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The road from law and human rights advocate to politician

Catherine Renshaw is a seasoned legal practitioner and academic with a keen interest in human rights. She is running as the Labor candidate for the seat of North Sydney in the upcoming federal election, with a campaign platform grounded in social justice and climate change concerns.

user iconShandel McAuliffe 07 April 2022 Big Law
Catherine Renshaw
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Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, Professor Renshhaw provided insight into why the legal profession is well placed to understand issues like climate change and why having a legal background is an asset for politicians (and their constituencies).

Professor Renshaw observed: “As a researcher and a lawyer, you do understand things in terms of their human impact in ways that I think would be really helpful in Parliament.”

She acknowledged: “Lawyers aren’t the only people who have these skills, of course, but you live and breathe the law and its effects on people when you are a lawyer and a human rights lawyer.”


When considering why those in the legal profession might be well suited to having a deep interest in and understanding of social and environmental issues, Professor Renshaw posited:

“Lawyers, generally speaking, are intelligent, thoughtful people who are used to assessing a series of facts and analysing them, and then forming a view about them. If you do that in relation to climate and science, then I think it’s pretty understandable that people reach a certain view about what is enough and what is not enough to avoid a set of consequences that we don’t wish for our country, and for our children and our grandchildren.”

She continued: “They’re [lawyers] used to looking at large-scale programs for addressing serious problems as well as seeing if a model is going to achieve the end that’s required.”

Professor Renshaw explained that an interest in social issues is common for those in law, but that a generalist foundation can be beneficial; she started her career with Allens and Sparke Helmore.

Professor Renshaw observed: “It [law] is a profession that manages to do a number of different things as service to the community. As a professor now, when I’m talking to students, and they love human rights and care about people, I always say, ‘Don’t feel you’ve got to put all your eggs in one basket in a career sense and go straight into practising common, good-type lawyering. It’s fine to get good skills under your belt first.’”

It was after studying at university that Professor Renshaw first joined the Labor Party, and she feels passionately about political engagement. She said:

“When I left uni, it was Labor’s values that most resonated with me for the same reasons I think that I pursued a career in human rights law. It was the principle of egalitarianism, an approach of solidarity when you address really deep problems and social progress.”

She added: “I think that we have a responsibility as citizens to be involved in politics, to be politically aware and politically engaged, and you have different capacities at different times to do that. But when you do have the capacity to contribute actively to politics, I think we’re all the better for it.”

Professor Renshaw highlighted her alignment with the issues Labor is championing for the upcoming election:

“The principles that the Labor Party is setting out for this election are all ones I’m very passionate about. So, it’s not just climate and the Integrity Commission and moving forward on gender justice and Indigenous rights, etcetera, there’s a whole range of policies to do with childcare and regaining our manufacturing sovereignty.”

Professor Renshaw believes: “Lots of people do programmed law, and I know this from my own experience as a teacher and from my colleagues, because they care about social justice, because they care about intergenerational justice, because they care about the common good, and on all of those counts, they would have an interest in making sure that we don’t leave for others or leave for less fortunate people or for future generations, a total mess, which is what may happen if we don’t change the government.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Catherine Renshaw, click below: