Law and Poverty: Forty Years On

In 1975, Ronald Sackville (then a legal academic, later a Federal Court judge) delivered his landmark report, Law and Poverty in Australia, as part of the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. This week a group of legal scholars are holding a workshop to mark the fortieth anniversary of the Report. Hosted by the Australian Human Rights Centre at the UNSW Law School, the workshop will re-examine the recommendations in the Sackville report and consider the extent to which poverty, and the legal dimensions of it, present new challenges for lawyers, legal scholars and policy-makers.

La Trobe Law School Senior Lecturer, Anthony O’Donnell, has been invited to participate in the workshop and will be presenting a paper on labour law and poverty. Labour law barely figured in Law and Poverty in Australia. This is unsurprising: the prevalence of arbitrated wages, the dominance of the standard employment relationship, and a full employment economy meant that Australia’s labour law system was functioning fairly effectively as a system of social distribution and a bulwark against household poverty. But what Frank Castles famously described as the ‘wage-earners’ welfare state’ has undergone a profound shift in the past 40 years. Anthony’s paper traces the evolution of Australian labour law over this period, drawing links with income inequality, poverty, and the changing intersection of our wage-fixing and social security systems.

La Trobe