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PANEL: Civics Educators? Reflections on the Referendum on the Role and Limits of Legal Academics in Public Education

Joe McIntyre, Melissa Castan, Catherine Renshaw, Cornelia Koch, Eddy Synott


The 2024 Voice Referendum highlighted the acute need for high quality civics education and engagement in Australia. What could have been a once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage Australians in their institutions of governance instead became a cesspool of misinformation and disinformation, undermining the capacity of ordinary Australians to engage in informed and educated debate.

Yet the events of 2024 also highlighted the capacity and willingness of the legal academy to act as leaders in driving respectful discourse on legal issues, driven by a core belief in the value of accessible and accurate public education. Legal academics across the country drew upon their expertise to engage and inform the public through an incredibly diverse range of platforms and resources including:

  • public lectures;
  • community events;
  • editorials and opinion pieces in traditional and new media;
  • television and radio;
  • blogs and microblogs;
  • videos and tiktoks;
  • podcasts;
  • and specialist websites.

This panel brings together a range of the most prolific such contributors to reflect upon their experience and to speculate on what may be the key lessons to be drawn from these experiences for the future role of the legal academy in driving legal literacy and civics education. The panel will begin with a short presentation from each presenter outlining the type of work they did to aid legal education. It will then move onto a structured panel discussion, allowing a conversation between participants as they reflect on a number of key themes, including:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What are the key lessons learned from our experience for future engagement?
  • What should be the role of law academics in public debates?
  • What are the structural issues that may need reform?
  • How can we better support each other?
  • How best to show/communicate/interest students in the public civics education (including in law reform aspects)?