Special Issue: Melbourne University Law Students' Society Elections
Issue 7, Semester 2
If one were pressed to come up with an aphoristic nickname for the LSS presidential candidates, the thought that comes to mind when talking to Daniel Bennett-Spark would be something akin to ‘the conscience candidate.’ The 2019 Queer Director turned presidential contender is running on a platform dedicated to promoting student wellbeing with a strong focus on the Law Student Society’s role in promoting social and institutional equality.
“I think my platform is really practical,” states Bennett-Spark, “… it focusses on utilising the resources we have at the LSS and also as sought-after graduates to really improve student life, but also the profession more widely and even society as a whole. I also keep in mind the fact that the LSS needs to be more accessible to all students – we have work to do there, and I think that’s our responsibility.”
At the heart of this approach are a range of initiatives focussed around ethical sponsorship. Bennett-Spark cites one such campaign, Pay the Rent – a call for non-Indigenous Australians to support initiatives controlled by traditional land owners in their struggle for self-determination and economic independence – as close to his heart, and notes its successful inclusion in the Queer Portfolio under his directorship in 2019, as well as its subsequent adoption by the LSS leadership team. On a broader level however, he also envisions the role the LSS has to play in negotiating new standards of conduct and transparency between the LSS and firms involved in career and clerkship programmes. Two such issues constitute immediate targets. The first, a push for transparency in firms around their management of sexual harassment concerns, has already been implemented by the New Zealand Law Student’s Society in response to the Russel McVeagh sexual harassment scandal. Bennett-Spark hopes to see similar results at Melbourne, with firms providing greater information about their policies to rectify power and information asymmetries for students wishing to avoid rocking the boat when competing for jobs, whilst still having a clear interest in feeling safe in the workplace. Secondly, he notes concern around rumours of firms withdrawing from the Law Institute of Victoria clerkship and traineeship guidelines – a set of practices by signatory firms governing the dates and timings of seasonal clerkship and graduate position offers. “This would be a cynical competitive play, piling pressure on students to accept graduate and clerkship offers. Firms do a lot of talk about caring about our mental health, but the LIV guidelines are key to protecting our mental health through what are the most stressful periods of our degree.” Whilst Bennett-Spark predicts a productive working relationship with firms on these issues, he is also clear that the LSS under his presidency would not be afraid of playing hardball, with the potential to limit access to students or removing sponsorship for firms whose responses the LSS is unhappy with.
In addition to engagement with the wider industry and community, Bennett-Spark also notes concerns for students on the UoM home front. Recent proposals by the university to makes changes to the Special Consideration process have become a late-entry election issue for both LSS and other Melbourne University student organisations, potentially requiring students to make stressful pre-commitments surrounding their applications and removing consideration extensions for changing circumstances. Whilst conceding that the LSS cannot directly intervene in such decisions, he contends that the role of the society will be to leverage its relationship with MLS faculty as well as collaborate with wider campus representative organisations such as UMSU. Although he is hopeful for a pragmatic exchange with faculty and administration to reject the proposal, he also supportive of a campus-wide response led by students in the event that it is necessary. “… I honestly believe that if this turned into a fight that went down to the wire, we would win it, and I would be fully committed to that campaign.”
In his sign-off, Bennett-Spark ends the interview with an entreaty to students to vote on Monday. “Voting is the best way (students) can make sure that the LSS works for them… then it’s on us to nourish that first flower of engagement into a beautiful LSS garden of degree-long engagement.”
For more on the 2020 Elections and to view candidate profiles, visit the MULSS website here.
Voting is open from 9am Monday 9 September till 5pm Friday 13 September.