Researchers keep their fingers on the pulse

Employment conditions, political funding, divorce, substance use, refugees, telecommunications – not just the latest news headlines, but also some of the topics currently being explored by Melbourne Law School researchers.

Melbourne Law School pursues a range of significant research, grouped within 13 centres, institutes and research clusters.

In fact, last year (and for the last few years) the Law School was the number one law school in Australia for winning Australian Research Council (ARC) grants. It receives about one-third of all ARC grants in the law discipline nation-wide.

It's one thing to have employment standards, but it's another thing to enforce them. Associate Professors John Howe (PhD Law 2004) and Sean Cooney (LLB 1987, LLM 1992) are investigating the effectiveness of the Federal Government's employment standards and their enforcer, the Australian Government's Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). This three- year project will serve as the first comprehensive scholarly empirical evaluation of the FWO.

"Our aim is to work with the Ombudsman to find out just how much has changed in the last four or so years, and to assess...any impact on employer compliance into the future. The study is a timely one, given that the new federal labour legislation, the Fair Work Act, only came into full effect at the beginning of 2010," explains Associate Professor  Howe.

Looking further afield, Professors Tim McCormack and Stuart Kaye  (in collaboration with the University's School of Population Health through Professor Nick Crofts) are undertaking a two-year project investigating substance use in prisons (and other closed settings) in both Australia and Cambodia, with the aim of bringing a public health focus to the relevant law. The project is being undertaken in partnership with the Australian Red Cross (and others), who will facilitate the research findings through its prison programs.

Contributing to the family law arena is a study of post-separation parenting by Professor Belinda Fehlberg  (LLB(Hons)1990)  with Dr Christine Millward and Monica Campo. This project is collecting data that aims to track changes in post-separation parenting and financial arrangements over time, and ultimately reduce adverse financial and social impacts of post- separation financial arrangements on children, carers and the social security  system.

"The in-depth data being collected over three years from the 60 Victorian parents in our study is providing new insight into life in separated families following major federal law reform in the areas of parenting law (in 2006) and child support (2006 – 2008),"  says  Professor  Fehlberg.

Arts, humanities and social sciences at the University of Melbourne are ranked 19 in the world. Overall, the University is ranked 36 in the top 200 universities in the world. Times Education World University, Ranking 2009

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 3, May 2010.