On 21 March 2014, the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender (FGC) hosted a reception for the University of Adelaide’s new Honorary Visiting Professor (and former Prime Minister), Julia Gillard. The FGC builds on the University’s commitment to promote social justice, equality and diversity in the community and its own workplace. Alongside the Public Law and Policy Research Unit (PLPRU), it is one of the University’s research centres and units that encourage and support interdisciplinary and collaborative research.
As part of this event, Dr Laura Grenfell, a member of both the FGC and the PLPRU and a senior lecturer in the Law School, was invited to present a brief overview of her research projects to Professor Gillard. Dr Grenfell’s work on human rights and public law falls squarely within the purview of both the FGC and PLPRU.
Dr Grenfell spoke about her research on the situation facing women in post-conflict states, such as Timor-Leste, that is the subject of her book, Promoting the Rule of Law in Post-Conflict States, recently published by Cambridge University Press. In this book Dr Grenfell focuses on how women navigate post-conflict legal systems in an environment in which formal law is generally weak and customary law prevails. In this context Dr Grenfell advises policy makers to study customary law carefully so that they can assist local actors in working to calibrate customary law in harmony with constitutional norms that promote gender equality.
Dr Grenfell also raised her current research project concerning the federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights which was established by the Gillard Government as a central plank of Labor’s 2010 Human Rights Framework. The Committee’s mandate is to scrutinise all federal legislation in light of the seven international human rights treaties Australia has ratified. It is now in its third year of operation and is regarded as both active and conscientious in fulfilling its mandate of systematically informing both Parliament and the electorate of the human rights compatibility of all legislation. Dr Grenfell noted that during both the Gillard and Abbot governments the Committee has expressed concern to Parliament on the human rights incompatibility of certain bills.
During her presentation, Dr Grenfell also directed attention to the state level where South Australia’s Parliament has no equivalent committee that scrutinises primary legislation. This means that there is no formal parliamentary analysis or record of whether primary legislation enacted by the South Australian parliament is compatible with human rights. Dr Grenfell believes that this situation needs to be publicly addressed by South Australia’s parliamentarians and political parties.