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Maurice Ashkanasy CMG QC

1901 – 1971

Maurice Ashkanasy (1901 - 1971) was a barrister and Jewish community leader whose family came to Australia from London when he was 9 years old. He studied law at the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1923; LL.M., 1924) and was awarded the Hastie exhibition (1919) for psychology, logic and ethics. After being admitted to the Bar in 1924, he read with (Sir) Robert Menzies, and took silk in 1940.

He served with distinction in World War II, being part of an adventurous escape from Singapore in a small boat, which eventually reached Fremantle. He was an assistant adjutant-general, in Malaya and New Guinea, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, and was mentioned in dispatches.

Returning to the Bar and appearing in a wide range of causes and jurisdictions, he quickly established a reputation as a leader, a powerful advocate and a skilful strategist. Elected as vice-chairman of the Victorian Bar Council in 1952, and chairman from 1953-56, he did much to improve the conditions and organisation of the Bar, including guiding the proposal for the construction of the Owen Dixon Chambers. He was vice president of the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists. An active member of the Labor Party, he stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Balaclava (1946) and for the Senate in 1958.

Throughout his life he was deeply involved in Jewish community affairs, interests and causes. He was an advocate of the establishment of the State of Israel. In Australia he promoted improved organisational structures for state and national Jewish groups, to ensure effective representation to government and the nation. From the 1920s he had taken a leading part in the foundation of the Judean League, an umbrella organisation for Jewish youth, sporting and cultural groups. Largely under his leadership and guidance, this saw the formation in 1947 of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies. He was a strong backer of the Jewish day school, Mount Scopus College. Ashkanasy was five times president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He was awarded a CMG in 1961.

Updated 2018