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Keeping the Peace of the Realm

In Conversation with UniSA & PLPRU COVID-19 Student Symposium People's Choice Winner Samuel White

Photo: Corporal Dustin Anderson, published by the Australian Defence Force on 7 October 2021

Samuel White is a full-time legal officer in the Australian Army Legal Corps, full-time HDR candidate at the University of Adelaide, and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of New England. In 2021, he was recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross as an ‘Emerging Voice’ in international humanitarian law for his scholarship.

He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from the University of Queensland; a Master of Laws (Hons I) from the University of Melbourne; and a Master of War Studies from the University of New South Wales. Samuel is admitted to practice as a solicitor in the State of Queensland, and before the High Court of Australia.

At at Student Symposium on Government Responses to COVID-19, hosted by UniSA Justice & Society Unit and the University of Adelaide's Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Samuel presented on the topic "Keeping the Peace of the Realm: Constitutional executive power & domestic security operations" and was selected as the "People's Choice" winner by members of the audience. You can watch a recording of Samuel's presentation here, along with the rest of the Student presentations.

What motivated you to conduct this research and what are your key findings?

I have always been interested in history and, specifically, military history. In fact, in many ways I see myself as a historical researcher through a lens of law when the need arises. My doctoral studies have continued the work of my masters thesis, where I looked at the nature of the relationship of the soldier and the State in domestic operations (specifically, whether military personnel are ‘citizens in uniform’ or hold a distinct legal status). My key finding is that there has always been a duty and power to lawfully deploy troops domestically. The tricky question is: is there a threshold (implied or explicit in law) when that should not happen?

Has COVID-19 changed the way you look at your research questions or findings, and/or your role as a researcher and author?

For the most part my research and its application was theoretical, until a suite of domestic operations occurred in 2019/2020. The real issue of course has been the use of the ADF in public health enforcement, and other researchers and academics have been asking questions around the lawful authority. Now, the Defence policy around this area has been publicly released in August 2020 and questions were asked whether or not the public health enforcement operations by the ADF were consistent with that policy. But that is not the real issue; these academics are conflating policy and law.

The real issue is whether or not there is a lawful authority for that operation – and my research demonstrates that there clearly is. Since Federation, there have been multiple instances of Australian military personnel responding to threats without being formally ‘called out’ under an Act of Parliament – they are deployed under the authority of the Royal prerogative.

What's next for you? What impact do you hope your research will have?

Well I just finished writing a book called Keeping the Peace of the Realm which addresses these issues and much more.

I am hoping that I can start to apply these findings to a perhaps more novel, but I would argue much more pressing, threat: interference operations. These operations are covert, corrupt or clandestine attempts to sway public opinions, and are the central threat that my PhD is trying to address. I hope that the research might start a debate into the nature and powers of ADF domestic operations, and whether or not we should introduce some legislation that makes clear what the powers and the thresholds are for responding.

I am in two minds however about this, because sometimes introducing legislation can actually make the problem worse because it is rushed, poorly drafted, and too restrictive.

Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about starting a PhD or a higher degree by research?

I was lucky enough that I was accepted in around May 2020, to start in January 2021. That gave me half a year to just read and get across the topic in a calmer way, without the clock starting, and to really focus in on my reading. I’ve been lucky as well that my two supervisors – Professor Dale Stephens CSM and Associate Professor Matthew Stubbs – are both double hatted as ADF legal officers so we have a lot of cross over in both industry and academia. Being a remote student, it can be difficult without the ability to just walk into your supervisor’s office. Having that cross over really makes life easier.

Samuel is launching his most recent book, Keeping the Peace of the Realm, at the University of Adelaide on the evening of Friday, 11 February 2022. The guest of honour will be The Honourable Justice JA Logan RFD, of the Federal Court of Australia. Tickets are available at:


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