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Such is life: reflections on the death of Ned Kelly

By Peter Norden - posted Friday, 12 November 2010

So politicians, especially those who seek the power of government by promising more and more resources to the criminal justice system while knowing that real solutions rest elsewhere, ought to know better. They do know better, but they are prepared to compromise their beliefs in the hope of obtaining or preserving the right to govern.

California, once the wealthiest State in the United States is threatened with bankruptcy, while spending more on the construction and operation of its prison system than it does on higher education.

Do we really wish to head in the same direction? Are there no political leaders across our country that have the courage of their convictions to take on the outspoken media commentators who seek themselves to shape criminal justice policy, instead of the elected government?


What is needed is a more rational, evidence-based policy direction for the future of the Australian criminal justice system today. It is critical that we acknowledge the limitations of our present systems and our need for a substantial change of direction.

Similar calls have been made in recent times by U.S. Senator Jim Webb in a country that has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the reported prison population. The Open Society Institute in Washington D.C. has called for multidisciplinary collaboration in responding to the underlying equity and justice issues that fuel the cycle of incarceration.

In Australia, courageous political leadership will certainly be required if we are to move forward in the coming decades, rather than reinforce the failures of the past.

I remain convinced that social change comes from a small number of committed individuals who have the determination and the courage to make things better in our world.

The memory of Ned Kelly, at this time, might make us think again about the limitations of our criminal justice system to deal with social conflict and disharmony in our society.

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This article is based on the author's delivery of the John Barry Lecture at the University of Melbourne on November 11, 2010

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About the Author

Peter Norden, AO is a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne, based in the Melbourne Law School.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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