2018-2019 Governor-General’s Prize winners

On Friday, 20 September 2019, the judging panel for the Governor-General’s Prize met at Justice Nettle’s Chambers in Melbourne to interview the six finalists in this year’s essay competition.

The finalists wrote essays on the constitutional workings of the Australian Parliament and whether they can be improved. This year's Governor-General's Prize competition attracted a broad array of high quality essays on a selection of Constitutional issues.

The judging panel was chaired by the Hon Justice Nettle AC of the High Court of Australia. Other members of the panel were Professor the Honourable Marilyn Warren AC, QC, Emeritus Professor H P Lee of Monash University and Mr George Harris of Baker & McKenzie.

In the opinion of the judges, each of the six finalist's essays exhibits remarkable scholarship, research and originality concerning issues of Constitutional law of high importance, and each of the finalists is to be congratulated on the excellent quality of their work. After the interviews the panel formed a concluded view as to the placing of the finalists.

The George Winterton Cup for first place was awarded to Cameron Shamsabad who studies at Western Sydney University. Mr Shamsabad tackled a question that asked whether the Constitution should be altered to allow for each State to have proportional representation in the Senate. In an attractively structured essay beginning from an historical perspective, Mr Shamsabad argued compellingly that equal Senate representation for each State, as opposed to proportional representation, is vital to the maintenance of our constitutional system of democratic federalism.

Two students were awarded equal second place. Noa Bloch from Monash University wrote an essay about section 44 and how our nation has changed since federation. In her essay, Ms Bloch advanced an original thesis for the re-interpretation of section 44(i) of the Constitution by reference to implications of equal representation drawn from sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution, rendering dual citizens eligible for election to Parliament.

Edward Fowler from the University of Queensland answered a question that asked whether splitting Senate seats within each state between urban and regional areas would serve Australian better. Mr Fowler's essay offered a powerfully persuasive demonstration of why any change from the present State-wide system of Senate elections, as opposed to a system of proportional representation, would be illiberal, productive of chauvinism and demagoguery and likely to result in a Senate chamber comprised of major party senators and a few "favourite son" independents.

Third place was awarded to Mireille Christie of The University of Notre Dame Australia for an innovative essay on means of increasing representation and involvement of electors in more remote electorates - without breaking the nexus between the Senate and House of Representatives - by deployment of on-line electoral platforms and local advisory assemblies.

Fourth place was awarded to Kate Barwick of the University of Tasmania for her essay in support of the establishment of a War Power Committee to superintend the Executive's exercise of the power to make war under s 68 of the Constitution. Ms Barwick argued for the adoption of a specially selected standing committee, as opposed to a joint standing committee, to maintain the high degree of flexibility and security vital in matters of national defence.

Finally, fifth place was awarded to Nicholas Hui of the University of Melbourne for his essay in support of a system for control of the Executive's power to make war, based on the Irish "triple lock" system of consensus among the Parliament, the Executive and the United Nations Security Council.

CEFA’s Deputy Director, Phuong Van, said, “I was thrilled to watch Governor-General’s Prize finalists from across Australia demonstrate their knowledge about Australian history, contemporary political problems, and the legislative and executive power of the Commonwealth. They demonstrated an outstanding understanding of the Australian Constitution as the relevant and uniting rule book for the nation”.

In recent years, the Governor-General’s Prize has covered topics ranging from the Australian Constitution in times of war, constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and our constitutional heritage.  2018’s focus, on the constitutional workings of the Australian Parliament and whether they can be improved, is of particular significance. 

CEFA encourages undergraduate students from across all university faculties to enter the prize each year. As in past years, members of the judging panel were delighted to read the undergraduates’ written work and discuss it with them. Chair of the judging panel Justice Nettle remarked, “Overall, the judging process has demonstrated, once again, that the Governor-General's Prize competition provides a wonderful opportunity for gifted young constitutional lawyers to contribute to the development of Australian Constitutional law”.

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

The winning essays will be published on the CEFA website. The awards ceremony is expected to be hosted by the Governor-General in the first half of 2020.

For the 2019-2020 questions please click here.