Volume 10, Issue 12
I came into the library early one morning in my first semester of law school and there was an issue of De Minimis, graffitied in pink highlighter with the anarchist symbol and the words, “SMASH THE SYSTEM”.
How heart-warming, a fellow anarchist lived in the law school! I immediately developed an attachment to the newspaper.
In certain ways, the symbol is quite appropriate. De Minimis’ core principle of being an open platform for student contributions is well aligned with anarchist principles of inclusivity, transparency and accountability.
It should be said that De Minimis’ openness is somewhat of a happy accident, due more to editorial laziness than anything else. Hamish, Chief Editor in 2015, in the midst of responding to accusations of bias, stated that we couldn’t be biased since we published anything that wasn’t defamatory of grossly offensive. He was quite happy to admit that this was due to laziness. Hamish must have been channelling the spirit of De Minimis that day, as when I was reorganising the De Minimis archives during summer last year, I found a snippet from a 1956 edition which seemed to steal the words from his mouth. It read:
We do not intend to write any highfalutin policy. We intend to be the laziest editors in the history of this rag. We are going to let you write it. We will print anything you send in that is not abscene or libellous.”
Of course, De Minimis hasn’t always been entirely consistent with anarchist principles. Tim Mason, De Minimis’ unofficial historian, wrote that “some of the humour was notably sexist”. Anyone who has gone through the archives can testify as to the accuracy of this statement. Things have changed somewhat I hope – next year marks the first year in the newspaper’s history that the majority of the editors are women!
I was also impressed in my first year by De Minimis’ excellent reporting on the Business Improvement Plan (BIP), which was ultimately of long-lasting consequence. One revelation was that, as part of the BIP, the law school well-being officer was to be removed in favour of a “brand vision and marketing advisor”. It was only due to the outcry of law students that a well-being officer was retained amongst all the cost-cutting. Credit goes to two editors in particular for breaking that one - Peter Botros and Scott Denkman. We wouldn’t have Casey Hollway without them (though the BIP ultimately contributed to Kate Van Hooft’s exit).
So when I saw the AGM advertised towards the end of 2014, I thought I might as well go along to say hello to these impressive folk. It just so happened that I was with Charlie at the time, so he came along too.
It turned out that only four non-editors turned up. We were implored to all take on positions, and that we did!
Over the following summer one of the four of us dropped out, our friend Tim jumping on as Treasurer and Equity Uncle in his stead. Certainly no formalities were followed in this appointment, and so its constitutional validity shall forever remain unclear.
At the start of the year we didn’t have a hell of a lot of submissions coming in (we published 2-4 articles per issue, at most).
By the third week of semester we had, however, managed to get the attention of the law school marketing department. With Matt Pierri as President, and though he had campaigned on an anti-BIP platform, the LSS had reached peak corporatisation (even the yoga was sponsored by Allens). But they did manage to hold a barbecue without a corporate sponsor which prompted our headline “Breaking: LSS Holds Event without Corporate Sponsor!”
The marketing department contacted us a few days later, I suspect because they saw the headline, and demanded that we remove the tagline “official newspaper of the students of MLS” from our masthead, which we’d had for the last three years.
Though the accusations that we were not an elected student body were false, we nevertheless took them up on their offer and became the “officially unofficial newspaper of the students of MLS”. And we managed this within three weeks! Not bad.
We again encountered MLS’ ambivalence towards us that semester when we received and published an article whose title, “Where’s the Men’s Only Room”, was a phrase used by a couple of individuals on a facebook thread regarding an LSS proposal for a women's only room. This they found terribly concerning, and alleged that we were bullying those individuals and potentially defaming them.
We were asked to take the article off the internet and Hamish and I were summonsed to the Associate Dean’s office. When we arrived together, they told us to come in one at a time while the other waited, like a naughty schoolboy, outside. My words were transcribed and repeated back to me when they felt I’d contradicted myself. “Gotcha!”, they seemed to be saying. They demanded that we act consistently with the marketing department’s social media guidelines. It was all very amusing. We were told that if we put the article back on the internet we would be charged with academic misconduct.
Our position was made clear to us – we were naughty children who had to be controlled by the adults. We had a similar experience with the LSS President that same semester. We asked to inspect the finances of the LSS, as is the right of all members under the LSS constitution. But the then President was decidedly suspicious. He subjected us to a long talk about the context of the finances before we were allowed to see them, and even then the computer screen was only very reluctantly turned towards us. His main concern, he said, was that the LSS corporate sponsors might not appreciate us publishing anything about the finances. Something about implied confidentiality agreements.
That was the first time I realised how impressively corporate sponsors had captured the LSS. The LSS really was very afraid to act in a way that it thought sponsors might not appreciate. Indeed, sponsors have been described to me as one of the principal stakeholders of the LSS! And here I was thinking that it was a student organisation run to benefit students.
Fortunately for us, since then, a new Associate Dean has been appointed who treats us as adults and the LSS has moved in a positive direction. Anna Belgiorno-Nettis, this year’s President, has worked hard to increase student engagement with the LSS, and the LSS has reengaged with student advocacy work. The committee next year looks set to continue this, many having run on a platform of transparency and openness. I’m also very excited by Henry Dow’s proposal for participatory budgeting.
De Minimis’ work this year has also been made a lot easier by the sheer number and quality of submissions we’ve received. We haven’t been able to help publishing 6-7 articles every week, and, to Tim’s chagrin, we haven’t published a single crossword. A very important part of this was Charlie’s excellent work promoting De Minimis online and getting people enthused to write articles.
Ultimately, however, the success of De Minimis is due to the deep well of experience, skill and ability that the students of MLS have. Our work has simply involved effectively tapping into that deep well. To see this you need only read the array of diverse, entertaining and informative articles we’ve received, effectively unsolicited, for this issue.
This MLS student expertise is supplemented by the extraordinary resources made available to us at MLS. At our fingertips are renowned experts in law across a whole range of fields; we have excellent facilities; and we have staff who dedicate themselves to making the law school experience a positive one.
If we organise ourselves appropriately, there’s a lot that the students of MLS can achieve, particularly in terms of facing down attacks on students being made by our own University’s leadership, which I’ve tried to detail in a number of articles.
It excites me that the LSS is moving towards becoming an open organisation which will work with students, rather than an organisation which does things for students. The former mode allows the LSS to capitalise on the expertise of all students, whereas the latter relies on elected representatives being responsible for everything. The latter method is highly inefficient and wasteful of resources.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Tim Matthews Staindl and Charlie Debets who have been my fellow editors for the last two years. They have done incredible work; they’ve been capable, reliable, innovative and fun. It’s been an honour working with them!
Duncan Wallace is a third-year JD student and the outgoing Chief Editor of De Minimis. This article is written in his personal capacity.
The rest of this issue(!):