Julian Burnside

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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 decided to study 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. In 1972, he completed his Bachelor of Economics, and in 1973 he was awarded his Bachelor of Laws by Monash Law School.

Burnside has 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]

Cases in which Burnside has been involved

  • Defending Alan Bond
  • Interrogating John Laws and Alan Jones as counsel assisting the Australian Broadcasting Authority's 'cash-for-comment' inquiry
  • Assisting the Maritime Union of Australia defeat Patrick Stevedores in the High Court (see also 1998 Australian waterfront dispute). His role in this case was dramatized in the ABC miniseries Bastard Boys
  • Counsel for the Ok Tedi natives against BHP
  • Counsel for Stephen Mayne and Crikey Media against Steve Price and 3AW
  • Counsel for Rose Porteous in numerous actions against Gina Rinehart
  • Counsel for Liberty Victoria in the Tampa litigation
  • Counsel for Plaintiffs in class action against Esso for the gas explosion at Longford, Victoria
  • Counsel for Bruce Trevorrow successfully claiming compensation for damage as a member of the Stolen Generation against the state of South Australia
  • Counsel for Mary Kostakidis in litigation against SBS[7]
  • Counsel for NCSC in BHP takeover cases
  • Counsel for ACI in takeover case
  • Counsel for Respondent in Autodesk v Dyason
  • Counsel for Plaintiff in Crittenden v ANZ
  • Counsel assisting Australian Broadcasting Authority in Cash for Comment enquiry
  • Counsel for Applicant in ACCC v J McPhee & Co
  • Counsel for Applicant in ACCC v Universal Music & ors
  • Counsel for Respondent in ACCC v MUA & ors
  • Counsel for Respondent in ACCC v SIP & ors
  • Counsel for Applicant in Ruhani v. Commissioner of Police No 1 and No 2 (High Court litigation relating to the Pacific Solution)
  • Counsel for intervenor in Melway v Hicks
  • Counsel for Applicant in ACCC v Leahy Petroleum
  • Counsel for Plaintiff in Mirvac v La Rocca
  • Counsel for respondent individual in ACCC v Visy, Carroll & ors
  • Counsel for Plaintiff in Premier Developments v Spotless
  • Counsel for Respondent James Hird (Essendon F.C. Head Coach) in negotiations with the AFL over the 2012 performancing-enhancing drug scandal.



Published papers

Book reviews

Date Review article Work(s) reviewed
2011 Burnside, Julian (September 2011). "Born to see". Australian Book Review (334): 44–45.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Ennis, Helen (2011). Wolfgang Sievers. National Library of Australia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. The Age (2009). Australia Day honours. Retrieved 26 January 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Enker, Debi (31 March 2008). "Talking Heads". The Age. Melbourne.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Australian Story - Man of Steel - Transcript
  4. "2004 Human Rights Medal and Awards". Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Retrieved 11 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. http://sydneypeacefoundation.org.au/peace-prize-recipients/2014-julian-burnside-ao-qc/, accessed 9/11/14.
  6. Julian Burnside- Prominent Monash Alumnus
  7. "Burnside acting for Kostakidis in fight against SBS". ABC News. 22 August 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links