having very similar dance moves to them in primary school. (My moves have improved only slightly since then.)

Of course, what party would be complete without the ultimate banger, Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On”? Let’s face it, there’s simply no such thing as a situation in which you should not play this song.

Next up was Windari.

Pumped after seeing their peers on stage, the kids took to it again as 1/6 as stepped up to rap.

I also managed to catch a bit of The Public Opinion Six, whose grooves are very much in that sweet, sweet Fela Kuti vein. They’re signed to local label Hope Street Recordings.

All in all this was a great event: a testament to the power of community, and of indestructible soul.

You can follow Declan on twitter as @DeclanFry1 at https://twitter.com/DeclanFry1

Interview with Tess McGuire, Founder of ‘Watch Us Lead’

By Lily McCaffrey

 I was so impressed when I discovered that my old friend and fellow JD student Tess McGuire had started a new program, ‘Watch Us Lead’. The program strives to connect Year 12 girls who come from low socio-economic areas with young women who are either studying or working in a professional field. I sat down with her and asked her some questions.

What inspired you to start Watch Us Lead?

I have always been passionate about gender equality and ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to quality education, as in seriously, I feel like I was born with this passion.

Watch Us Lead is for me the small contribution that I can make in enabling Year 12 girls to have the opportunity to be exposed to different ideas about what they could pursue in the future. It is my hope that this exposure will encourage them to dream big and will help them overcome the challenges that high school girls, in particular, often face in regards to coming to terms with how confident and ambitious they should be in a climate that discourages them from pursuing certain pathways.

Tell us how Watch Us Lead works as a program.

Watch Us Lead holds monthly sessions with a small group of Year 12 girls where we bring in two different speakers, both of whom are young women but come from diverse backgrounds. They then present to the girls what it is they do, whether it be studying or working in a professional field and how they got there. They explain their narrative and the challenges they have faced along the way and then engage in discussion with the girls so we can help them to understand that these challenges are often universal.

Why do you think that young women are in need of a program like Watch Us Lead?

I think as a young woman personally, I have drawn such immense inspiration from seeing other young women achieve or even aspire to achieve in different areas. I think we still live in a society that strongly discourages young women from being naturally ambitious and from entering into certain masculine fields. Participating in Watch Us Lead means that the girls can directly see, in front of them, another woman who looks just like them and who is succeeding, and I think it is so important to ensure that every girl believes in herself.

I understand that you ran the first session of Watch Us Lead with girls from Hume Central Secondary College about a month ago. How did that go?

It was actually such a fantastic experience. It was incredible seeing the faces of the girls light up as they met with two young women, both doing different things. One, a cadet engineer working for a national engineering consultancy company. The other, a young woman who had studied a degree in public health promotion and now works for different organisations that strive to alleviate health problems. There was one moment when the cadet engineer was explaining different jobs that engineers can do and she explained that the role of a chemical engineer is to actually create make-up and that they work for all of the international cosmetic brands. One girl was so shocked to hear this news and it was hilarious because she blurted out, ‘Oh my goodness I love chemistry, and I love make up! Who knew?’ It was so great to see them respond in such a positive way to learning about these different pathways that they could perhaps pursue in the future.

 It sounds like your program has already made a difference! It’s very commendable that you have started up this new initiative whilst studying law. How have you managed to balance both?

I think it is true what they say, that it is better to ask the busier person to do something because they actually get it done. This is a program that I have wanted to start for years and an idea that has been percolating in my mind for some time. Last year, I just said to myself that there are no more excuses and that if I didn’t get it done before finishing studying I was worried it would never happen.

In terms of managing the balance, I’ve started it at a very small scale, so that it is not too demanding administratively, but that it has the potential to grow and I will be able to do that on my own terms, when I have the capacity.

 How can people get involved in the program?

I am actively looking for young women who can participate as speakers. Any person who knows of a young woman who is still studying or working, and is a confident and gregarious person, get in touch with them and encourage them to put up their hand or just volunteer them and I can get in touch with them directly. It really is a great opportunity to stand up in front of other young women and gain some speaking experience through sharing your narrative with a group of people who are there to listen.

What are your hopes for the future of Watch Us Lead?

The long-term plan is for it to be able to expand and partner with more schools, particularly in low socio-economic areas where the need is greater for these resources and programs. In terms of right now, we are focussing on the girls from Hume Central Secondary, with our priority to make their experience of Year 12 the best it can be.

 You contact Tess and keep up to date with Watch Us Lead by liking the facebook page, ‘Watch Us Lead’.

 

 

Fight for the Minimum Wage

By Jacob Kairouz

There is no doubt that the Fair Work Commission’s decision on 23 February to cut penalty rates will cause hardship to students all over the country. However, there is a more pressing problem with our industrial relations model that is not receiving enough attention. Underpayment of award rates has become so commonplace in hospitality workplaces that ironically many of us will not be worse off under FWC’s latest decision. A lot of workers are already being paid less than the award rate, effectively less than the minimum wage, and never even received penalty rates in the first place.

As an experienced hospitality worker it is easy to find a job. However, as I discovered the last time I looked for work, it is far from easy to find a job where everyone is paid fairly and lawfully. I had six job interviews at different cafes around town earlier this year and none of them paid their staff the award rate. In one upsetting conversation a cafe owner said to me: ‘No single worker is worth $30-$40 per hour. It’s just ridiculous.’ Hesitantly, I had to agree that no one is worth $40 because the award wage is almost half of that sum. He continued, ‘I don’t pay penalty rates, I pay my staff a fair rate depending on their experience.’ But he never intended to pay me a ‘fair rate’. Most of these cafes offered me between $17 and $20 per hour as a casual worker. But I know what I am worth. The minimum hourly rate is currently $23.64 and $28.37 on weekends.

While university graduates might be in a position to negotiate a salary, hospitality workers certainly don’t have the same bargaining power. We are unskilled workers and employers will not usually be willing to fork out for someone more experienced. The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) was meant to protect workers from exactly this problem. The object of the act is stated at s 3 (c):

Ensuring that the guaranteed safety net of fair, relevant and enforceable minimum wages and conditions can no longer be undermined by the making of statutory individual employment agreements of any kind given that such agreements can never be part of a fair workplace relations system.

The Fair Work Act has definitely failed on this premise. Howard’s Australian Workplace Agreements are gone but illegal individual agreements are everywhere. The Ombudsman does not have the resources to actively investigate and enforce minimum wages. Because of this the market price for labour has dropped far below the award rate. We need only look at the controversy around 7/11 and Dominos to see just how easy it is for employers to steal straight from their employee’s pockets.

Unfortunately, wage fraud is even more common than the media has suggested and not at all limited to big franchises. A friend of mine worked at a reputable coffee roaster in South Melbourne and was underpaid more than $1600 over four months. All the staff there were being paid $20 per hour as a flat rate with no paid leave entitlements: $3 short of the minimum wage. Eventually she worked up the courage to confront the HR team and ask for the money. Luckily they admitted the mistake and back-paid in full but most people wouldn’t be so fortunate. I know of others who complained to their bosses and faced the sack soon after. Perhaps worse than this, many workers don’t even know when they’re being underpaid.

On paper, we have one of the fairest industrial relations systems in the world. On paper, there is no need for union involvement because the minimum safety net is already so generous. But this just doesn’t translate into reality. The Fair Work Ombudsman has failed to enforce minimum wages so we need to start doing it ourselves. As law students we have to use our negotiation skills and knowledge of the law to encourage vulnerable workers to stand up for equality. The only way to make a difference is for all of us to act together, reporting unlawful activity to the Fair Work Ombudsman or to the unions. Before we can campaign for better penalty rates we need to campaign to be paid the minimum wage.

LAWS50059: Gibbons, United Nations, and human trafficking

By Sophie Kaiko

Over the summer, I took part in the independent legal internship subject. I had a fantastic time, and I would highly recommend this class. Here is some more information about how it works and why I enjoyed it.

What did you do?

I spent three months working with the United Nations Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (which is a huge mouthful, but luckily is more frequently known as UN-ACT). UN-ACT is a project which looks at human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS: Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam). The project spans across each of these countries, with a regional management office in Bangkok. I was working in the regional management office. On a daily basis, I did a lot of research work, as well as some administrative and communication work. I spent a significant amount of my time looking at laws and legislative frameworks in the GMS, and I also looked a lot at public policy and government procedures.

What did you enjoy about your position?

 I liked applying what I knew about law to real situations. I didn’t feel like I was working in a vacuum, or that the cases I was reading were just for academic debate. I also really enjoyed working in a large, international organisation where I was working on briefs that related to headline news events. In addition to learning a lot at my desk in the office, my team was great at bringing me along to other events and conferences. As a result, I was lucky in that I got an insight into the anti-trafficking work done in the region. I also got to meet many interesting, competent and friendly people, which made the whole experience very fun.

What didn’t you like so much?

There are way too many acronyms at the UN. Also, working in a huge international office (with more than 2000 employees on site) meant that English was the main form of communication, so I learnt a lot less Thai than I would have liked.

 Outside of work, what else did you do?

I had a really fun summer, and got to do lots of exciting things! I went SCUBA diving in Koh Tao, rock climbing in Krabi, and saw some gibbons in Kao Yai. The gibbons were a real highlight, so I have attached a photograph of one. I also ate lots of delicious food, and made many friends.

That sounds pretty alright, how did you set this up?

  1. I applied for the internship through this website and was accepted.
  2. I contacted the legal internship people at university. I think you need to give them about a month’s notice, so would recommend doing this super early. They are incredibly helpful, so if you’re interested, book an appointment and go ask all the questions you can think of asking.
  3. Contact Centrelink if applicable, and submit all the documentation to say you are studying abroad. This means you continue to receive payments while overseas (which is a huge benefit, that I wish I had known about earlier, as it would have allowed me to apply much earlier!)
  4. Eat all the Pad Thai.

Gibbon!!!

 

Beaches + Islands= postcard perfect summer holidays

Law Camp Report

By Crista Gekas

I realise that in writing this article, I am breaking the old adage, “what happens at law camp, stays at law camp.” For those of you who did attend law camp, I insist that any stories divulged in this article will not implicate you in any sort of crime or misconduct (although I am willing to name the best and worst dance moves).

In many ways, law camp harked back to the old days of school camp. Some 150 students gathered on the footpath with bags, doonas and costumes in tow. Crowds jostled around sheets of paper allocating buses and cabins. There was idle chitchat about the coming three days and some early signs of nostalgia for LMR.

To the innocent bystander, the situation seemed relaxed enough. In fact, I’m sure any reasonable person would not see cause for panic. However, this did not stop the whirlwind of anxiety that quickly ensued in my head. Each decision the night before law camp seemed to be of life or death importance. Should I choose the sensible, slightly thinner blue blanket, or the much warmer “Bob the Builder” blanket? Conscious of my fledgling legal reputation, I made a conservative decision and chose the blue blanket.

I digress. Skip ahead six or so hours, and everyone is changing into their white t-shirts for the evening “scribble party.” Donning my “I LOVE MÜNCHEN” t-shirt, I set out with a set of textas and a creative spirit, albeit tinged by a slight hint of scepticism. With the music blaring and the beverages free flowing, however, I couldn’t resist the mysterious pull of drawing strange pictures on people I had only met moments ago. Whilst my doodles were fairly average and at best inappropriate (“Call Stephen”), and the group resembled a glittery, demented cult by midnight, the scribble party was a weirdly effective exercise in group bonding.

By the second and final night, law camp was in full swing. I had mastered my hand at Ping-Pong that afternoon, and was feeling confident that I’d nailed my 90s themed costume. Though it wasn’t so much 90s “themed” as much as it was pulled straight from the 90s (honourable mention goes to my Dad for letting me unashamedly raid his wardrobe). That night, each decade was to choreograph a dance routine and battle it out against competing decades, for a chance to win tickets to the end of exams party no less.

But suggestive dance moves aside, the MULSS is deserving of a huge thank you for organising Law Camp 2017. The whole thing went off without a hitch, although we would’ve been too busy dancing to notice otherwise. I met some fantastic people over the weekend, and the experience definitely made for a more relaxed transition into my first week of law school.