Australian Centre for Health Law Research

The Australian Centre for Health Law Research’s new website is now live. The website showcases ACHLR’s research strength across four research streams led by co-directors Associate Professor Fiona McDonald  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn:

End of Life, which explores the legal, ethical and policy issues of death and dying. This stream is led by Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott , former co-directors of ACHLR. The End of Life stream maintains the comprehensive End of Life Law in Australia website.

Health, Society and Regulation, led by Dr Shih-Ning Then. This stream investigates the social, regulatory, and ethical challenges associated with the regulation of health care.

Ageing and Aged Care, which examines the pressing legal, health, social and policy issues that arise from population ageing, led by Dr Kelly Purser  and Associate Professor Tina Cockburn.

Technology, Innovation and Health, led by Professor Belinda Bennett . This stream investigates the social, legal and regulatory implications of technology and innovation in health care. ACHLR researchers are active in the Queensland Genomics Health Alliance’s Ethics, Legal and Social Implications Workstream , collaborating with colleagues at UQ, Queensland Health, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

ACHLR members continue to engage in current topics of law reform, including a response to the COAG Health Council Regulation of Australia’s Health Professions Consultation Paper  regarding mandatory reporting to National Boards of professional negligence settlements and judgements and charges or convictions of scheduled medicines offences. Members also made a response to the Australian Human Rights Commission Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper.

See what our ACHLR researchers have published in e-prints.

New book offers analysis of issues and challenges in child sexual abuse

Professor Ben Mathews’ new book, New International Frontiers in Child Sexual Abuse, offers a timely and detailed exploration and analysis of key contemporary issues and challenges in child sexual abuse, which holds great relevance for scholarly, legal, policy, professional and clinical audiences worldwide.

The book draws together the best current evidence about the nature, aetiology, contexts, and sequelae of child sexual abuse.  It explores the optimal definition of child sexual abuse, considers sexual abuse in history, and explores new theoretical understandings of children’s rights and other key theories including public health and the Capabilities Approach, and their relevance to child sexual abuse prevention and responses.

It examines a selection of the most pressing legal, theoretical, policy and practical challenges in child sexual abuse in the modern world, in developed and developing economies, including institutional child sexual abuse, female genital cutting, child marriage, the use of technology for sexual abuse, and the ethical responsibility and legal liability of major state and religious organisations, and individuals. The book examines a range of developments and issues in civil law, criminal law, and the various ways in which they may best prevent, identify and respond to child sexual abuse.

Photograph of Ben Mathews

Professor Ben Mathews

It examines recent landmark legal and policy developments in all of these areas, drawing in particular on extensive developments from Australia in the wake of its Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It also considers the best evidence about promising strategies and future promising directions in enhancing effective prevention, intervention and responses to child sexual abuse.

About Professor Ben Mathews

Professor Ben Mathews, PhD, LLB, BA, is a Professor and Principal Research Fellow in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.  He is also Director of the Childhood Adversity Research Program in the Faculty of Health, and is an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 2015-17 he was Professorial Fellow to the Australian Government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. His major area of research expertise is in children and the law, with a focus on issues concerning law and child maltreatment, child sexual abuse, civil damages for child abuse, children and educational systems, medico-legal issues, children’s rights, cultural violence against children, and children’s criminal responsibility, and law and ethics.

He has conducted large multidisciplinary studies of law and child abuse and has published extensively in Australia and internationally, with 3 books, 75 refereed articles and book chapters, 18 major government reports, and over 40 conference presentations. (See Full CV)

He serves as a technical advisor to multiple governments on issues regarding child maltreatment law. His research and knowledge translation has led to changes in law, policy and practice in Australia and overseas.

Read about Professor Mathew’s work and his work to ensure our laws protect children and allow survivors to seek justice.


QUT Law academic awarded funding to research governance of Queensland wetlands

In November 2018 Dr Evan Hamman was awarded $5000 from Birds Queensland to undertake empirical research into the governance of Queensland wetlands.

Along with an ecologist colleague, the grant will be used to investigate the different scales of regulation that relate to impacts on the wetlands and their unique birdlife, from climate change to coastal development to local disturbance (e.g. dog walking and plastics). Two wetlands will be investigated as part of this research – shoalwater bay and moreton bay.

The results will feed into a book Dr Hamman is co- writing about migratory bird conservation in the Asia Pacific.

Dr Evan Hamman

Dr Hamman is a lecturer in the School of Law and holds bachelors degrees in law and commerce from the University of New South Wales and a masters degree in environmental science and law from Sydney University His PhD research – awarded an Outstanding Thesis Award – investigated the role of non-state actors under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Dr Hamman has worked for NGOs and the Queensland Government on conservation and environmental law issues. He has an interest in the role and influence of civil society in conservation. His current research focuses on environmental issues in the Asia-Pacific region including: migratory species; Ramsar wetlands; World Heritage areas; and the Great Barrier Reef.

You can read more about Dr Hamman in his staff profile.

QUT academic Dr Alex Deagon’s religious freedom research cited during Senate Debate

Federal Government Minister cites Dr Alex Deagon’s religious freedom research during Senate Debate.

The media’s leak of the Recommendations from the Ruddock Report on Religious Freedom in Australia prior to its official release prompted a controversial debate about the extent to which faith-based schools should have the freedom to select staff and regulate students consistent with their religious ethos.

Under exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), educational institutions established for religious purposes can discriminate against staff and students if they do so in good faith and in accordance with their religion to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents to that religion.

The public debate resulted in a private member’s Bill moved by Federal Senator Penny Wong to remove these exemptions. This bill was sent to the Commonwealth Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee which provided a Report on 26th November 2018, which consisted of a majority report (ALP/Greens) and a dissenting report (Coalition).

QUT Researcher Dr Alex Deagon’s submission was cited by the majority report in relation to potential constitutional issues with any attempt to remove religious exemptions in Commonwealth legislation without equivalent alternate protections being passed. Dr Deagon was further cited extensively by the dissenting report on similar constitutional issues, as well as to support arguments regarding the need for the religious freedom of faith-based schools to be maintained and substantively protected.

In the subsequent Senate debate on the bill during the sitting on 3rd December 2018, Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, opened the debate by quoting from Dr Deagon’s submission to underscore the importance of religious freedom in the context of ensuring the liberty of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions. This was used to support proposed Government amendments to the bill. Debate on the bill adjourned without a vote and it was sent to a further committee for consideration.

The Ruddock Report and Government Response were released on 13th December 2018, and Dr Deagon was one of 21 academics around Australia that were asked to provide expert evidence to the Ruddock Panel in person. According to the Government Response, the issue of religious freedom for faith-based schools is to be considered further by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2019.

You can read more about Dr Alex Deagon and his biography in his QUT staff profile.

No room for pollies’ personal views in euthanasia debate

Whatever the opinion of the public, academics or medical professionals, QUT researchers say it will be politicians who decide on whether laws on euthanasia, or voluntary assisted dying, are changed.

  • Politicians’ personal views on euthanasia should not drive the debate
  • Issues of public concern, such as the impact on vulnerable people, should instead be at the forefront  Parliament’s role is to protect the vulnerable if laws are changed
  • Legislation applies to all; not just people with one view or another
  • Individuals are free to reject euthanasia as an option for themselves based on their own personal beliefs, so the fairest option is to make euthanasia lawful
  • Conscience votes on euthanasia not optimal, but may remain the only way to decide the issue

Researchers from QUT’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR) have published an article – Informing the Euthanasia Debate: Perceptions of Australian Politicians – in the University of New South Wales Law Journal on how politicians approach euthanasia and assisted suicide when they are voting on whether to pass a bill legalising such practices.

Led by Dr Andrew McGee, their paper follows the recent passing of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 in Victoria, and covers a rarely examined perspective of the debate.

Learn more about ACHLR on their website or follow their twitter account @HealthLawQUT. 

You can read the full article and reach our media contacts on the QUT news page.

Are traditional administrative law doctrines still fit for purpose in the digital age?

Dr Anna Huggins

Dr Anna Huggins considers the implications of a recent Full Federal Court decision in AusPubLaw.

Dr Anna Huggins examines the case of Pintarich which she says will have implications for the reliance that Australian taxpayers can place on computer-generated correspondence from the Australian Tax Office. It raises interesting and complex questions about when an authorised officer makes a decision, and whether traditional conceptions of what constitutes a ‘decision’ are still appropriate in the digital era.

Automated processes hold promise for enhancing the efficiency and consistency of administrative decisions, particularly in high volume decision-making contexts. However, these advantages need to be weighed against the risks to public trust in government decision making caused by computer-generated errors, for which traditional administrative law doctrines thus far appear to provide limited protection.

As alluded to by Kerr J in his dissenting judgment in Pintarich, legal conceptions of what constitutes a decision and other administrative law doctrines need to evolve to reflect the reality of how decisions are made in practice in the digital age. Mr Pintarich’s unsuccessful appeal to the High Court represents a missed opportunity to further consider what constitutes a decision in an evolving administrative decision-making context.

Find out more about Dr Anna Huggins and her research outputs in e-prints.

Can public policy benefit from considering religious perspectives?

QUT Faculty of Law’s Dr Alex Deagon recently published an article in the prestigious Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy which considers whether religious arguments ought to have a place in modern politics. Alex responds to the common objection that religion should not contribute to law and public policy because it can be sectarian, divisive and exclusive.

Rather, Alex proposes that religious contributions are an expression of religious freedom and equality because religious perspectives play essentially the same role as non-religious perspectives in policy debate between citizens, and are often just as contested. More importantly, religious arguments can pursue the public good as least as much as secular ones and so are essential resources for the democratic formulation of policy.

Alex is investigating further research on how religious contributions to public policy might enhance freedom and equality in our modern democracy. This will include an analysis of the US and the UK for insights on how they balance religious freedom with equality which Australia can use in its unique legal and political context.

See Alex’s track record to find out more about his research interests and achievements.

Children as Tissue Donors – Dr Shih-Ning Then’s New Book

Within Australia, on average 32 children annually will act as bone marrow donors for a sick relative. Worldwide, thousands of children undergo non-therapeutic procedures removing tissue to hopefully provide treatment and cure for a sick relative. While relatively common in medical practice, the participation of children as donors raises ethical, legal and practical issues due to the vulnerability of children in this context.

Dr Shih-Ning Then’s book, Children as Tissue Donors Regulatory Protection, Medical Ethics, and Practice, is the first book to provide a comprehensive and integrated legal, ethical and empirical analysis of tissue donation by children.

In recent years, a growing body of literature concerning the clinical experiences and outcomes for child donors has emerged. This book adds to this by examining another dimension – the regulatory frameworks at play. It examines the ethical arguments for and against children acting as tissue donors and provides an original analysis of the legal and non-legal regulatory frameworks governing children’s participation in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

Dr Shih-Ning Then

Shih-Ning’s research interests include issues in healthcare faced by groups traditionally considered as vulnerable in society who have often been denied a ‘voice’, including children and adults with decision-making difficulties. Shih-Ning is an interdisciplinary scholar who works with clinicians, ethicists and social scientists in her research. She is the recipient of competitive grant funding and is currently a member of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s Organ and Tissue Working Committee.

Learn more about the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at QUT .

Could algorithms help magistrates and judges in making sentencing decisions?

Dr Nigel Stobbs

QUT Faculty of Law’s Dr Nigel Stobbs is collaborating with a team of legal experts, judges and data scientists to create a framework for the efficient and ethical use of machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence in Australia’s criminal justice system.

Together with Professors Dan Hunter and Mirko Bagaric from Swinburne University, Dr Nigel Stobbs recently published details of a proposed trial of sentencing algorithms that will provide magistrates and judges with historical and predictive data to assist in making sentencing decisions.

The current stage of the project involves working with stakeholders to determine what levels of functionality, transparency and control are required over forecasting outcomes, to overcome the well-established risks of ‘Algorithmic Aversion’, which make users less confident in the value of machine learning tools.

The team is seeking funding for the next phase of the project in 2019, which will include development of a beta algorithm for field testing with judges in Queensland and Victoria and evaluation of user preferences for data visualisation interfaces and desktop dashboards.

Nigel will be presenting preliminary results of this project within the proceedings of the International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, held in conjunction with the XXXVIth International Congress on Law and Mental Health in Rome, 21–26 July 2019.

To find out more, read the publication Can sentencing be enhanced by the use of artificial intelligence?

Dr Bridget Lewis’ new book: Environmental Human Rights and Climate Change

Dr Bridget Lewis

Dr Bridget Lewis’ recent book, Environmental Human Rights and Climate Change: Current Status and Future Prospects, is now available. Bridget’s book surveys environmental human rights protection around the world to highlight how human rights law can enhance how we respond to climate change.

Bridget’s research examines environmental problems using human rights law, particularly those arising from climate change, to argue that governments are violating human rights by failing to protect the environment. Bridget identifies how human rights law at the international, regional and domestic level applies to environmental degradation and then analyses that law to identify where it needs to be improved to protect future generations who will experience the consequences of environmental destruction. See Bridget’s research track record for a flavour of her research interests and achievements.

Bridget’s research continues to make an impact in her field. QUT staff can see her as part of the QUT women in in research showcase at QUT on Wednesday 21 November 2018 from 12pm to 2pm. Register now.