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Graduation ceremony at Notre Dame Australia University, Perth, 3 March 1997: address.

Mr Chancellor, Chief Justice, Distinguished Guests and Officers, Staff, Graduates and Under-graduates of the University of Notre Dame Australia.

This Graduation Ceremony marks an important milestone in the history of the University of Notre Dame Australia. There will, in the years that lie ahead, be many other graduation ceremonies. There will, however, be none quite like this when the successful completion of their courses by members of the first under-graduate classes is marked by the conferral of degrees. To those graduates I would say two things. The first is that we all wish you well and hope you succeed in all your future endeavours. The second is that, to a significant extent, the short-term reputation of your University lies in your hands.

When I became Governor-General after almost 14 years as a High Court judge, I decided that I would refrain from substantive comment about the law and legal matters for at least my first year in the new office. One reason for that was that I desired to allow a significant time to pass before expressing any views from the sidelines about matters which my former colleagues on the Court were required to decide. Another was that, after almost 20 years of writing judgments as a member of the High Court and other courts following almost 20 years of practice as a barrister, I felt that I had done more than enough reading and writing law. Yet another was that I rather hoped to be seen as a living Governor-General rather than as an extinct judge.

That first year ended in the middle of last month I remained true to my resolve. Not only have I not made any serious comments about law. I actually have not read any judgments. And I have decided to extend the period of voluntary abstinence. That means that, this new Doctorate of Laws notwithstanding, I am well on the way to becoming an ex-lawyer.

Nonetheless, the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Laws does make it necessary that I make some reference to the fact that this year the University of Notre Dame Australia is admitting the first students in its Bachelor of Laws program. I understand there are 56 under-graduates entering that first year. Many of them are mature-aged students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many of them are women.

These day, a new Law School in Australia has some disadvantages from the point of view of a graduate seeking to enter the private practice of law as either an Attorney or a Barrister. The plain fact is that the Law Schools which already exist are already turning out more graduates each year than can be absorbed by the private profession and a new Law School will ordinarily lack the support which an older institution enjoys from its graduates who are established practitioners. All that means, however, is that a new Law School must, at least in the early days, succeed on its own merits, that is to say, on the merits of its teachers, its teaching and its graduates. That, I understand, is a challenge which those associated with the establishment of Notre Dame College of Law accept and are confident of meeting. I have no doubt that the future will prove their confidence to be justified.

Moreover, it is a mistake to see an Australian Law School as solely geared towards educating future private practitioners. It is increasingly being recognised that a law degree, particularly one which involves some tertiary studies in the humanities or ethics, is one of the most desirable qualifications for many careers other than the private practice of law. Law is increasingly being properly seen as an appropriate tertiary qualification for all levels of Government, commerce and banking, industrial administration, politics and many other career paths.

More important, Notre Dame College of Law has some unique qualities. A new University Law School established and conducted with the intellectual, moral and ethical traditions of Christian scholarships and the tolerance and compassion of the modern mission of Christian outreach has much to offer the general Australian community. This is particularly the case in today's circumstances in this country where there is much to be said for the view that, as a practical matter, the protection of the law's remedies is largely unavailable to the ordinary citizen who does not qualify for legal aid. Also, I venture to think that a specifically Catholic University and Law School which transposes the things of abiding value in the Catholic tradition so that - to borrow some words of the late Anglican Bishop Ernest Burgmann - they are "thoroughly baptised into the Australian scene, blown through by Australian winds [and] bathed in Australian sunshine" has much to offer the universal Christian Church. This is particularly so, in the context of the planned publication by the new College of Law of the first Catholic Law Review in this country. That Law Review will, hopefully, be a major forum to explore legal issues of significance to Catholic and Christian thought.

There is one other aspect of Notre Dame Australia and its new Law School to which I would make specific reference.

I have, on a number of occasions, expressed the conviction that the achievement of a true and lasting reconciliation between the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and the nation of which they form such a significant part is one of the most important challenges facing Australia as we approach the new millennium and the centenary of our Federation. There are many complex issues involved - health, housing, employment, land, social and economic injustices. But as regards each of them, an essential ingredient of successful resolution is education ... access to full educational opportunities for Aboriginal people themselves; education for the broader community about Aboriginal perspectives and circumstances that will, in time to come, lead to new understandings and respect and to general recognition of past injustices.

The University of Notre Dame has established a Campus at Broome specialising in Aboriginal education, and largely composed of Aboriginal students. All students at the College of Law will be given the opportunity to study indigenous law and culture at Broome, to help them understand and value Aboriginal perspectives and circumstances. Through the contribution it is making to Aboriginal education on its Broome Campus and through the contribution it is making to non-Aboriginal appreciation and understanding of Aboriginal perspectives and circumstances, the University is making, and the new College of Law will make, a significant contribution to the whole process of reconciliation. For that, the nation as a whole has, and will increasingly have, cause to be grateful to Notre Dame Australia.

Finally, I express my personal gratitude to the University and its authorities for the honour done me this evening by the conferral of the honorary Doctorate of Laws. To all who constitute the University - its Officers, staff, graduates and under-graduates - I say how delighted I am to join your company.