Overruling the underclass? : homelessness and the Law in Queensland

Walsh, Tamara (2005) Overruling the underclass? : homelessness and the Law in Queensland. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


The impact of the law on the lives of homeless people in Queensland has, to date, remained largely unexplored by legal academics and researchers. This is despite the fact that homeless people experience a number of legal difficulties that seriously affect their lives.

This thesis by published papers aims to make a significant and original contribution to filling this gap in the research evidence by presenting the results of analyses of the legal, theoretical and practical issues that arise in the context of homeless persons' interactions with the legal system in Queensland. Most notably, it is comprised of three pieces of empirical research which identify those areas of law that impact most on homeless people in Queensland and explore the consequences of the operation of these laws on their lives. In sum, this thesis examines the extent of the law's influence on the lives of homeless people in Queensland, and finds that the consequences of the law's operation on homeless people in Queensland are serious.

The thesis first examines the effect on Queensland's homeless people of laws which regulate behaviour conducted in public space. The criminal offences of vagrancy, begging and public nuisance are analysed; their historical origins, the reasons for their retention on modern statute books, and arguments in favour of their repeal are discussed. The impact of 'public space law' on homeless people in Queensland is also explored through a survey of 30 homeless people residing in inner-city Brisbane. This part of the thesis concludes that public space law in Queensland results in breaches of homeless persons' human rights, as well as the contravention of rule of law principles.

The thesis then explores the impact of the law on homeless persons' experiences of citizenship. Empirical research and theoretical analysis demonstrate that the application of various laws, particularly public space laws, social security laws and electoral laws, encroaches on homeless persons' citizenship rights.

The thesis then reports on the results of a unique survey of Queensland's homelessness service providers. This survey is the most extensive piece of empirical research ever conducted on the extent to which various laws impact on homeless people. Respondents were asked to indicate which areas of law impact most adversely on their homeless clients. Based on the research findings outlined above, the hypothesis was that criminal law issues, particularly public space offences, would be proven to impact particularly adversely on homeless people in Queensland. Somewhat unexpectedly, the findings of the survey indicated that fines law, debt law and family law difficulties are those legal difficulties most often encountered by homeless people in Queensland. Difficulties produced by criminal laws, social security laws and electoral laws, while still generally relevant, rated less highly. However, the survey did demonstrate that experiences differ between sub-groups within the homeless population, for example Indigenous homeless people were reported to be most affected by criminal law issues, while young homeless people were reported to be most affected by social security law issues.

Together, the five papers which comprise this thesis make an original and substantial contribution to knowledge by identifying empirically for the first time the various laws that have a significant impact on the lives of homeless people in Queensland, and analysing the consequences of this in terms of their effect on homeless persons' citizenship rights, human rights and rule of law entitlements.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16161
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Mathews, Benjamin, Bean, Clive, & Lane, William
Keywords: Homelessness and the law, public space law, social security law, constitutional law, electoral law, citizenship, human rights, rule of law, vagrancy, begging, offensive language and offensive behaviour, public nuisance, social security breach penalties, fines, voting, political communication, T.H. Marshall’s citizenship theory, right to equality before the law, right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, right to freedom from discrimination
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Law
Department: Faculty of Law
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:57
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:44

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