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Rudd 2020 talkfest gimmick

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Friday, 7 March 2008

If Kevin Rudd really wants a lasting positive vision for Australia he should be talking to the least resourceful and worst off Australians, rather than having a talkfest with 1,000 of the country’s smartest and most influential people.

People with big brains and deep pockets don’t need an alteration to existing societal structures and institutions to make their lot a good one. The situation is vastly different for the handicapped, Aborigines, the chronically ill, victims of serious crime, refugees, homosexuals, single parents, the depressed and the downright talent-less. Not only are many of these people struggling, but most are political mute and socially invisible.

But can’t the smarties advise the PM what the down and outs need to make their miserable lot a bit more tolerable? Surely they can do some “research” and theorise about what needs to be done.


Rudd’s 2020 gimmick would have us believe that, but in fact the opposite is true. An irreducible aspect of understanding what needs to be done to improve another’s lot is an appreciation of the barriers and challenges they face. Why do some people prosper and others fail in society? What is it about some groups that prevents them attaining any modicum of personal success and flourishing?

The best way to understand this is to walk in their shoes. Failing this, the next best approach is to ask them - engage them in a manner whereby they will identify their difficulties and spell out what they need to make their world a better place.

Rudd is demonstrably wrong if he thinks 1,000 of his hand-picked supposedly smart mates (the chairman of the talkfest - Professor Glyn Davis - is a long time friend of Rudd) can understand and connect with another’s misery from afar.

People’s beliefs, sensibilities and priorities are principally shaped by one criterion: their personal experiences. That’s why victims of crimes groups are comprised solely of victims of crime; gay lobby groups are comprised solely of gays; the new political party focusing on the interests of carers is comprised solely of carers; only students attend demonstrations relating to increasing student fees and only nurses lobby the government for more pay for nurses.

The defining impact of our personal experiences on our values and outlook is unshakeable. It transcends every person and every institution in society. This applies even to people that are appointed to positions demanding the highest level of independence and impartiality.

In my vocation, lawyers are trained to believe that judges decide cases on the merits, dutifully applying the law. The notion of judicial impartiality and objectivity is a con. Judges don’t just interpret the law. They make it, and always in a way to suit there underlying political and moral sentiments, which have been shaped by their life experiences.


As noted by America’s leading lawyer Allan Dershowitz, “Almost all justices vote almost all of the time in accordance with their own personal, political and religious views. That is the reality. … On many occasions, the impact of [a judge’s] biography is overt and conscious. Other times it is subtle and unconscious. But it is always there.”

That’s why in high profile or sensitive cases, the choice of judge is often more important than the words in the statute book.

There is nothing more pleasing to the legal eye in a human rights case than to see Justice Kirby stroll towards the bench. Kirby nearly always makes decisions that promote humanistic objectives above other goals.

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A version of this article was first published in The Age on February 7, 2008.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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