2017: Turning the Bend Towards Justice

The year 2017 has been a year of milestones and bittersweet victories, filled with tears of joy and also pain.

Years of struggle culminated in cries of delight that echoed across parliament and the country as same-sex couples were finally given the right to marry in 2017.

Far across the ocean in remote Pacific camps, refugees and people seeking asylum continued fighting to be heard as their detention stretched from months into years with no end in sight to their mental and physical anguish.

Children detained in the Northern Territory and child sex abuse survivors also had their day of reckoning as the veil of secrecy around their suffering was lifted and their pain was acknowledged in two landmark royal commission reports.

The #MeToo movement saw more and more women end their silence about the sexual harassment and abuse they have suffered in the workplace.

The year was full of firsts, driven by Australians’ desire to right the wrongs of the past and chart a new, more hopeful, path for the future.

At the heart of it was the importance of social justice and the crucial role the law can play in championing the rights of the disadvantaged or those being discriminated against.

So what did we learn? We found that taking on big businesses, governments and institutions can be a long-drawn and difficult process. The arc of the moral universe is long, but with the perseverance and support of Australians and the backing of the law, legal change can help build a better society.

We ran the landmark poker machines case on behalf of former addict, Shonica Guy. The case helped generate deep discussion about the impact of the industry on the community, and identified how damaging gambling can be.

In another case, a four-year-old boy who was born in immigration detention and held on Christmas Island with his parents for over 400 days became the lead plaintiff in a class action against the Australian government over its detention regime for people seeking asylum.

His plight is heart-wrenching, and through his case, we are challenging the detention regime in a push that could have wide-ranging implications for Australia’s immigration policy.

These cases are examples of how protecting and standing up for people through our use of the legal system can help Australian communities come to terms with the injustices of the past and present. Through recognition and compensation, people can also find hope for the future.

But the fight is far from over.

At last count, more than a thousand men, women and children who sought asylum in Australia are still being held in detention centres and are seeking their freedom. We have started a number of claims for women sexually assaulted in Nauru and there will be more claims in the future.

Their voices -- and many, many others across Australia -- deserve to be heard. Lessons need to be learnt about how their treatment should not be repeated.

The work of Maurice Blackburn, in conjunction with that of many other advocates continues to be a critical voice in helping people access their rights, adjust the scales of justice and ensure that social justice work continues to be an important part of Australia’s moral compass. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. often said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Let us hope that 2018 is another year of firsts.

TOPIC: Social justice
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Social justice

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Jennifer Kanis

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Jennifer Kanis is an experienced social justice senior associate and head of Maurice Blackburn’s social justice practice. Jennifer is based in our head office in Melbourne, and provides legal services to people throughout Australia....

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