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The Hon Lionel Murphy, 1978

Judith O'Conal-Prinz

oil on board (frame: 93.0 cm x 80.5 cm, support: 63.5 cm x 76.2 cm)

Lionel Murphy QC (1922-1986), High Court judge and Labor politician, grew up in Sydney, studied science and law at Sydney University, was admitted to the Bar in 1947, and became a QC in 1960. A long-term member of the Labor party, he was elected a senator for NSW in 1961, and was Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1967 to 1972. During the Whitlam government he served as Attorney General and Minister for Customs and Excise. In February 1975 he was appointed a Justice of the High Court, a position he retained until his death in 1986. Murphy’s most important legislative achievement was the revolutionary Family Law Act 1975, which introduced the principle of no fault divorce and established the Family Court of Australia. He also passed legislation substantially abolishing appeals to the Privy Council; removing censorship; providing freedom of access to government information; reforming corporations and trade practices law; protecting the environment; abolishing the death penalty; and outlawing racial and other discrimination. He established a systematic legal aid service for all courts, set up the Australian Law Reform Commission (of which Michael Kirby was inaugural chairman) and the Australian Institute of Criminology, and took the French Government to the International Court of Justice to protest against its nuclear tests in the Pacific. A supernova remnant, SNR N86, is named The Lionel-Murphy SNR in tribute to his lifelong interest in science.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Lionel Murphy Foundation 2012

Accession number: 2012.145

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Judith O'Conal-Prinz

Lionel Murphy (age 56 in 1978)

Subject professions

Law and justice

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