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Audio Ron Merkel explains why he retired as a judge, 2008

TLF ID R10295

This is an edited sound recording of former Federal Court of Australia judge Ron Merkel outlining the reasons why he retired as a judge to resume work as a barrister. Merkel says that Australia had just gone through a period during which human rights had become a 'big issue' and he wanted to focus on human rights in the last stage of his legal career. He says that in particular he wanted to work on cases involving the human rights of Indigenous Australians, 'the most fundamental human rights we encounter in Australia'. The recording was made in December 2008.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording provides an insight into the views of a former Australian judge on the issue of human rights. Ron Merkel (1941-) was on the bench of the Federal Court from 1996 to 2006. He could have remained on the bench until compulsory retirement at the age of 70 (in 2011). However, he decided to retire as a judge and return to work as a barrister, focusing on human rights cases, and particularly on Indigenous human rights cases.
  • This recording highlights what Merkel describes as an era of 'greater consciousness' of human rights in Australia, illustrated by the introduction of a charter of rights in Victoria in 2006. Victoria was the first Australian state to introduce such a charter. It is designed to ensure that human rights principles are a mandatory part of all decision making by the Victorian Government and parliament.
  • Merkel highlights the human rights of Indigenous Australians, who he says 'suffered terrible injustice as a result of colonisation'. He says that the colonisers' legal system never recognised that Indigenous Australians had a 'very sophisticated [legal] system that had enabled them to survive for over 50,000 years in this territory'. He describes the supplanting of Indigenous legal systems with the system of the colonisers as an injustice.
  • Merkel refers to the High Court's Mabo ruling in 1992, which recognised native title as a form of land ownership in Australia for the first time. He says that the High Court overturned the concept of 'terra nullius' (land belonging to no-one), which had formed the basis for large areas of land in Australia being declared crown land after British colonisation. The Mabo case was brought by Torres Strait Islander Edward 'Eddie' Koiki Mabo (1936-92).
  • Prior to becoming a judge Merkel held prominent positions in groups with a strong human rights focus. His past positions include president of the Victorian and Australian Councils for Civil Liberties, founding president of the Victorian Immigration Advice and Rights Centre and founding member of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. He was also a part-time commissioner of the Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Other details

  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Content provider
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 2008
  • Name: Ron Merkel
  • Remarks: speaker
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
Learning resource type
  • Sound
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Operating systems
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  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.