We sat down with Dr Holly Doel-Mackaway, children's rights lawyer turned lecturer in the Macquarie Law School, to hear more about her work and her passion for children's and young people's right to participate in decision-making.

Holly in conversation with Dylan Voller at an event on Universal Children's Day 2018.

Holly in conversation with Dylan Voller at an event on Universal Children's Day 2018.

Why do you research what you do?

My research focusses on the relationship between children and the law, particularly the way the law interacts with children who are marginalised or disadvantaged. I am especially interested in researching ways children can participate in the development of laws and policies that are likely to impact on their lives. That is why my research primarily centres on ways to improve domestic implementation of article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which requires governments to seek and take notice of children’s views about all matters affecting them.

I have come to academia after a long career as a children’s rights lawyer working for the United Nations, government and various international non-government organisations. I do this research because I believe the law is a powerful mechanism to advance the fulfilment of children and young people’s rights. However, children and young people’s perspectives are generally not taken into consideration when child related legislation is developed. Furthermore, children and young people are some of the most highly regulated people in society and there are countless examples of domestic law in Australia and internationally that conflict with international human rights standards including in the juvenile justice, health and child protection systems. My research seeks to highlight areas for child related law and policy reform and propose ways domestic law, across a range of jurisdictions, can better accord with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What would people be surprised to know about you or your work?

I am also a singer and musician and I used to do this for a living quite some time ago. One memorable example was many years ago when I was the lead singer in a cabaret show at a hot spring resort on the Noto Peninsula in Nanao, Japan. Music is a big part of my life and I still sing at all sorts of venues, but now it is only for pleasure as a serious hobby.

What’s your proudest achievement at Macquarie?

Walking across the stage to accept my PhD and my young sons  in the audience yelled out in unison: ‘Love you Mum!’. It felt great to have my family there to share in that moment and to have my PhD supervisor, Carolyn Adams, there on stage cheering me along as she had done the whole way (and still does!).

What was a ‘failure’ which set you up for later success?

At one point in my career I worked for a short time as a policy advisor in a role that was not specifically child and youth focussed. This was after I had worked for a long time in child law specific roles. I thought I should try a more general legal role rather than narrowing myself to only one area of law. I only stayed in the role for a short time because I realised that children’s rights is my real passion and that I didn’t want to turn my attention to other areas of the law. This experience helped me consolidate my commitment to dedicating my career to child law and prompted me to enrol in my PhD.

Who has inspired you lately and why?

I have taught a few students this year who have faced extraordinary personal challenges in their final year of their law degrees. One student in particular, faced some very difficult circumstances but she sought help to overcome this and graduated with outstanding results. This student inspired me to think about ways to deliver legal education that doesn’t push students to ‘breaking point’ and how to best support students to successfully complete their degrees.

What are you most excited about on your agenda for 2020?

I am going on OSP in 2020 and I am excited about doing field research with Save the Children in Fiji and Nepal about the role of law in addressing gender-based violence against children. I hope this research will lead to an expanded project across other countries in 2021, perhaps a DECRA. I will also be spending some time at two leading children’s rights centres, one in Belfast and the other in Stockholm.