Skip to main content

Julian Burnside AO QC

b. 1949

Julian Burnside AO (b. 1949), barrister, grew up in Melbourne, attending Melbourne Grammar and studying economics and law at Monash in the late 1960s. Having gone to the bar in 1976 and taken silk in 1989, through the 1990s he was a prominent commercial lawyer, acting for some of Australia's wealthiest figures, including Alan Bond and Rose Porteous. Late in the decade he acted for the Indigenous communities of the Lower Fly Region of the Ok Tedi River in Papua New Guinea against BHP, resulting in an out-of-court settlement of some $US26 million. Having represented the Maritime Union of Australia in the 1998 waterfront dispute against Patrick Stevedores, he was the Senior Counsel assisting the ABC in the 'Cash for Comment' inquiry. Burnside has acted pro-bono in many human rights cases, in particular concerning the treatment of refugees; he was senior counsel for Liberty Victoria in the Tampa litigation. A vocal opponent of mandatory detention, in 2003 he compiled a book of letters written by asylum seekers held in Australia's detention centres, From Nothing to Zero. Burnside is a collector of contemporary paintings, photographs and sculptures, regularly commissions music, and is Chair of Fortyfive Downstairs and the Mietta Foundation. His publications include Wordwatching - Field Notes from an Amateur Philologist (2004), and On Privilege (2009). Designated a Living National Treasure in 2004, he was made an officer of the Order of Australia for service as a human rights advocate, patronage of and fundraising for the arts, and service to the law in 2009.

Updated 2018