Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a great threat to sustainable development.
– United Nations

Peace and justice are deeply embedded in the Victoria University ethos. We are the university of opportunity and success, committed to bringing together the diverse strands of our community – so all can benefit from the strength of those strands woven together.

Many of our programs directly promote inclusion, such as 'Aspire', originally for female Muslim leaders, and now extended to other community groups, and Moondani Balluk's Indigenous support and research.

In addition, we conduct research with direct policy outcomes to tackle the causes of crime and terrorist activity – with the aim of creating a more peaceful society.

16: Peace, justice & strong institutions

Research projects & engagement 2020-21

Research with impact

VU conducts research with direct policy outcomes to tackle racism and the causes of crime and terrorist activity – with the aim of creating a more peaceful society.

Professor Debra Smith leads the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism research group. Professor Smith was co-author of the introductory article for a special issue of the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism.  The article outlines how the role of academics in assisting security agencies has changed over time in response to new threats; and summarises how each of the six articles in the special issue shows academics and practitioners their contributions to national security. Members of the research team authored Our diggers would turn in their graves to examine how right-wing extremist groups hijack the messaging of ANZAC commemorations to validate a white-supremacist agenda, and promote an idea of national identity that seeks to exclude Muslim peoples.

Dr Mario Peucker of the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism research group looked at how Islamophobia can motivate social and political activitism for some members of the Muslim community in ‘You are essentially forced into being an activist’. He joined other researchers focused on countering violent extremism to review Far-Right Activity on Gab in Australia. Gab is a fringe social media platform that hosts the views of far-right extremist communities. In 2021, following the 6 January storming of the US Capitol building, a record numbers of far-right communities, that had been banned on Twitter and Facebook, moved to the platform. The review sought to identify what role Gab plays in advancing far-right views in Australia.

Amber Hart examines Campion’s framework for Right-Wing Waves, based on Australian context, and concludes that these waves of right wing activity are also found internationally. The paper concludes that the extreme right is on the cusp of the next wave and discusses trends that may inform those in a position to counteract the forthcoming wave of activity.

Christopher Sonn is a community psychologist who focuses on how racial groups affirm their culture and histories in the face of the structural racism and violence of colonial societies. Professor Sonn and VU researchers contributed several works examining how people from the African-Diaspora affirm their cultural identities as a resistance to systemic racism:

Professor Sonn joined VU researchers Alison Baker and Rama Agung-Igusti to contribute a chapter on Promoting Epistemic Justice: Community Arts, Identity and Belonging Among African Diaspora in Australia for the book, Decoloniality and Epistemic Justice in Contemporary Community Psychology.

Professor Sonn and Rama Agung-Igusti joined practitioners to examine Colour Between the Lines, a self-determined initiative comprising a collective of five creative practitioners from the African diaspora. The collective offers an example of the creation of alternative settings as a resistance to structural violence, that are important for affirming culture and histories, and for providing opportunities for a sense of community, consciousness raising, and constructing new and alternative narratives to those that pervade dominant cultural contexts.

He joined VU researcher, Christina Maxwell to show how theatre creates spaces for a counter narrative in The Performative is Political. They interviewed audience members who self-identified as white to establish how they interpreted the performance and how the performance helped them challenge their assumptions about white racial identities.

Professor Bill Swannie specialises in human rights and the law. Professor Swannie contributed the chapter, Rights, liberties and restrictions for a book on Australian Constitutional Law and Government, an accessible guide to constitutional law. In the article Corrective Justice and Redress under Australia’s Racial Vilification Laws, he argues that the procedures are restrictive in requiring a conciliation in all instances and may inflate costs for the complainant.  Mr Swannie examined whether speaking back provides a sufficient response to hate speech. He contends that by itself speaking back does not provide adequate redress to targets of vilification. The protective legislation operates to preserve the dignity and wellbeing of groups targeted by racial vilification, and to authoritatively affirm that public acts of racial vilification are not acceptable.

National Identity and Social Cohesion in a Time of Geopolitical and Economic Tension by Robert Walters explores human rights and international law and addresses the legal, social and political rationale and ramifications of highlighting identity by national states to increase and decrease population numbers for economic benefit.

Bill Swannie’s research explores questions of free speech, human rights law, equal opportunity law and media law and published a series of articles examining racial vilification and discrimination law in Australia. He is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria Human Rights Committee. Bill Swannie led the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group, a team of more than a dozen Australian university law academics, in a submission to a NSW parliamentary inquiry into changes to discrimination complaints handling. The Group condemned proposed changes that would limit access to justice and exclude legitimate complaints.


Through our connections in community and public services and private organisations, we work to address the causes and effects of racism and other injustices. 

The Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism team, led by Professor Debra Smith, continued their strong partnerships with Victoria Police, the Victorian government and the Defence Science Technology Group to strengthen counter terrorism and countering violent extremism assessment tools and programs. Through this research they also extended their partnerships to other law enforcement jurisdictions and agencies, as well as Home Affairs, to establish a national program of work.

Professsor Ramón Spaaij from the Sport and Social Change Living Lab research group gave an invited session on ‘Insights on good programming principles, including on capacity building and measuring impact’, as part of the Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport Policy Workshop, for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations Development Programme, Uganda Youth Development Link, Ministry of Education and Sports, Kampala, Uganda.

VU's Dr Mario Peucker, of the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism team, and Professor Tom Clark, joined Holly Claridge from the Wyndham City Council to develop a community-led response to racism for the City of Wyndham. The report led to the establishment of a network to provide support in reporting racism, the first program of this type in Australia. The researchers used these learnings to write a submission to the Human Rights Commission to support the development of a National Anti-Racism Framework.

Mario Peucker and Thomas Fisher wrote All Together Now for the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), to assist the ECCV’s anti-racism initiative All One Together. The practical aim of the review is to support the ECCV in developing and implementing policies, programs and actions to enable organisations to create a more diverse and inclusive environment and tackle all forms of racism within their organisations.

The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, in conjunction with Court Services Victoria and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, is documenting the experiences of key players who helped establish Victoria’s Koori Court nearly 20 years ago for an Australian Research Council oral history project. The three-year study will provide an intergenerational learning opportunity for Indigenous Elders to pass on their knowledge and experience to future Indigenous leaders. It is the first historical study to tell the story of the courts from the perspective of those directly involved in establishing and running them. The study will result in a touring exhibition and will advance understanding of the role of the Koori Courts in improving Indigenous justice and in supporting Indigenous self-determination.

Professor Bill Swannie gave evidence to an inquiry by Queensland Parliament into Serious Vilification and Hate Crimes. Mr Swannie drafted a submission to the inquiry on behalf of the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group, a group of Australia's leading scholars in anti-discrimination law and practice. The submission argued for the expansion of the protections currently offered by Queensland laws.

The Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) group has been engaged in a series of applied research projects for preventing radicalisation, promoting social cohesion and countering terrorism for safe and inclusive communities. Four major reports for international, national and state partners were completed in 2020 on: assessing terrorism risk, evaluation of police case management, understanding vulnerabilities to right-wing extremism and identifying transitions to violent attacks.

The group’s research informs the state and national government, local councils and evaluation of policing processes to early intervention, diversion from extremism and countering militancy.

Associate Professor Debra Smith of PCVE co-leads the Applied Security Science Partnership (ASSP) that brings together police, security practitioners and academics to build robust evidence on behavioural indicators of violent extremism. Debra was also part of the expert panel commissioned for the independent review of effective case management and information sharing barriers relevant to violent extremism.

The PCVE group report on Dissenting citizenship? Understanding vulnerabilities to right-wing extremism on the local level was used to inform the establishment of the Wyndham Anti-racism Support Network, the first of its kind in Australia.

Debra Smith and Mario Peucker from the group conducted workshops and reviews for capability building for the Victoria Police and local councils to increase understanding of vulnerabilities to extremism and effective early interventions to prevent radicalisation leading to violence, including a forum open to the public Learning about Hate: Creating a Connected Community.

The Ripple Effect project conducted by Sir Zelman Cowan Centre (SZCC) with funding from the Victorian Legal Services Board, brought together ten faith leaders from Victoria’s diverse faith-based communities representing six different faith groups to upskill and support these leaders to deliver governance workshops to the boards of their organisations. During the pandemic, the program was delivered online to support participants to acquire technical skills in online facilitation and use of online resources.

In June 2020, SZCC hosted Governing in a Crisis, a forum for community leaders examining the effects of COVID-19 on faith-communities in Victoria. The panel reflected on the support faith-based organisations are providing to individuals in crisis due to the pandemic, how communities are managing to worship together while being apart, and how good governance practices can help faith-based organisations meet the needs of their communities in these challenging times.

Professor Ramon Spaaij served as scientific expert to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on preventing violent extremism through sport. His research is cited extensively in UNODC’s new Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport: Technical Guide, for which he was also an expert reviewer and member of the UNODC Expert Group.


VU offers law and justice programs encompassing human rights and social inequalities in people’s access to and treatment by the justice system.

The Bachelor of Laws offer a broad perspective on legal practice and enables students to gain professional legal skills such as advocacy, ethical judgement, legal research, interviewing and negotiation. Thanks to our partnerships with the courts and community legal services, students gain practical, real-world experience of the justice system.

The Bachelor of Criminology develops the legal and social understanding to solve real problems in the community. Students learn the motivations behind criminal acts and gain the knowledge and skills needed to help police, legal, and social-welfare organisations address the causes and results of criminal behaviour.

Victoria University is also the leading provider of migration law education in Australia. We have more than 25 years’ experience teaching migration law courses, an emphasis on practical learning, and strong connections with the Australian migration and government sectors.

VU works in partnership with WestJustice to offer legal clinics conducted by law students working in conjunction with staff, in:

  • family violence and family law
  • fines
  • ‘Hear Me’ Legal Triage
  • Sunshine Youth

The Victoria Police Diversity Program is a collaboration with the Victoria Police and community organisations to provide employment opportunities for people from African-Australian, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse and refugee backgrounds in the police force. Five graduates of the program have joined the Police Academy, 28 have passed the police exam and 51 participants are progressing through recruitment and employment pathways.

 Dr Mario Peucker with community members

Dr Mario Peucker worked with Wyndham City Council to develop a community-led response to racism for the City of Wyndham.

Christopher Sonn, a community psychologist, focuses on how racial groups affirm their culture and histories in the face of the structural racism and violence of colonial societies.

Research groups addressing Goal 16

Programs addressing Goal 16