Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Janet Albrechtsen - More Reasons Why Law & Sociology Don't Mix

(In this off-the-cuff piece, I analyse just some of the issues surrounding the appointment of Dr Janet Albrechtsen, a conservative columnist, to the Board of the national public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). As usual, I ramble on for a few paragraphs, showing off my alleged scholarship and legal acumen. Things start to get interesting when I actually get to the point of the article. I then realise that I am going to miss my Tuesday night el-cheapo movie if I don’t stop there. Hopefully in a few years time I might decide to return to the article. By that time, the issue will probably be dead. Sometimes I refer to Dr Albrechtsen as simply “Dr A”. Why? Dunno. Probably because I am too lazy to fix it up. Enjoy!)

Janet Albrechtsen is one of many conservative columnists employed (or contracted) to write for News Limited broadsheet, The Australian. Unlike Miranda Devine's pseudo-journalistic dribble, Albrechtsen’s work is characterised by vigour and confidence that arises from genuine intelligence. Janet is a smart cookie.

Many forget that she is, after all, Dr Albrechtsen. After working in one of Sydney’s top commercial law firms, the good Dr Albrechtsen pursued further study. Eventually she was awarded a doctorate in commercial law. I am not sure if she was awarded an LLD or a PhD, but either way it is an enormous achievement for someone in her personal circumstances.

Bachelor of Sociology

A doctoral thesis in commercial law is hardly the place where one would expect the “critical legal studies” approach to rein supreme. CLS represents a leftist approach to legal education in which students are encouraged to criticise the law before having mastered it. Any law graduate who (like myself) studied law at Macquarie University during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s would be familiar with the damage excessive exposure to CLS can do to a student’s legal research and analytical abilities.

Macquarie law graduates were typically scoffed as having obtained a Bachelor of Sociology. Although this was quite an unfair characterisation, it is true that a substantial amount of our time was spent viewing the law through dark shades. We were using Marxian critique to examine a legal system we had little knowledge or understanding of.

The Absence of CLS

Dr A can thank her lucky stars that she did not have to put up with some of the nonsense that passed for legal studies that I had to put up with at Macquarie. Of course, thinks have changed now. Dr A would feel quite at home in the new Macquarie Law School which is less intolerant to those of us who regard ourselves as somewhat socially conservative.

Indeed, I can hardly imagine a PhD (or is it LLD?) thesis on commercial law would involve much use of the New Left Review or other favourite course readings sources for the average pro-CLS law teacher. Perhaps some comparison with a similar commercial regime in another common law jurisdiction. Maybe citations from Canadian, British or South African judges. But sociology would not, I dare say, be top of the list of sources for Dr A’s submission.

From Commercial Lawyer to Social Commentator to Bush Sociologist

During her studies, Dr A found time to submit a few pieces to the Australian Financial Review. Her pieces focussed on commercial law, an area in which she was amply qualified to write. By this time, she had practised for one of Australia’s top commercial law firms. She was also engaged in research toward her doctorate. Who better to write than someone with both academic and professional runs on the board?

Eventually, Dr A decided to broaden her range of topics. She ventured into social policy, areas which were perhaps outside her expertise. But who ever said expertise was a prerequisite for being a newspaper columnist?

Two of Australia’s best columnists on Muslim issues are Professor Amin Saikal and Waleed Aly. Professor Saikal is a political scientist and is Director of the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the Australian National University.

Waleed Aly is a commercial lawyer at a major firm based in Melbourne. His formal qualifications are in engineering and law. He has no formal qualifications in Islam or Muslim societies, beyond being on the executive of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

Professor Saikal tends to stick to his area of expertise. Mr Aly ventures into a broad range of topics dealing with law, politics, international affairs and even AFL football. Although less experienced than Dr Albrechtsen, Mr Aly, has a similar professional background. He also is not scared to move outside his area of expertise.

Sub-Editors who view the works of both these writers understand that the point of a good opinion piece is not to be the best of the best, the world authority on the subject. The point is to have an opinion, preferably one that will stir up some controversy and that is at least half-decently argued.

Dr A & Mr A on Migrant Culture

(To be continued. Gotta watch a movie!)