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Austin Asche with oration attendants

Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance

The oration honours the service of The Hon. Austin Asche AC QC to the people of the Northern Territory and his contribution to the law, tertiary education and to the community.

Tenth Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance

The Hon. Chief Justice of Australia Susan Kiefel AC delivered the Tenth Austin Asche Oration on 27 March 2021.

The Hon. Chief Justice of Australia, Susan Kiefel AC

The Honourable Austin Asche QC AC


Austin Asche grew up in Darwin in the 1930s. At the timethere was no high school in Darwin, so Austin went south to continue his education.

From 1944-46 he served with the RAAF, mostly in the NT and north-west Australia.

After WWII, Austin attended the University of Melbourne  where he obtained a Bachelor and then Master of Laws. He was admitted to practice in 1950, and practised as a barrister in QLD and Melbourne. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1972.

In 1976, he became a Judge of the Family Court of Australia, and was Acting Chief Judge from 1985 to 86. In 1986, he returned to Darwin as a Judge of the Supreme Court of the NT and in 1987 was appointed Chief Justice.

In 1987, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature by Deakin University, where he was Chancellor from 1983 to 87. In 1992 he was made a Fellow of the Australian College of Education. In 1994 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the Northern Territory University (now CDU), and was also Chancellor from 1989 to 93. In 2010, he was made an Emeritus Chancellor of CDU, and a Fellow of Trinity College, the University of Melbourne.

Austin was the 15th Administrator of the NT, serving from 1 March 1993, to 16 February 1997. He was appointed a Knight of Grace of the order of St John in 1993. On Australia Day 1994 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for service to the law, tertiary education and the community, particularly the people of the Northern Territory. The Governor-General invested him with the insignia of this appointment at Government House, Darwin, on 17 June 1994.

Austin married Valerie James in 1958 and they have one son and one daughter. Dr Valerie Asche was a senior research fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin from 1986 to 94.

Austin is currently the Chair of the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee.

Past Austin Asche Orations

  • The journey of a restless advocate: Creating a more gender equal Australia?

    Photo of Ms Elizabeth Broderick AO
    Elizabeth Broderick AO

    Australia’s longest serving Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick AO, will present the ninth Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance on 19 September 2019 at Parliament House in Darwin.

    Ms Broderick’s oration is titled: “The journey of a restless advocate: Creating a more gender equal Australia?”

    Ms Broderick said gender inequality has been endemic in Australia, as in many other countries.

    “It demonstrates itself in education, the professions, sport, business, religion, politics and industry,” Ms Broderick said.

    “It goes to the heart of who we are and how we live.”

    As Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Broderick worked tirelessly to break down structural and social barriers faced by women and men and to promote gender equality.

    In her oration, Ms Broderick will discuss the state of gender equality in Australia and in the current global context. She will offer some valuable lessons from her work driving change in many different environments.

    She will illustrate the damage gender inequality does, how it’s being addressed and further steps that everyone can take to deliver a more gender equal nation.

    Ms Broderick is a UN Special Rapporteur and Independent Expert on Discrimination Against Women. In 2016, she was appointed as a member of the Council of the Order of Australia, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia and was named NSW Australian of the Year.

    Watch the recording of the 2019 Austin Asche Oration.

  • The Hon. Robert Shenton French AC
    The Hon. Robert Shenton French AC

    Free Speech and the law on campus. Do we need a charter of rights just for universities?

    The Honourable Robert Shenton French AC gave the oration in 2018

    The Oration was delivered by the Hon. Robert Shenton French AC Former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

    Recent public discussion about academic freedom, and freedom of expression on university campuses in Australia and other countries, has led to debate about the limits of freedom and control of speech in higher education.

    Mr French’s oration will canvass the content and history of those freedoms, whether they are under threat, and whether special measures are necessary to protect freedom of speech and diversity of views in our higher learning institutions.

    Watch video of the 2018 Austin Asche Oration on YouTube.

  • Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner

    Making detention safe: can we grasp a once-in-a-generation opportunity?

    Mr Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner gave the oration in 2017

    In February 2017, the federal Government made what could be the single most positive step in a generation towards protecting the human rights of detainees.

    The government announced it would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) by December 2017, thereby committing to establish a regime of independent inspections for all places of detention in Australia, including prisons, youth detention centres, mental health facilities and immigration detention centres.

    Places of detention are often hidden from view. Evidence before the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT confirms, that terrible things can happen in such places. OPCAT presents a once-in- a-generation opportunity to shine a light in these dark places; to cease detention practices we know to be harmful; and to learn from best practice in Australia and around the world. Can we grasp this opportunity?

    Watch video of the 2017 Austin Asche Oration on YouTube.

  • Honourable Marilyn Warren AC

    Young people in detention: impacts, progress and alternatives

    The Honourable Marilyn Warren AC gave the oration in 2016.

    Around 20 years ago, the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission were tasked with investigating the experience of children and juvenile offenders in the Australian justice system.

    Among the findings was; due to  ‘heightened vulnerability to physical and emotional harm and different perceptions of time’ detention could result in harm to children, creating ‘serious social and developmental consequences’.

    The report noted a number of Australian jurisdictions, including QLD, WA and NT, had legislation adopting a punitive rather than rehabilitative approach to juvenile sentencing. For example, the NT’s system of mandatory imprisonment for young offenders who had committed more than one property offence.

    The report noted the Commissions considered such mandatory detention arrangements violated significant international and common law norms, and recommended the systems be repealed. Four years later, the provisions were repealed by the NT Government. Unfortunately, other jurisdictions took longer.

    Watch the video of the 2016 Austin Asche Oration on YouTube.

  • Professor Gillian Triggs

    The Expansion of Executive Discretion: Implications for the Northern Territory

    Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission gave the oration in 2015.

    While it is the natural inclination of all governments to augment their powers, it is the job of Parliament and the courts to provide checks
    and balances on any overreach. In fact, Parliaments at all levels have failed to exercise their traditional restraint to protect common law freedoms and have been compliant in passing laws in the name of national security and public interest.

    Laws such as the NT’s “paperless arrest” and mandatory sentencing laws oust the role of judges to make individual determinations to the detriment of liberty.

    Increasing secrecy, the lack of transparent processes, Captain’s picks, the indefinite administrative detention of the mentally ill, asylum seekers and refugees, and the lack of meaningful access to the courts pose significant threats to Australian democracy.

    It is time to reopen the national debate about the value of a Federal Charter of Rights to provide the courts with a benchmark against which to measure compliance with fundamental liberties.

    Watch the video of the 2015 Austin Asche Oration on Vimeo

  • Honourable Frank Vincent AO QC

    Law and Order in a Rapidly Changing Society

    The Honourable Frank Vincent AO QC gave the oration in 2014

    Australia’s various systems and institutions are under increasing stress, while at the same time the values and priorities on which such systems and institutions rest are being questioned more and more.

    In his oration, the renowned barrister, and former justice of the Victoria Court of Appeal, The Hon Frank Vincent AO QC, focused on the Rule of Law, and  emerging legal, practical and moral challenges which impact on the Rule of Law.

    Watch the video of the 2014 Austin Asche Oration on Vimeo

  • diana-bryant

    The Big Picture: Responding to Challenges Arising in International Family Law

    The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO, Family Court of Australia gave the oration in 2013.

    An overview of the international family law landscape, identify emerging trends and issues, and discuss what action government and people engaged in the practice of family law in Australia (including family law courts) could take to respond to specific challenges.

    The Chief Justice will have particular regard to the various Hague Conventions (child abduction, child protection and adoption), Brussells II bis, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and the way in which European instruments are affecting United Kingdom law and the importance of Commonwealth links. Some of the issues the Chief Justice will consider include surrogacy, shared parenting and the use of presumptions, and family violence.

    Watch the video of the 2013 Austin Asche Oration on Vimeo

  • Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG

    Human rights protection − a riposte to Chief Justice Patrick Keane

    The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, former High Court judge and scholar gave the oration in 2012.

    What is the best way to protect human rights in a democratic society? At the 2011 Inaugural Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance, The Honorable Patrick Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court, questioned whether broad declarations contained in a constitutionally entrenched Charter of Rights was the best approach.

    In what promises to be an interesting and thought-provoking address, The Honorable Michael Kirby AC CMG, former High Court judge and eminent scholar, will state the case for a Charter of Rights.

    Watch the video of the 2012 Austin Asche Oration on Vimeo.

  • Honourable Patrick Keane

    Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me

    The Honourable Patrick Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia gave the oration in 2011

    This was the Inaugural Austin Asche Oration in Law and Governance. Which has been held each year since in honour of the former Northern Territory Administrator and Chief Justice of the Northern Territory Supreme Court, who was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1994 for service to the law, to tertiary education and to the community, particularly the people of the Northern Territory.

    At the Oration the current Chief Justice of the Northern Territory Supreme Court, The Honourable Trevor Riley, will provide some thoughts on Austin Asche’s contribution to the Northern Territory and the nation generally. He will be followed by The Honourable Patrick Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, who will deliver the inaugural Oration. The Honourable Patrick Keane, Chief Justice of the Federal Court, questioned whether broad declarations contained in a constitutionally entrenched Charter of Rights was the best approach.

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