Patrick Emerton

Assoc Professor


Research output per year

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Personal profile


What's in a constitution?

Many have questioned the Australian constitution for its perceived lack of protection of our rights and freedoms. People often refer to the absence of a Bill of Rights to highlight this point. Dr Patrick Emerton believes our constitution is misunderstood, and he is using his unique expertise in philosophy and law to explore its potential.

Patrick wants to think in a sophisticated way about how our constitution protects people's political entitlement to vote and speak freely about political issues. A paper on this topic won him the inaugural Federal Law Review's Zines prize for excellence in legal research in 2010.

"There's a widely held position that identifies Australia's constitution as a bit backward," Patrick says. "We're the only constitution in the democratic world without a Bill of Rights, and that's seen as a significant failing. I'm interested in constitutional interpretation and how we can have our own Australian way of responding to some of these important political and moral ideals about human rights."

"Although it's often thought of as a boring and very technical constitution, it sets up certain structures that bring with them quite powerful ideas," he says.

Patrick works closely with the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and the Department of Philosophy. He says this allows him to explore what human rights protection involves at a conceptual level.

"I think I'm the only member of the Castan Centre who is regularly co-authoring with a pure philosopher," Patrick says. "I'm researching human rights theory and linking it to the traditions in political philosophy, so I'm in a position to draw that bridge between the abstract and the concrete."

"When you're debating technical aspects of anti-terrorism law or how they're being policed, it can seem quite remote from everyday life," he says. "But I have met members of the Somali community who discovered that by sending money to their families overseas, they ran the risk of committing crimes with maximum penalties of many years in jail. The consequence for those people is very real," he says.

Patrick's work on anti-terrorism law explores the significance of being citizens in a democracy, and how we should think about our anti-terrorism laws in light of that.

"It's perhaps where my research has had the most immediate impact, in the sense that I've appeared as an expert witness in front of parliamentary committees on many occasions. I've also been cited in the reports that those committees have produced, and in other documents that deal with framing Australia's anti-terrorism laws."

Patrick says the impact of law research is not usually immediate, but he thinks its long-term benefits are crucial to the profession.

"Part of the function of legal academics is to have some imagination and ideas that will gradually percolate 10 or 20 years down the track," he says. "Your students will pick them up, some of those students will go on to become great barristers and judges. They will hear your ideas, read your work, and over time, ideas percolate through a legal culture and community."

Research interests

Anti-Terrorism Law

Human Rights

International Law

Legal and Moral Philosophy

Monash teaching commitment

LAW 4169 Equity 406 SEM1/T2

Research area keywords

  • Anti-Terrorism Law
  • Human Rights
  • International Law
  • Legal and Moral Philosophy


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