This article was originally published in Lot’s Wife – MSA Environment & Social Justice Edition.
One thing about being stuck at home, amidst the perpetual influx of assignments, e-exams, clerkship applications and the like, is that we have had some time to reflect on what’s happening in the world. We are longing for life to return to ‘normal’, but it’s become clear that we should not complacently accept the ‘normal’ that we experienced. Our collective reaction to COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in our system – cracks that were already obvious before and are now urgently demanding our attention.
With each Progressive Law Network event, we imagine new futures for ourselves and brainstorm the endless ways to create safer communities and enact equitable public policy through a legal lens. Our Democracy and the Law event with the Public Interest Law Network explored the possibilities of a Human Rights Charter. Our Climate Justice panel saw us envision a radical solution to the woes of environmental law, one that prioritises First Nation perspectives and environmental preservation rather than the profit-focused extraction of the Earth. Every discussion has been invigorating for us. We are even more determined that our collective anger needs to be channelled into solidarity and action in our work.
The future looks different for everybody. We asked our student committee to reflect on their own versions of life after lockdown and posed them the question, “What change do you want to see in a post COVID-19 world?”. Together, these responses create a clear picture of what we desire our futures to be. We hope we’re not too far off.
Post COVID-19 I want to see the world commit to tackling the climate crisis with the same urgency we treated Coronavirus. I want to see a swift, dedicated transition from coal and gas to renewables, exploring their myriad possibilities of clean, cheap, and guilt-free energy. I want to see a rapid culture shift away from exploiting Mother Earth as a lucrative commodity, to instead respecting her and the life she supports. Climate justice should not be a political movement, but one of survival; so, going forward, I would like to see the world unite behind climate action as we have against COVID-19.
Tristan, Mental Health Officer
How is it that, with all its financial and logistical resources, Australia has not found a viable solution to homelessness? The unlikely answer is that COVID-19 may have provided one. Shortly before lockdown began, over 7,000 homeless people in Australia’s capital cities were given residence in hotels, motels and student accommodation. Since then many have reported the “life-changing” mental and physical health benefits of the security which this provides. Accounting for the costs of medical treatment and police callouts, a UQ study shows that this arrangement saves the community approximately $13,000 per year per beneficiary. Humanity costs nothing, but in modern society it rarely presents itself as an unrefusable offer. This is one, and it must bring a change for good.
Joe, Careers Subcommittee
I hope that the post COVID world is one where we see our lecturers, colleagues and friends with more compassion and humanity. The adjustment to living our lives via Zoom has given many of us an inadvertent glimpse into each other’s personal circumstances – from caring for young children and family members, to chaotic home-work environments, to disrupted internet connections. We’ve all become a bit more considerate of the real lives people lead outside of their work and study, and how circumstances can make their professional commitments challenging. I really hope that this perspective and understanding continues when ‘normal life’ resumes.
Danie, General Representative
Optimistically, reforming our workforce system is my hope for a postCOVID-19 world. Inconceivably, the decision to turn up to work is suddenly a moral one, rather than a capitalist endeavour. Worker-toworker transmission in Victoria is a symptom of a broken casualised workforce system, that prioritises higher wages and lower human resources requirements over income stability. Buzzword solutions, like paid pandemic leave, offer a band-aid fix to an entrenched structural problem. If we are really asking workers to sacrifice income for their society, the government and industry must step up to care for them.
I hope to see an expanded awareness of the importance of government accountability. The COVID-19 policy response has seen unprecedented powers allocated to police and significant dangers inherent in the over-policing of marginalised communities. The Victorian state of disaster means the executive’s decision-making powers can override legislation. Reduced police and government accountability, although arguably necessary at least to some extent, are nonetheless of concern in that they risk injustice and overreach going unnoticed and unchecked. This experience should foster stronger scrutiny of how governments should respond to emergency situations in a rule of law democracy.
Annie, Events Officer
I want to see a heightened appreciation for privilege. This crisis has subjected people to restrictions that they may never have experienced without this pandemic. People’s ability to travel is limited. People are fined by police who normally gave them the benefit of the doubt. People are fearing for their livelihoods and their lives. People are struggling to access the goods and services that have normally been at their fingertips. When this is over, I want people to remember what that was like, and be aware of how privileged they are, that things can go back to their normal.
Written collaboratively by the Progressive Law Network committee.