Julian Burnside

Julian William Kennedy Burnside AO QC (born 9 June 1949) is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author. He practises principally in commercial litigation, trade practices and administrative law. He is known for his staunch opposition to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and has provided legal counsel in a wide variety of high-profile cases.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2009, "for service as a human rights advocate, particularly for refugees and asylum seekers, to the arts as a patron and fundraiser, and to the law."[1]

Early life

Burnside was born in Melbourne to Kennedy Byron Burnside and Olwen Lloyd Banks. His father was a prominent Melbourne urologist. Burnside attended Melbourne Grammar School, graduating with a range of scholarships and prizes.[2] He then studied law and economics at Monash University, with aspirations to eventually work as a management consultant. While at university, Burnside showed immense talent for the study of law and successfully competed in Moot Court competitions (mock court). He was selected to represent Monash at an international competition in New Zealand, in which he was named best speaker and won the Blackstone Cup. After a conversation with Sir Richard Wild, the Chief Justice of New Zealand who had adjudicated, Burnside was persuaded that he should pursue a career as a barrister. He obtained a Bachelor of Economics in 1972 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1973.

Burnside has a wife, Kate, a daughter, Katherine and a foster son, Mosa.

Professional career

Burnside was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1976, and appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1989. His work has always focused primarily on commercial law.

He has appeared in many significant commercial cases, in particular take-over cases and trade practices.

He represented some of Australia's wealthiest people, including Alan Bond and Rose Porteous.[2] Due to these high-profile cases, he became well known in the legal and broader community as a commercial lawyer. As Burnside describes it, until the late 1990s he primarily "acted for the big end of town".[3]

In 1998, Burnside surprised some people by acting for the Maritime Union of Australia in its battle with Patrick Corporation during the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute, one of Australia's most severe and longest industrial relations controversies. The matter went to the High Court of Australia, which eventually found in favour of the Union, albeit with certain conditions. Burnside describes this case as one of his most memorable, and has stated that it convinced him that the survival of reasonable and responsible union representation is crucial if there is to be justice in the workplace.[3] His involvement in the dispute is portrayed by Rhys Muldoon in the 2007 ABC miniseries Bastard Boys.

From the late 1990s onwards, Burnside began to undertake more and more pro bono legal work on a range of human rights-related issues. He acted for Victoria's chief civil liberties organisation in an action against the Australian Government over the Tampa affair and vehemently criticised John Howard's Government for its mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving in Australia. With his wife, artist Kate Durham, Burnside set up Spare Rooms for Refugees and Spare Lawyers for Refugees, programs which provide free accommodation and legal representation for refugees in Australia.

Throughout this time Burnside has maintained his practice as a commercial litigator, appearing in many major class actions, trade practices cases and general commercial cases.

Burnside has also acted in several major cases on behalf of Indigenous Australians. Most notably, he acted for Bruce Trevorrow, a member of the Indigenous stolen generation, in which Trevorrow sued the South Australian Government for having removed him from his parents. For the first time in Australian legal history, an Australian government was found liable for such conduct, and the court awarded $500 000 in damages to Mr Trevorrow.

In 2004 Burnside was awarded the Human Rights Law Award by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and sponsored by the Law Council of Australia for his pro-bono legal work for asylum seekers and for his work in establishing Spare Lawyers for Refugees.[4] Also in 2004, he was elected an Australian Living Treasures. In 2006 he was inducted as an honorary member of the Monash University Golden key Society. In 2007 he received the Australian Peace Prize from the Peace Organisation of Australia and in 2014 the Sydney Peace Prize from the Sydney Peace Foundation. [5]

Burnside has also written several successful publications on law, human rights and philology. In addition to his work in the law, he is a patron of numerous arts organisations. He regularly commissions classical music compositions and sculptures, and is Chair of two arts organisations.[6]

Notable cases



Published papers

Book reviews

Date Review article Work(s) reviewed
2011 Burnside, Julian (September 2011). "Born to see". Australian Book Review (334): 44–45.  Ennis, Helen (2011). Wolfgang Sievers. National Library of Australia. 


External links

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