Jennifer Robinson: 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture
This is just the beginning of the work that I hope to do to continue Hal's legacy and contribute to a more just Australia. I can only hope that in the decades ahead that I can make a fraction of the contribution that Hal has, but imagine just what we could achieve if all of us aimed to do that.
Living Greatly in the Law: Law and Progressive Social Change
Throughout his life and career, the late Professor Hal Wootten encouraged law students to think about “living greatly in the law”: living and working with a passion for justice, seeing the law in its social context and ensuring that the law serves those most in need. Hal understood that the law can create positive social change and encouraged lawyers to seek out opportunities “to give a little nudge that sends the law along the direction it ought to go”, which – in turn, he wrote – “can affect where the world goes”.
In this lecture, Jen Robinson reflects on Hal’s legacy and the role of law in protecting human rights, addressing the climate crisis and contributing to progressive social change. Drawing on examples from her own practice and experience around the world, Jen will share her own journey, how she came to share and espouse Hal’s view about “living greatly in the law” and why it is more relevant now than ever before.
ABOUT THE HAL WOOTTEN LECTURE
The Hal Wootten Lecture was established in 2006 by the Faculty of Law & Justice in honour of founding Dean, Emeritus Professor Hal Wootten.
The annual lecture is a highlight of the faculty’s year and commemorates Hal Wootten's founding vision for the faculty – that ‘a Law school should have and communicate to its students a keen concern for those on whom the law bears harshly’. The 2021 lecture will be particularly poignant following Hal Wootten’s passing in July and the tremendous loss this has meant for Hal’s family, the faculty and broader community. The faculty is marking its 50th anniversary this year, a milestone that obviously invites reflection on Hal’s vision and remarkable legacy. The 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture will close our official anniversary celebrations and pay tribute to the values and inspiration offered by the faculty’s Foundation Dean.
Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Law & Justice.
Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast, a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney's brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. The talk you're about to hear is the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture, an annual event from the University's Faculty of Law and Justice. In 2021 the lecture has been presented by lawyer Jennifer Robinson and was recorded live. It includes an introduction from the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Justice Andrew Lynch, and an Acknowledgement of Country from UNSW graduate Sonja Stuart, and some closing words from Andrea Durbach. I hope you enjoy the talk.
Andrew Lynch: Good evening, and welcome to the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture, living greatly in the law and progressive social challenge. My name is Andrew Lynch, and I'm the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Justice at UNSW Sydney. This lecture is presented by the faculty and UNSW’s Centre for Ideas. The 2021 lecture is particularly poignant following Hal Wootten’s passing away in July at almost 99 years of age. Hal’s life was not simply a long one, it was one of distinguished and profound contribution to Australian society. Of Hal’s many achievements, the establishment of this faculty is but one. His ambition was for a fresh approach to legal education, that was unambiguous in its examination of law’s role in the wider world, and in impressing upon students the responsibilities of the profession that they would join. Tonight we remember and pay tribute to Hal Wootten, who first set the faculty upon its path. And in saying this, I also wish to acknowledge Hal’s wife Gillian Cowlishaw and his family on this special occasion. It's now my pleasure to introduce Sonja Stewart. Sonja is a Yuin woman, an alumnus of the faculty, and was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of New South Wales in August last year. Prior to this, Sonja was a Deputy Secretary within the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet and before that, Deputy Commissioner of the New South Wales Public Service Commission. Sonja has been a Chairperson and Board Director of Government, academic and not for profit boards for more than 20 years. She is currently the chair of the Goodes O'Loughlin Foundation, which aims to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous youth. Sonja is going to give the Acknowledgement of Country tonight. Thank you, Sonja.
Sonja Stuart: Thank you, Andrew. And good evening, everyone. I'm Sonja Stewart and as the Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of New South Wales, as a UNSW Law and Justice alumnus, and as a proud Yuin woman, it is my pleasure to deliver tonight's Acknowledgement of Country. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which UNSW Law and Justice stands, the Bidjigal, and pay my deepest respects to Country, and for those that have cared for it and loved it for over 60,000 years. I know that many of you will be streaming this event from outside of Bidjigal Country, and I also acknowledge the traditional custodians on the lands that you are on. It always was and it always will be Aboriginal Land. I extend my respect and acknowledgement of Country to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who join us here tonight. Like many tonight, I'm feeling the loss of Hal. As a first year law student, like many a student, I sat under his amazing portrait in the Moot Court named in his honour. It was the late 1980s, and to say I was overwhelmed and felt like a fish out of water at uni was an understatement. Like so many Koori students before me and after me, I benefited from Hal’s legacy. It was the mark of the man that when he was working alongside community leaders and Redfern establish Australia's first Aboriginal legal service in 1970, Hal started to ask questions like, why are there no Aboriginal lawyers who can have defended Aboriginal people? And where are the Aboriginal law students?
UNSW Law and Justice was, in part, his attempt to address these questions. I went from sitting under his portrait, to working with Hal on the review of the Aboriginal legal service program in the late 1990s. My first job was to negotiate remuneration with him. Can you imagine sitting from underneath that amazing portrait to sitting across from him at the negotiation table? And the first job was to negotiate his remuneration. So he smiled that kind of knowing smile and said, Sonja, just tell me how much you can spend, and I'll take that. He even insisted on taking the train rather than any other form of transport when available. Such a generous man who was more focused on impact and outcome for my people than on monetary gain. I got to travel throughout New South Wales with Hal and so the deep respect he had for Country and for Elders, for Aboriginal Men and Women. I also saw the trust recognition and esteem that Hal was held in by Mob all across New South Wales. It was a very humbling and very special experience, and one that had a profound impact on me so early on in my career, it has travelled with me ever since. I often… I understand that Hal often got a laugh at this lecture series event by saying how much he appreciated the fact that it wasn't a memorial lecture series. But quite rightly, it held his name. And each year he invited men and women of his own heart to speak. People who've given the law a little nudge in the right direction. In 2008, when he delivered this lecture, he made many amazing and wise things and said many things. The advice that resonated with me, that I witnessed and experienced while working with him was this. Life is not about the pursuit of wealth, of getting more. It is about nurturing and respecting that precious self, and realising its potential to do worthwhile things. However small the nudges you give the world may seem, always be true to that self. Never surrender it to greed, or a cause or creed or ideology. Don't enter the law, if you really want to do something else. Don't be slow, to seek or to give help. It makes me smile to think of his greatness and his humble self in identification as a little nudger, encouraging others to do the same. When it comes to my people, his impact was deep and profound. he nudged for equal pay for indigenous public servants for the law school he helped establish and the university who worked in, to welcome Aboriginal students, he listened to and responded to the deep trauma and grief of those that had lost their loved ones while they were incarcerated. And for improvements to our nation's National Native Title system. He listened to and taught young Aboriginal people sitting in awe under his portrait. And until the very last he kept up the fight. It's important to note to acknowledge Hal’s amazing contribution to our country and its people, especially my people, working with us, rather than doing things to us. But I think it's even more important with such, you know, still a lot to be done, to take up his challenge and to continue to nudge the law and the world to where it should go. In his own words, however small the nudges you give the world might seem, thank you.
Andrew Lynch: Thank you Sonja, not just for your acknowledgement of the Owners of the Country on which we gather, but also for sharing your reflection on Hal’s significance for Indigenous Australians and your personal stories of the time you spent together. It's now my privilege to introduce this evening's guest speaker Jennifer Robinson, who will deliver the 2021 Hal Wootten Lecture. Jennifer is a human rights lawyer and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London, who has been instructed in domestic and international cases. She's had a remarkable career, including as a defence lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, acting for major media outlets in the US and UK, appearing in anti terrorism and free speech litigation before the UK Supreme Court, and the European Court of Human Rights. She's a founder of International Lawyers for West Papua, in pursuit of its right to independence and greater human rights protection. Many of Jennifer's cases and clients involved novel cross jurisdictional and comparative law issues. She advises individual and state clients on a wide range of international law problems, has appeared before the International Court of Justice and regularly engages with UN special mechanisms. I'm very proud to say that Jennifer is now a member of the UNSW Australian Human Rights Institute board based in this faculty and directed by my colleague Professor Justine Nolan. Jennifer is also working with the Institute over the disappearance of an Australian citizen's relatives in Rwanda in 2019. With a complaint recently filed with the UN Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances. I'm so very grateful that Jennifer will be delivering the lecture this year, not only because she's so clearly suitable, given all that I've just said, but because her invitation was also Hal’s personal wish. He wrote to me earlier in the year to express his admiration for and interest in Jennifer’s work. And while we're obviously sad that he's not here to listen to tonight's lecture, we are indeed indebted to Hal for the presence of our very special guest speaker. Welcome, Jennifer.
Jennifer Robinson: Thank you Andrew. I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Noongar-Whadjuk people, the traditional owners of the land where I am in Western Australia, and acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Lands wherever you're joining us tonight. I pay my deep respects to Elders past, present and emerging into all First Nations People joining the lecture tonight. I acknowledge also that the law in this country has been used as a tool of colonisation and oppression. Professor Hal Wootten QC was a lawyer who not only understood this, but spent his life building institutions to help make the law serve First Nations communities better, and to educate the next generation of lawyers to do the same. I have long admired Hal for this work. And so it was an immense honour to receive the invitation to give the lecture in his name, this year on the 50th anniversary of the Law School, which he founded. But when the invitation arrived, I have to admit that I was daunted by the list of eminent speakers who had come before me. On that list were judges and barristers who have decades on me and who I can only hope to emulate in the decades that come ahead. But I got over whatever inferiority that I was feeling when I first read that the invitation had come from Hal himself. Andrew said in the invitation that Hal was 98, and quote, still going strong. And he'd just seen my profile on the ABCs Australian story. Attached to the invitation was Hal’s essay, Living in the Law, in which he explained the values upon which he had founded this law school. I was told that Hal had wanted to invite me because he said that those values were reflected in my career. This was one of the most meaningful compliments that I've ever received. If Hal believed that I belonged on this speaker list, then that was enough for me, and I would soon learn from so many young women and UNSW graduates, that it was Hal’s encouragement, and his example that helped them to step up and succeed. But what most excited me about giving this lecture was the opportunity to meet Hal in person, to thank him for his work, to tell him how much I admired him, and to have the privilege of speaking with him about his remarkable life and career. But unfortunately, that was not meant to be. I was deeply sad when I learned that Hal passed away. But as I reflected on his life to honour him with this lecture, I realised that we will all continue to benefit from his legacy through the generation of lawyers that he educated and inspired. And now I feel incredibly optimistic because he paved the way for all of us. Hal’s was a life lived greatly in the law, and we all stand on his shoulders.
Throughout his life Hal encouraged law students about the possibility of living greatly in the law. That is, living and working with a passion for justice and ensuring that the law serves those most in need. Hal established this law school with the progressive vision that students should understand the law and its social and political context. He understood the capacity of the law to bring about positive social change. And he encouraged lawyers to seek out opportunities to give the law the nudge that it needs to go in the right direction, which he believed could affect where the world goes. Today, I've been asked to share my own journey about how I came to share Hal’s view, from West Papua, to WikiLeaks, to addressing injustices all over the world, I've seen how the law can play an important role in protecting human rights and progressives, and in supporting and encouraging progressive social change. But Hal was also right that living greatly in the law, that is living the law, nudging it along towards helping those most in need, also can give you a great life. This work has taken me around the world meeting the most interesting and courageous people, meeting and working with lawyers that I admired and read about in books when I was at law school. And while I didn't study at UNSW, it's Hal’s guiding principle for this law school, which has shaped a path for me that has been immensely rewarding, filled with fun and adventure, and has created for me a life that has far exceeded my wildest expectations. I want every single law student to know that it's possible for you too and as Hal said, a life in the law is the one that you make it.
But as I read more about Ha’s life, I marvelled at the similarities of our experiences, and I began to understand why my story on Australian Story had so resonated with him. In his 2008 lecture and essay, Hal explained that his portraits paint him as a Kangaroo Valley farmer because that was his refuge away from work on a horse farm just over the mountain from Berry, where I grew up. I didn't know a lawyer growing up, my mom was a teacher and my dad trains race horses. But little did I know that just over the mountain in Kangaroo Valley, there lived a lawyer from whom I could have learned so much. I wondered when I read that if I'd passed his farm with my dad in our horse truck back then when I was a child. Both Hal and I came from humble beginnings at public schools. For him it was in Sydney and for me it was down there on the South Coast, where the law seemed beyond our reach. Hal spoke about his passion for languages but out of his mother's concern that he would end up singing on street corners after his arts degree, he decided to do law. I laughed, reading Hal’s words, I laughed with recognition. Recalling my mum's own concern about me pursuing my passion for Indonesian studies, and the pressure that I'd felt to add on a law degree that would give me the economic security that my parents hadn't had. Luckily, for me, legal education had moved on since Hal’s days at law school, and I was able to do both degrees together. So I went to the ANU and I did a combined degree of Asian Studies and Law. But one of the things I enjoyed most about Hal’s lectures in his interviews was his honest recollection, about the times when he felt unsure about a career in the law. It turns out that we both spent times at law school feeling bereft and wondering whether the law would offer us the opportunity to live by our principles. Again, to every law student listening, I now have the benefit of being able to say that that it’s absolutely true, and that you can too. But back then, I wasn't sure, I knew I wanted to be a human rights lawyer, and I just had no idea about how I was going to get there. In order to become a lawyer, Hal had worked as a Public Servant while he pursued his law studies part time. Meanwhile, I had to work three jobs while I took a full time law degree, and was only able to do a master's abroad because of a Rhodes scholarship, the first ever given to a student from the region where I come from. The irony for both of us is that despite overcoming social and economic obstacles to becoming barristers, we've both turned down much more lucrative opportunities to do more meaningful work. I can say with confidence that I am where I am today, because I make decisions based on the impact that I can have, and what I can learn, not on what I can earn. And as Hal said, a comfortable income was a byproduct of my practice, not its purpose.
It was my time in West Papua that first set me on this path. I was surprised to learn that Hal and I both spent formative time in our early 20s in New Guinea, just north of Australia. For me, for Hal rather, it was in the east in an Australian administered Papua New Guinea. For me half a century later, it was in the West in Indonesian occupied West Papua. What I learned from reading about Hal’s life is that it was our respective experiences and our connections with Indigenous Papuans that created a lifelong connection with the land and its people, and a deep commitment to its decolonization and to their independence. At 24 years old, Hal went to PNG, which was then administered by Australia. He learned to speak Pidgin, which allowed him to sit, listen and learn from Indigenous Papuans about their life experiences. Hal recalled how they told him of the humiliating racism that they'd suffered at the hand of whites. He wanted to stay to work in PNG, but he would soon come to see that he could do more for New Guinea as a lawyer in Australia. Hal would later do so much for Papua New Guinea, he would later bring Papuan students to Australia for training, become Chairman of the New Guinea Committee of the Law Society, returned to an independent PNG and help build the judiciary. And he helped to create LAWASIA to foster justice across the Asia Pacific, including in PNG.
It was also in my early 20s, at 21, that I went to West Papua, which was then, and is today unlawfully occupied by Indonesia. I speak Indonesian, so like Hal, I was able to sit, listen and learn from Indigenous West Papuan’s about the racism they suffered at the hands of Indonesians under Indonesian occupation. I worked on cases involving rape, torture, crimes against humanity. And I saw for myself the abuse and discrimination that Indigenous Papuans suffer every single day. I also worked on the trial of Benny Wenda, then a political prisoner and the leader of the Independence Movement. I was followed by Indonesian intelligence, threatened with arrest and deportation. Like Hal I had wanted to stay in West Papua, to help the Indigenous West Papuan’s to achieve their independence. But I soon came to the same conclusion that Hal had just 50 years earlier, that I could do more for West Papua by coming home and becoming a lawyer. West Papua helped me find my passion for the law, and soon after I left Benny escaped from prison, and I helped him and his family go to the UK and obtain asylum. For the past 20 years. I've worked with Benny in the West Papuan Independence Movement, and I've been their lawyer. Benny has since been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and compared to Jose Ramos-Horta, who's the person that Hal first invited to give the very first lecture in this series.
But what West Papua also taught me about the possibility of using the law to build power in social movements and what Hal meant by living greatly in the law. My work serving the West Papuan community and their marginalised cause, hasn't been financially rewarding, but it has taken me to remarkable places. Just 15 years after I was forced to leave West Papua as a disillusioned, and outraged law student, I stood up as Council for the International Court of Justice and successfully argued for a decision, which makes clear that West Papua is unlawfully occupied by Indonesia. Hal would later write and speak very fondly of attending PNGs Independence celebrations in Sydney, with their first Prime Minister and father of their nation, Michael Somare. Upon his death, and until his death this year, Sir Michael advocated for West Papua’s freedom. With the law and West Papua’s side, I hope that one day, like Hal, I too, will be able to share happy memories of West Papuan Independence celebrations. But for Hal can I both, it was also our time in New Guinea that inspired our commitment to addressing colonisation at home. And the injustices suffered by First Nations Australians. Hal once said, and I quote, I always felt it was strange that here I was so bound up with New Guinea, having those ties with the Indigenous people of New Guinea, but I didn't even know the Indigenous people of my own country, and that was something that was nagging in the back of my mind. I have to say it was nagging in the back of my mind too.
After setting up UNSW Law School Hal rose to the challenge that was brought to him by a group of Aboriginal activists, with all this talk of the responsibility of this new law school, what was Hal going to do about police brutality towards First Nations communities? After himself witnessing the police harassment in Redfern, Hal worked with the local community to establish the Aboriginal Legal Service, or the ALS, and became its first president. Hal advocated for the creation of a separate national legal service for Aboriginal people on the grounds of the special disadvantages that arise from the historic injustice of colonisation. At the time ALS was created, he wrote that the dispossession, massacres and discrimination, meant that indigenous people never had reason to regard the law as anything but an instrument of oppression. Hal would spend the rest of his life trying to change that. Under his stewardship, the Law School has fostered Indigenous students in scholarship, which is changing the face of our country for the better. I want to pay special tribute to Professor Megan Davis for her two decades of remarkable work at UNSW. For her leadership on the Uluru Statement, and for mentoring and inspiring the next generations of First Nations lawyers. I also want to thank one of those the next generation of women leaders, my remarkable friend Teela Reid for her rockstar work and public advocacy, and for the generosity that she has shown me in educating and encouraging me. It was here at UNSW that Teela created the first ever First Nations Law Moot, and designed the Walama Court model. This is precisely the kind of work that demonstrates the impact of Hal’s founding vision.
Like Hal, my time in New Guinea helped me to understand colonisation at home. Listening to Indonesians speak about West Papuans, I heard the same racism that I had grown up around. It was just in a different geographical context and cultural context. I began to question everything, from my education, to the history that I'd been taught at school, and to my privilege as a white woman. It forced some difficult recollections and reflections about my place in Australia, and raised questions about how I have benefited personally from the dispossession of Aboriginal people. I grew up on Dharawal, Jerrinja and Yuin country, but I wasn't taught this at school. My life revolved around a place called Cullunghutti, or Mount Coolangatta, which is right next to my dad's horse farm. But I've only just discovered its original name and that it's a sacred place. As I sit, listen and learn, I've realised that I've grown up in a country that I haven't been educated to understand. As with Hal, my affinity with Indigenous Papuans forged a personal commitment to work with First Nations community to achieve justice here at home. As we approach the 30th anniversary of Hal’s work on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, I cried as I watched from London as 1000s of Australians took to the streets in Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd. The protests in Sydney was led by Letona Dungay, a Dunghutti Elder protesting under the banner with the words, I can't breathe. Like George Floyd, these were the same words that her son David had screamed at least 12 times to prison officers before he was killed in 2015. The CCTV footage is harrowing, and yet no one has ever faced prosecution over his death. But Letona continues her tireless campaign for justice. For a number of years, I've been speaking with the National justice project about how I could support their work. Frustrated by the lack of justice in Australia, Letona had decided that she wanted to take her advocacy to the United Nations. Working with Letona and the brilliant professor Larissa Behrendt, we have filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Committee on Letona’s behalf. In her complaint, we write about Australia's failure to implement the Royal Commission findings and recommendations, and how that failure contributes to the ongoing crisis that is Aboriginal deaths in custody in this country. Since the Royal Commission, there have been more than 470 further Aboriginal deaths in custody, and this number continues to rise at an appalling rate. In our complaint, we raised the historic failure of the Australian Government to prosecute those responsible and how this violates Australia's obligations under the right to life. I wish to pay tribute to the many First Nations families who, like Letona, continue to fight for justice for the loved ones that they've lost. Win or lose, I hope that our complaint together with Letona’s campaign will help to nudge the government in the right direction, to end impunity for deaths in custody, and to implement Hal’s recommendations from the Royal Commission just 30 years too late.
This is just the beginning of the work that I hope to do to continue Hal’s legacy and contribute to a more just Australia. I can only hope that in the decades ahead that I can make a fraction of the contribution that Hal has. But imagine just what we could achieve if all of us aim to do that. It is impossible for me to talk about more just Australia without talking about the Uluru statement. As both Megan and Teela so eloquently articulate, a more just Australia requires constitutional recognition, truth telling and a Voice to Parliament to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have their say in the laws and policies that affect them. Doesn't matter how much we litigate up and down the country, we can create change, but not this particular change that our country so desperately needs. The adoption and the implementation of the Uluru statement requires a political movement. It requires all of us to accept the generous invitation that the Uluru statement represents, to walk with Indigenous Australians in a movement of the Australian people, for a better future.
Many of Hal’s reflections on his career so resonated with me, for example, he said that his career had begun by accident, and only to be continued by a series of accidents. I laughed out loud when I read some of his words, including these; my career has been built on my inability to say no, when invited to do something I was not qualified to do. It really made me laugh, because I too, have followed unexpected paths, finding that there are just some opportunities that you can't say no to. My work representing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is one such opportunity. And as a result of that work, my profile grew exponentially. After that, young lawyers from around the world started to contact me asking me, saying that they wanted to become a human rights lawyer like me, and how could they do that? I knew that I was only able to do what I've been able to do because of the immensely privileged educational opportunities that I've had. But that just motivated in me a mission that I have shared with how that is trying to break down barriers to our profession for women and marginalised communities. I would soon receive an opportunity on that front that I couldn't refuse. Over a chance meeting with a remarkable philanthropist. In fact, it was at Julian Assange's birthday party in house arrest, almost 10 years ago, I managed to speak with this philanthropist. I went on a rant about my concerns about access to the legal profession. He offered me a job on the spot. And together we created the Bertha Justice Initiative, which is a program established to provide paid opportunities for people from marginalised communities to work with and learn from the best human rights lawyers around the world. So far, the program has invested more than 15 million US dollars in supporting the next generation of lawyers across 18 different countries, including in Palestine, a place I know that was a place and a cause that was close to Hal’s heart.
Through this work and through the cases that we supported from litigating against US drone strikes in Pakistan, to challenging racist police practices in New York, to challenging educational inequality in South Africa, to forcing the UN to compensate cholera victims in Haiti, to suing multinational corporations for abusive practices around the world in places like Mexico, Bangladesh and elsewhere. I became convinced about the power of movement lawyering. That is, where the combined power of social movements, storytelling, and strategic litigation come together to help create change. And I became convinced about what we can achieve by this, and with this here at home in Australia. Frustrated by my inability to bring the program home to Australia, I started scheming up different ways to fund this work at home and to create more opportunities for this work here in Australia. This culminated in the creation of the Grata Fund, our first ever Independent Public Interest Law Fund, which we named for the first woman to practise law in this country. I could give an entire lecture about Grata’s work, but let me just say this, I am incredibly proud to be a founding director. I'm proud of the women only team, and I'm proud of the work that we're funding on Indigenous justice and climate. And it's fitting, I think, that the Grata Fund is now housed at the UNSW. Given the values that Hal instilled in this law school.
Climate justice was another of his passions and one that he was well ahead of his time on. As early as the 1980s when Hal served as the president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. He championed the idea that conservation could no longer be about merely protecting particular areas or species, but must instead address systematic injustice and systemic injustice, and existential threats. Hal concluded his lecture in this series in 2008, with a clear message, don't forget about climate change. At that time, I was a Rhodes Scholar in Residence at Oxford, and my best friend who I live with, was a passionate advocate about climate action and climate injustice. She was the first person who helped me see that climate change is in fact, a human rights issue. When we spoke about it, I would say to her, but I'm a human rights lawyer, I'm not an environmental lawyer, let's leave it to them. She challenged me, what's the point of protecting human rights if there are no humans left to protect? Our conversations helped me to understand the urgency of the climate crisis. Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, that brilliant friend is now the best selling writer and author of the books, Drawdown and All We Can Save, which I highly recommend, and which provide practical solutions to the climate crisis that we face. But it was thanks to Katharine that I took a decision to commit part of my legal practice to climate justice. And the opportunities came quickly after I joined the London bar.
It was one day in 2017 that I received a call. INEOS, a company owned by Britain's richest man, was fracking, but had come up against opposition from protesters who were concerned about the climate impacts of fracking. The protesters had so far been quite effective and frustrating INEOS’ work through a range of protests, which included occupying land, lock ons and slow walks, which affected not just INEOS, but its supply chain. Caring more about climate than their criminal records, these protesters were undeterred by being hauled down to the Local Magistrates Court to get a slap on the wrist and a very small fine. INEOS decided then to up the ante. Their lawyers went to court and obtained sweeping anti protest injunctions. The injunctions put policing of protests in the hands of the company, which could itself bring proceedings against the protesters, resulting in potentially hefty fines, and even prison time. Representing one of the protesters we challenged the injunctions on the grounds that they were disproportionately interfered with the right to protest, and the protesters right to freedom of expression. And I'm happy to say that we won. We had taken on Britain's richest man to protect the right to protest against fracking, but the practice of fracking was continuing. And that got me thinking. There was a reason that fracking companies were keen to shut down these protests and the political conversations that their protests encouraged. By 2018, the political support for fracking in the UK was tenuous at best. There was a moratorium on fracking in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In England, the Tory government was the only major party that supported fracking. The others were going to ban it. It seemed to me that if we can find the right targeted legal challenge, we might be able to knock fracking off the political table. So, sitting with a bunch of brilliant lawyers and activists in London we brainstormed. What could a challenge look like? Previous legal challenges had been directed at attempting to overturn individual planning decisions about fracking applications on climate change grounds, and all of them had been unsuccessful. Instead, we looked to challenge the government's national fracking policy. Looking back at the original policy that was implemented in 2015, the government had justified its fracking policy on the basis that it would be a bridge to a low carbon economy, and assist the UK to meet its climate targets. This was based on a 2013 study that was commissioned by the government. But by 2018, when the UK renewed its policy on fracking, the science had moved on. New studies showed that the greenhouse gas emissions from fracking were significantly underestimated. But the government refused, or failed, to consider this development and the policy was continued. We then filed judicial review proceedings claiming that the policy was unlawful because the government had failed to properly consider the scientific evidence about climate impact. And I'm happy to say that we won. The government was forced to remove fracking from its national planning policy, and very soon after the government announced it was withdrawing its support for fracking, given this new scientific evidence. This case reaffirmed for me that while litigation is slow, and too slow, in light of the urgency of the climate crisis. It can still be an important tool, and strategic tool, in efforts to protect the climate. But again, this outcome could never have been won without the years of campaigning that came before it. I'm excited to see recent developments in the Australian courts on climate change. And I'm looking forward to announcing soon some more exciting international climate justice litigation that I'm involved in. But meantime, mark my words, the Morrison government has made Australia an international pariah when it comes to climate change. But let me also conclude with the lectures that with Hal’s own words about that, from his 2008 lecture, he said, don't let the bastards get you down, and don't forget about climate. So let's organise, campaign and litigate. To conclude, I want to remind you of the beautiful words that were written by your Dean, Professor Andrew Lynch, who provided such a wonderful introduction this evening. He said this, Hal’s energy, his undimmed interest in the state of the world, and his constant example of the responsibilities we have to people facing adversity and injustice, gave him a near immortal quality. I hope that you'll all join me in honouring Hal by continuing his legacy in your own way every day. In this way, Hal will retain that immortal quality because he lives on in this law school, and in each and every lawyer that is inspired by him to live greatly in the law. Finally, I want to express my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. And of course, to send a huge thank you to UNSW, and to Hal personally, for inviting me today. We stand on his shoulders. Thank you.
Andrew Lynch: Thank you so much, Jennifer. I will surely introduce Emeritus Professor Andrea Durbach, to give a formal vote of thanks on behalf of the faculty. But I certainly want to express my own personal appreciation for your wonderful lecture tonight. Before we hear from Andy I did also want to add another thanks into the mix. And this is to the many generous donors who have contributed to the faculty's 50th anniversary fundraising this year. It gives me great pleasure to announce that we have managed to endow not one, but two scholarships in Hal’s name over 2021. These scholarships will each support a student with a stipend of $10,000 a year for the duration of their degree, consistent with the faculty's mission and responding to the very concerns that Jennifer has spoken about tonight in her lecture. The scholarship will provide transformative opportunities for students by making legal education accessible to those whose personal circumstances have been marked by hardship or disadvantage, and in so doing, they will promote and further greater diversity in the legal profession. I particularly think the very special alumni group known as The Originals. UNSW’s first generation of law students. The existence of a second scholarship in Hal’s name is the direct result of 44 Originals, giving close to $150,000. The faculty is grateful to all of this group, and especially thanks the incredible work of the 50th anniversary Originals Organising Committee comprising Ken Boarder, Richard Anicitch, Donna Craig, Richard Gibson, Orl Hanley, Ted Kerr and Jeff Sutherland. To conclude this event with formal thanks to our guest speaker, I introduce my wonderful colleague Emeritus Professor Andrea Durbach. Andy practised as a political trial lawyer and human rights advocate, representing victims and opponents of apartheid in her home of South Africa. Arriving in Australia in the early 1990s. She has worked in private practice and public interest litigation, as well as holding senior positions in the human rights field, including as deputy Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner. In 2013, she was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission's Human Rights Law Award for her promotion and advancement of human rights in Australia, through the practice of law. Andy worked closely with Hal in the organisation of several previous Hal Wootten Lectures, across her 13 year tenure as the Director of the faculty’s Australian Human Rights Center, now the UNSW wide institute that I referred to earlier. So Andrea is indeed the perfect person to respond now to Jennifer's lecture, and to close this evening's proceedings. Thank you, Andy.
Andrea Durbach: Thank you, Andrew. Each year since the inception of the Hal Wootten Lecture in the law faculty, I have had the pleasure of listening to Hal give his unique vote of thanks to those who spoke in his honour. And so this evening, it is a true privilege to be giving the vote of thanks to Jennifer Robinson, and in doing so to underscore Hal’s vital message, and lifelong contribution of living greatly in the law. And I extend my appreciation for this honour to his wife, Gillian Cowlishaw, and his family. Jennifer, to listen to you trace the magnitude of your work in the law. Along the many parallel contours of Hal Wootten’s practice as lawyer, advocate, activist and scholar, highlights a clear intention by you to demonstrate that the rationale for law’s function is its aspiration to justice. In considering the duties of an advocate, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, and I quote, legal studies and practice sharpen, indeed. But like a grinding stone, narrow whilst they sharpen. What is apparent from your intent is a commitment to invoke the law to serve ambitious, and expensive ends, and to resist its contraction of rights, and undermine its insular interpretations. Whether using the law to advocate for the right of First Nations to self-determination in West Papua, to prevent and address Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia, or defend freedom of speech, despite the controversial origin of its content, and the stance of its messenger, and protect future generations from the environmental negligence of their elders. You dare to name, to challenge, to hold up mirrors to ourselves, and to hold the shameless to account. And when in the words of Hal, you’ve witnessed the law bear harshly on those least able to secure its protection. You have turned the law against itself, and demanded its realignment with just conduct and appropriate redress. As the cycles of impunity and indifference expand across our world, your struggle for accountability which is so clearly at the core of your work, stands firm against the forces of profiteering manipulation, denial, and the insidious degradation of humanity. But it is, as you well know, a tough struggle, as we witnessed the swagger of power corrode integrity, and the depiction of accountability by those in high office as something extraneous and obstructive. Your determined fight for accountability, coupled with your deep humanity, which stands as an inspiration to us all, especially for emerging lawyers, was also fundamental to the practice of law by a former judge who delivered the Hal Wootten Lecture, just over a decade ago. Justice Albie Sachs fought racism and the brutality of apartheid South Africa, and after years as a lawyer in exile, he returned as an inaugural Judge of the New Constitutional Court after South Africa's historic democratic elections. Despite Albie’s hope for the post apartheid state, he had no hesitation in holding the new South African government accountable to its citizens, when it veered from its democratic foundations and path. And so I end my vote of thanks by wishing you Jennifer, many decades of continuing to live greatly in the law. And by sharing some words from a tribute to Hal, penned by Albie Sachs, when I shared with him the news of Hal’s death. Hal Wootten, it wasn't the name that I remembered, or even the lecture I gave in his honour. It was his presence. He didn't belong anywhere in particular, but seemed to be comfortable wherever and with whomever he happened to be. I loved his company. I'm sure he had his fair share of sorrow. But always I felt his optimism about the immense potentialities of humanity in this wondrous and wounded place we call the world. His superb intelligence didn't fight against his huge heart. The same can be said about his capacity to be the most supreme of idealists, and the most hard nosed of pragmatists. To be utterly human, and totally part of nature, all at the same time. So as I write these words, at the time of greatest sorrow, I feel the greatest joy. Hal will never be emeritus to me. Thank you all for joining the 2021 Hal Wootten with Jennifer Robinson. And this event was presented by the Faculty of Law and Justice, and UNSW Centre for Ideas. We wish you all a very good night.
Ann Mossop: Thank you for listening. This event was presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and the UNSW Faculty of Law and Justice. For more information visit centrefirideas.com, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Jennifer Robinson is a human rights lawyer and Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London. Jen has been instructed in domestic and international cases involving media law, public law and international law. She advises media organisations, journalists, whistle-blowers and high-profile individuals on all aspects of media law and reputation management. She has also been instructed in human rights related judicial review cases and has given expert evidence in Parliament and at the United Nations.
Jen advises individual and state clients on a wide range of international law issues, has appeared before the International Court of Justice and regularly engages with UN Special Mechanisms. Many of her cases and clients are high-profile and involve novel cross-jurisdictional and comparative law issues. Jen has also acted in judicial review proceedings before the Court of Appeal and High Court, including challenges to government policies related to climate change, fracking and the treatment of refugees.
Jennifer has acted in key free speech and freedom of information cases for clients such as the New York Times and Bloomberg. She is a member of the legal team for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, having acted for Assange in extradition proceedings, advised WikiLeaks during Cablegate and worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights on United States v Bradley Manning. For more than a decade she has been involved in advocacy related to self-determination and human rights in West Papua. In 2008 the UK Attorney General recognised Jennifer as a National Pro Bono Hero. Jennifer was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Oxford where she was a Rhodes scholar. She writes for publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald and Al Jazeera.
Year of call: 2016 (2006 - Supreme Court of NSW, Australia)
Andrew Lynch (Introduction)
Professor Andrew Lynch is Dean at UNSW Law & Justice. He has previously served as Head of School and Deputy Dean. He teaches and researches in the field of Australian constitutional law. His research concentrates on the topics of federalism, judicial dissent, judicial appointments reform, and legal responses to terrorism.
Andrew is an author of Blackshield & Williams’ Australian Constitutional Law and Theory (6th ed, 2014; 7th ed, 2018), Australia's Greatest Judicial Crisis - The Tim Carmody Affair (2016), Inside Australia’s Anti-terrorism Laws and Trials (2014), What Price Security? Taking Stock of Australia’s Anti-Terror Laws (2006), and Equity and Trusts (2001 and 2005). He is a co-editor of the books Law and Liberty in the War on Terror (2007), Counter-Terrorism and Beyond: The Culture of Law and Justice After 9/11 (2010), Tomorrow’s Federation: Reforming Australian Government (2012) and the editor of Great Australian Dissents (2016).
Between 2008-2013, Andrew was the Director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW and he continues to work on research housed within the Centre’s Judiciary Project. He is a member of the Council of the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.
Sonja Stewart (Acknowledgement of Country)
Sonja Stewart is a Yuin woman who was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of New South Wales in August 2020. Prior to this, Sonja was a Deputy Secretary within the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet and before that, Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Public Service Commission.
Sonja is a UNSW graduate with Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce degrees. She is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and has been a Chairperson and Board Director of Government, academic and not-for-profit boards for more than 20 years. She is currently the Chair of the Goodes O'Loughlin Foundation which aims to improve educational outcomes of Indigenous youth. She is also a director of Lawcover Insurance Pty Ltd providing professional indemnity insurance to NSW solicitors.
Andrea Durbach (Vote of Thanks)
Andrea Durbach is an Emeritus Professor of UNSW Law & Justice and was Director of the Australian Human Rights Centre (now Institute) from 2004-2017.
Born and educated in South Africa, she practised as a political trial lawyer and human rights advocate, representing victims and opponents of apartheid laws. After leaving South Africa, Andrea initially worked as a solicitor at Freehills Hollingdale and Page in Sydney before joining the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) as Head of Legal Practice, subsequently becoming PIAC's Executive Director. Andrea has held senior positions in the human rights field, including as Deputy Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner (2011-2012) and as a consultant to the Australian Defence Abuse Response Taskforce to develop a framework to address the needs of Defence Force victims of gender-based violence and to prevent harmful conduct. She is a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and in 2013, she was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Human Rights Law Award for her promotion and advancement of human rights in Australia through the practice of law.