Justice Patrick Keane: “It makes you proud”

On Thursday, 29 October 2015, the judging panel for CEFA’s Governor-General’s Prize met at the High Court in Brisbane to interview the six finalists in this year’s essay competition.

The finalists wrote essays on different topics concerning the rule of law and protection of freedom — themes chosen to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

The judging panel was chaired by High Court Justice Patrick Keane, who summed up the undergraduates’ efforts with the words, “It makes you proud.”

Other members of the judging panel were former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce, University of Sydney Professor Peter Gerangelos, and Baker & McKenzie partner George Harris.

The George Winterton Cup for first place was awarded to Marcus Roberts, who studies at the University of Melbourne.  Mr Roberts wrote an essay about the significance of the quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it” (attributed to Voltaire) for discussions about the Racial Discrimination Act.  He has spent many years living abroad and he was motivated to write the essay by debates that he had witnessed both in Australia and overseas.

Second place was awarded to Robert Size, who is enrolled at the University of Technology Sydney.  He drew on the Constitutional Convention Debates of the 1890s to write an essay about why the framers of the Constitution decided to include certain aspects of the United States 14th Amendment, but not other aspects, in the Australian Constitution.  Mr Size became so captivated by the Convention Debates that he is now contemplating graduate research on the topic.

Third place was awarded to Jackie Lobban, who is a student at the University of New England.  Ms Lobban was struck by differences between how she and her peers engage with democracy, and this provided the impetus for analysing the results of the Museum of Australian Democracy’s Power of 1 survey about voters’ attitudes to democracy, leading her to make recommendations for redressing younger voters’ disillusionment with the democratic process.

Travis Shueard, a student at the University of South Australia, was commended for an essay answering the question, “Was Athenian democracy more democratic than Australian democracy?”  Although not a formal student of ancient history, he has a great interest in it, which prompted him to think about connections between topics ranging from the trial of Socrates in ancient Athens to compulsory voting in contemporary Australia.

Tesla Kavanagh, who studies at Deakin University, was also commended for an essay on the history of the right to trial by jury, and its protection in the Australian Constitution.  She was interested in the way in which this history has led people to have so much faith in the jury system.

Finally, Sally Andrews, a student of the University of Sydney, was commended for an essay answering the question, “Did any of the Australasian colonies experience struggles similar to those associated with the emergence of the rule of law in England?”  Her family has links to West Papua, and this inspired her to research the rule of law and the process of decolonisation in Papua New Guinea, and to compare it with the history of New South Wales.

CEFA’s CEO, Kerry Jones, said, “I am thrilled to see the Governor-General’s Prize inspiring young Australians to learn more about a diverse range of topics covering political science, ancient history, civics education, constitutional law, the history of the rule of law and the origins of the Australian Constitution.”

Last year, the Governor-General’s Prize was sponsored by Reconciliation Australia’s Recognise campaign, and addressed constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.  Awarding the prizes at a reception at the High Court of Australia, for 250 guests including the Chief Justice and Attorney General, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove said, “For a decade, this prize has attracted outstanding university undergraduates who, in addition to their demanding course work, have invested time and academic rigour to produce contemporary analysis of our Constitution and of our system of government.”

Questions for the 2016 Governor-General’s Prize will be announced shortly, and will invite students to investigate issues relating to the Constitution in times of war, as part of the centenary of the First World War.

As in past years, members of the judging panel were delighted to read the undergraduates’ written work and discuss it with them.  On her way out, at the conclusion of the judging, Dame Quentin remarked, “It’s uplifting to be engaged in an exercise that is a celebration of achievement.”

CEFA is proud to have created opportunities to recognise the achievements of Australia’s future leaders through the Governor-General’s Prize for over a decade.