Laura Wood - Centre - Recipients of the 2018 Swiss Prize with Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Cardew-Hall (far left) and His Excellency, the Ambassador of Switzerland, Mr Pedro Zwahlen (far right), photo courtesy ANU.
By Laura Wood
It’s interesting to think about when I first applied for an AVCAT scholarship. My grade 12 studies were coming to an end and I was unsure whether I would be accepted into university. Four years later and now, at the end of 2018, I will complete my Bachelor of Arts Degree with only one more year to go before I finish my Bachelor of Laws.
For the first three years of my university studies, the RSL National supported me through an AVCAT scholarship. It was nice to be recognised for my academic achievement at school, my community volunteering, and extra-curricular activities. However, the receipt of this scholarship was thanks to a joint effort. My eligibility was dependent upon my grandfather, Donald Gough’s service during the Malaysian Emergency in 1956.
For those of you that don’t know much about it, all three arms of Australia’s defence force were involved in the Emergency from 1955-1960. The uprising saw Commonwealth armed forces fighting communist supporters, namely the Malayan National Liberation Army. My grandfather was in the Australian Navy, having joined as a cadet midshipman in 1948.
Early in the new year, I will be travelling to the same region but in more peaceful circumstances. Like my grandfather, I am hoping to support democracy by advocating for access to justice and the rule of law. As part of my law degree I will be providing clinical legal education to Burmese university students in Myanmar. The program is conducted by the not-for-profit organisation, Bridges Across Borders South East Asia Community Legal Education and offered through the Australian National University. I am very honoured to receive this opportunity and am looking forward to both teaching and learning while there.
In other exciting news, recently I submitted an essay to the annual Swiss Prize Competition organised by the Swiss Embassy. This year’s topic was, ‘Made in Switzerland.’ It inspired me to write about ‘l’initiative populaire’ which permits Swiss citizens to call a referendum and change the law themselves. Switzerland is the only country which allows its citizens to directly determine, at all levels (federal, canton and community), the issues that they wish to be dealt with by the government. For this reason Switzerland is classed as a direct democracy. My research tried to show why this idea should exist in all political systems. I was fortunate enough to receive third prize in the French language division, which was a great way to finish my French Major from my Arts degree.
In reflecting on these events, I can see a trend flowing through my family. It is a passion for defending, attaining and advocating for the best possible political system. We should never settle for what we have but continue to question on how the world can improve, not only for our benefit but the benefit of others. Thank you to the RSL National and AVCAT for helping me strengthen democracy.
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