“Always remember that we are here for the little person.”
It is 1993 at Flinders University and mature age student and serving Federal police officer Luke Cornelius has just heard Law Professor Elliott Johnston utter ten words that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
Although he wouldn’t have known it at the time, Professor Johnston has also just confirmed two vitally important things for Luke Cornelius.
Firstly, he has confirmed the young police officer’s personal belief about what the law is for.
Secondly, he has confirmed that Flinders’ budding law school is where he wants to study.
More than 20 years later, Victoria Police Force Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius is one of Australia’s most decorated police officers and is responsible for the policing of more than 1.5 million people.
And while many things have changed since 1993, the importance of those ten words is not one of them.
“There is not a single day that I don’t say them to myself,” Mr Cornelius said. “Whatever I’m doing, no matter how big or small the issue, those words are with me and guide me.
“Elliott Johnston used to tell us that no matter what you were working on in the law, you must always remember that at the end of that process there is a person, and that every one of those people matters.
“This is something I remind myself and my fellow police officers of at every opportunity.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is Mr Cornelius’s conviction that he made the right decision when he chose Flinders as his alma mater.
“I’m absolutely certain Flinders was the right choice,” he said. “When I was deciding where I wanted to study, Flinders had oral assessment and applied learning elements that made me favour it over the other universities.
“The one-to-one time with law advocates of the calibre of Elliot Johnston, Professor Kelly and Margaret Davies, as well as the relaxed community spirit in the Law School at Flinders, is something I don’t believe I would have experienced anywhere else.
“These were people who I believe not only loved the law, but who loved it for the right reasons. Thanks to them, by the time I finished my studies at Flinders I didn’t just know about the legal system, I also knew how to stand up and debate and defend my case.
“Those skills have stood me in good stead during my career, and I’m not sure I would have learned them as well somewhere else.”
Although he has achieved high rank in Victoria’s state police force, Mr Cornelius admits he is one of the few police officers to choose State over Federal policing.
It was a decision he made after he saw the impact police officers could have in local communities while working for the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor.
“I grew up in a family where I was taught the value of communities, and because of this I’ve wanted to serve the community since I was a young boy,” he said.
“When I saw what a difference good community policing could make during my time with the United Nations Transitional Authority, it was a bit of a Eureka moment for me.
“At the time I was a Federal police officer, but my experiences in East Timor showed me that community policing was what I really wanted to do.”
Mr Cornelius served as a Federal Agent for 14 years with the Australian Federal Police, concluding his service as Director of People Strategies (with the rank of Commander).
He has served as the National Secretary of the Australian Federal Police Association, was the founding Chief Executive Officer of the Police Federation of Australia and has received numerous awards and commendations, including the Australian Police Medal (APM) in 2010, the National Medal, the Police Overseas Service Medal.
He also received the United Nations Medal and a Commissioner’s commendation for his service in East Timor.
Mr Cornelius holds a Masters of Public Administration: Executive from Monash, a First Class Honours Degree in Law from Flinders, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from ANU and is admitted to practice in the ACT Supreme Court.
In spite of amassing such impressive credentials and achieving high rank, he has maintained his links with Flinders University and returned to speak to the graduating Law class of 2010.
While giving that speech, he took the opportunity to share one of his most treasured possessions – a gift of words – with the graduating class.
“Always remember that we are here for the little person,” he told the listening graduates.
Professor Elliott Johnston, who died in 2011, would surely have been proud.