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Cite as: (2002) 76(10) LIJ, p.72

The LIJ is always looking to increase its database of book reviewers*. Keen readers with specialist knowledge who are willing to write 600-word reviews should contact Michele Frankeni, tel 9607 9349 or email
* Reviewers get to keep the copy of the book they review.

This month’s reviews discuss stories of reconciliation, the interrelationship between commercial law and human rights, and the Australian legal system.


Dianne Johnson, Lighting the Way: Reconciliation stories, 2002, The Federation Press, paperback, $29.95.

This book is a collection of stories taken from all over Australia of examples of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians working together in a spirit of reconciliation. A quote from the book neatly encompasses the basic principle of reconciliation: “Reconciliation . . . What a big word it is but its meaning is for non-indigenous and indigenous people to unite to make this a better world. And to fight for what we believe in . . . Reconciliation begins in the classroom. It’s a growing thing – you can grow it with children. As you get older you get set in your ways but when you’re young, you can change more easily.”

I agree with this sentiment and accordingly would recommend this book mostly to university and senior secondary school students who should obtain a stronger understanding of this aspect of Australian history, as this younger generation is the key to reconciliation. It is also a good book for anyone who has an interest in the positive stories about reconciliation. I particularly enjoyed the book as I had worked with some Aboriginal organisations through the National Australia Bank’s association with the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) and it was interesting to discover what other instances of cooperation were occurring around Australia. I would recommend the PILCH experience to other lawyers interested in providing assistance to worthwhile organisations and causes.

The words of Nganyintja, an elder of the Pitjantjatjara Nation and long-time activist in the land rights movement, aptly summarise the sentiments expressed throughout the book: “Reconciliation means bringing two cultures together . . . The two laws need to become one to keep the land . . . I want to teach all people, black and white, about the land and our way of living with it. Ignorance is the reason for a lot of racism. If people listen to our way, they will understand why we live in the country of our grandparents and why we must have strong land rights. If people lose their land, their law is broken and their spirit dies . . . Many people who listen with understanding are rising up now. They want to keep the culture, ours and theirs, keep the two ways strong. Much trouble has come from people forgetting the land, the spirit . . . But we can all learn and make our spirit strong . . . White people need to understand Aboriginal law . . . They need to open their hearts, let the wind that blows across my country talk to them . . . ”

Although the stories in this book are both morally and spiritually uplifting, the one criticism that I have is that they have not been placed within a concrete background. I would have preferred a more robust introduction which included a full description of the main history of land rights, the stolen generation and other issues of concern. In order to place in context how some of these events took place, some of the policies of the time should also have been analysed. This would have been useful for those who have not acquired sufficient knowledge of Australian history. It would also have provided more material for those who strongly support reconciliation and a better understanding for those who do not yet not feel ready to say “sorry”.



Stephen Bottomley and David Kinley (eds), Commercial Law and Human Rights, 2002, Dartmouth Publishing, hardcover, $182.50.

Does commercial law have anything to do with human rights, or vice versa? For those who might have thought that human rights rarely, if ever, interact with commercial law, this book details the myriad ways in which these worlds intersect. The book arose out of a conference held at the Australian National University in 1999, at which papers on commercial law and human rights were presented by academics, the judiciary, solicitors, barristers, and governmental and non-governmental organisations. With an opening chapter by Sir Anthony Mason summarising the papers presented at the conference, it is clear that both the conference and the book benefited greatly from the diversity of backgrounds of the contributors and the variety of issues addressed. From intellectual property to labour law to native title, this well-researched text explores from various perspectives the increasingly recognised interrelationship between business activity and the fundamental rights of men, women, peoples and corporations.

When asked about the relationship between corporations and human rights, many people would probably respond that corporations tend to be associated with violations of rights. While there are many examples of such links, chapters in this book recognise that the involvement of corporations in human rights is multifarious. Corporations may indeed be violators of human rights, but they may also be protectors of human rights, institutions in which members’ rights are significant, and/or claimants of human rights. Yes, corporations can also be the beneficiaries of “human” rights principles. As is explained, for example, in a chapter by James Strachan examining the Human Rights Act 1998 (UK), companies in Britain can claim the right to a fair trial and the right to protection of property. British companies may also be able to claim the right to privacy under Article 8(1) of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, although this has not been finally determined. In the chapter on “Administrative law, commerce and human rights”, John McMillan analyses the potential for Australian corporations to benefit from a human rights construction of administrative law principles. For better or worse, such potential does exist.

The pressure that companies are facing to realise and respond to their obligations regarding human rights has not abated. Several chapters in the book explore the avenues of influence which may be used by civil society on corporations to require corporations to ensure they are not implicated in human rights abuses, and indeed to encourage corporations to take an active stance in promoting human rights. Corporate social responsibility has been the catch-cry of human rights activists for years and it seems that corporations are starting to respond. Codes of conduct are emerging from the woodwork as companies grapple with the prospect of triple bottom line reporting. Ethical investment is slowly but surely taking off in Australia. Shareholders are exercising their abilities to require companies to respond to issues of human rights. Company directors are realising that they cannot afford to ignore demands to operate responsibly; well-known transnational companies have certainly learnt this from past indiscretions. Clearly, therefore, legal advisers need to ensure they are capable of analysing and responding to the human rights demands placed on those corporations.

It must be recognised that many of the legal developments addressed in the book have occurred irrespective of a human rights framework. Intellectual property protection, labour law and administrative law principles of natural justice did not develop in Australia as a result of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or any other such instrument. Nevertheless, expansion of the applicability of human rights principles beyond the traditional construct of public international law and into the realm of private international and domestic law is allowing many existing legal principles to be reinterpreted as human rights issues, or alternatively as contrary to human rights demands. This development has implications both for the manner in which corporations need to assess the impact of their actions and for the manner in which corporations may assert the validity of their actions.

As a consequence, commercial lawyers, whether they be tax lawyers, patent attorneys, native title experts, industrial relations advisers, litigators, in-house counsel or private practitioners, must inform themselves of the growing interconnection between human rights and commercial practice.

This book enables lawyers to identify many of those connections.



John Carvan, Understanding the Australian Legal System (4th edn), 2001, Lawbook Co, paperback, $32.76.

The title gives an accurate description of the purpose and scope of this book. In nine easily understood chapters, the author assumes no prior knowledge of the topic. He takes the reader through, firstly, the sources and process of the law, with discussions on precedent and statutory interpretation.

The second part outlines the fundamentals of contract and torts law, as well as some basic legal concepts.

Carvan’s preface indicates his goal of making a pathway to introductory law subjects for non-English speaking students and mature age students with varying levels of secondary education.

The charts of court hierarchies, annotated legislation, samples of headnotes and numerous examples assist with this object. The layout of the text, with frequent sub-headings and clear explanations, helps to demystify the law and set the Australian legal system into its social and historical context.

Legal texts have traditionally been divided into three types: cases and materials, standard commentaries on particular topics and encyclopedias (including dictionaries). Carvan is able to combine elements of all three types. This book can be used by students without teachers or classroom discussion. The questions at the end of each chapter, however, lend themselves to group work if required. Under an enthusiastic lecturer these could be developed into a discussion of broad policy issues.

For students who wish to obtain a quick overview of the essential elements of contract and tort, the concluding chapters give an excellent summary, with appropriate illustrations to demonstrate the legal principles in practice.

Introduction to law can be approached in a very technical, black-letter way. Older practitioners may remember the detailed study of Rylands v Fletcher and the cases which developed its ratio to illustrate the doctrine of precedent. No mention was made of any social context within this decision-making process. It was law in a vacuum. Students in the mid 1980s experienced a very different approach, and may recall introductory texts which placed the process of law in an inter-cultural perspective with an emphasis on questions of gender, class, race and ethnicity.

This book steers a middle course between these extremes. It offers students of any discipline a grounding into the existing Australian legal system with sufficient scope in the “self testing questions” section at the end of each chapter to develop these broader policy issues.

“Understanding the Australian Legal System” is commended as a good general primer for students from many disciplines whose fields of study require a knowledge of law.



• Crime and Justice: An Australian textbook in criminology, A Goldsmith et al, Thomson, $102.50.
• Evidence: Commentary and materials, P Waight & B Williams, Thomson, $111.10.
• Cowen & Zines’s Federal Jurisdiction in Australia, 3rd edn, L Zines, Federation Press $99.
• Regulating Racism: Radical vilification laws in Australia, L McNamara, Federation Press, $44.
• Advanced Civil Litigation: Current issues in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, G Masel, H Jolson, LIV CLE, $25.
• Australian Family Law Act 1995 with Regulations and Rules, CCH, $81.50.
• Historic Court Houses of Victoria, M Challinger, Palisade Press, $49.50.
• Classic Contract Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, S Titmus, Prentice Hall, $24.95.
• Illegal Drug Markets: From research to prevention policy, M Natarajan and M Hough eds, Criminal Justice Press, $66.
• Understanding Taxation Law: An interactive approach, F Gilders, J Richardson, G Taylor and A Greenbaum, LexisNexis, $115.
For details on how to order visit, fax orders to the LIV Bookshop Order Department on 9607 9326, mail to the LIV Bookshop Order Department, GPO Box 263C, Melbourne 3001, or telephone 9607 9315.


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