On Wednesday, 9 March 2016, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove gave a reception at Government House, Canberra, for the finalists in the 2015 Governor-General’s Prize.
The Governor-General’s Prize is a prestigious essay competition for students at all Australian universities, and has been organised annually by CEFA since 2004.
Speakers at the event included the Governor-General and High Court Justice Patrick Keane, who chaired the judging panel for the 2015 Governor-General’s Prize.
They were joined by High Court justices Susan Kiefel, Stephen Gageler, Geoffrey Nettle, and Michelle Gordon, University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor Attila Brungs, University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, University of New England vice-chancellor Annabelle Duncan, Monash University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner, and Professor Mike Ewing, representing the vice-chancellor of Deakin University, as well as representatives of a range of government agencies that had participated in the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, ranging from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet to the Royal Australian Mint, the Senate and the Museum of Australian Democracy.
The Governor-General and Lady Cosgrove mingled with guests after a brief ceremony in which the Governor-General presented the Winterton Cup to Marcus Roberts, a law student at the University of Melbourne, who was placed first in the essay competition.
Sir Peter said, “The work of the Constitutional Education Fund comes to the fore … because you stimulate debate and encourage learning.
“You take something that could be abstract and the esoteric— the domain of a privileged few—and you ensure it remains relevant, accessible and of service to all.
“Because… a Constitution that is appreciated and understood… a Constitution that is pertinent and informative to contemporary issues… and a Constitution that is both respected and critically evaluated … is a Constitution that is not just the foundation of who we are—it is also the foundation of who we will become.
“So whether it’s leading discussion about indigenous recognition, creating school parliaments, or establishing the Australian Constitution Centre, you are promoting the absolute importance of our Constitution to our nation and our future.”
The 2015 Governor-General’s Prize took the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as an opportunity to invite undergraduates reflect on Magna Carta as a decisive moment in our constitutional history, in the development of the rule of law, and in the protection of the freedom of the individual. A range of questions touched on different issues related to Magna Carta, constitutional history, the rule of law, and protection of freedom.
Justice Keane praised the Governor-General’s Prize, saying, “This contest, the Governor-General's Prize, has … been commendably ahead of the game.
“The great value of this competition is that it challenges students to look at where the law has come from in order to express a view as to where it should go.
“Each of the essays of the finalists was thoughtful and stimulating as the essayists took the opportunity to explore some of the recurring themes associated with ideas of good government as they have developed in Western thought, and more particularly in the common law tradition, a tradition which had its first moments of self-consciousness in the decades before Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which we celebrated last year.”
Marcus Roberts, who has spent many years living abroad, explained that he was motivated by debates that he had witnessed both in Australia and overseas, when writing his winning essay on the relevance of the famous maxim, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it” for debates about Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
Kerry Jones, chief executive of CEFA, was delighted that CEFA had been able to help mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta through the Governor-General’s Prize, as it had used the Prize the previous year to encourage young Australians to learn more about the proposed referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, and will this year focus on the Constitution in times of war, as part of the centenary of the First World War.
“CEFA is committed to finding ways to help all Australians engage with the full range of issues related to the history and operation of the Australian Constitution, and the Australian Constitution Centre that we hope to establish in an iconic Canberra institution this year will provide exciting new opportunities for such engagement,” Mrs Jones said.
To read Marcus Roberts’s award-winning essay, click here.
To read the Governor-General’s speech, click here.
To read Justice Keane’s speech, click here.