The Australian National University (ANU) has awarded honorary doctorates to three of its legal scholars for their exceptional contributions across law, academia and public service. Emerita Professor Robin Creyke AO FAAL, Emeritus Professor John McMillan AO FAAL and Emeritus Professor Dennis Pearce AO FAAL were conferred their honorary doctorates at a graduation ceremony on 7 February 2022 at Llewellyn Hall.
With an academic career spanning more than 40 years, Professor Creyke joined ANU in 1973 as a tutor. Over subsequent decades, she held multiple leadership roles and established herself as one of Australia’s leading administrative law authors and commentators.
“Having arrived here (at ANU) and seen the strengths in administrative law and public law, I had to choose a place for myself. I remember talking to (late ANU Law Professor) Phillipa Weeks and she said, ‘Don’t be typecast. Don’t do family law.’ So I decided on public law and to specialise in tribunals,” said Professor Creyke.
This specialisation led Professor Creyke to serve on numerous major tribunals including the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the Nursing Homes and the Social Security Appeal Tribunal and currently she is Chair of the National Customs Brokers Licensing Advisory Committee and a national reviewer for the Australian AdStandards organisation.
“I’ve always been able to combine policy and public law – that’s been a rewarding aspect of academia, especially in the nation’s capital” she added.
“To be part of public law and mixing with people like Dennis and John, who are key national figures, has been a real stimulus. I have valued that contact enormously. In various ways, we have all supported each other over the years and that support continues.”
Professor Creyke is the author of three texts extensively used in universities, government agencies, tribunals and legal practice: Laying Down the Law (11th ed. 2020, LexisNexis), Control of Government Action (6th ed. 2022, LexisNexis) and Veterans’ Entitlements and Military Compensation Law (3rd ed. 2016, The Federation Press).
Her contributions to ANU also include substantial efforts to increase women in academia. In the 1990s, when women accounted for only 3 per cent of academic staff at ANU, Professor Creyke served on a committee that aimed to help women pursue postgraduate degrees.
“We secured an exemption under the Sex Discrimination Act (1985 Cth) to advertise women-only masters and PhD degrees. It was such a successful program that, after a few years, the exemption was lifted and, of course, now ANU has a lot of women among its academic staff,” she said.
Born in Canberra, Professor McMillan said his decision to study arts and law at ANU was “a natural choice”. During his studies, he developed a strong interest in public law, especially administrative law, under the influence of the University’s leaders in the field: Professors Harry Whitmore, Leslie Zines, Jack Richardson and fellow honorary doctorate recipient, Professor Pearce.
The subject of his 1972 honours thesis, freedom of information, marked the start of his lifetime commitment to public interest advocacy and legal reform in this area. A subsequent period of study leave in the United States, where he worked at a public interest centre led by renowned lawyer and freedom of information advocate, Ralph Nader, only intensified his interest.
A founding member of the Freedom of Information Campaign Committee, Professor McMillan played a significant role in Australia passing the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).
“At that time, only three or four Scandinavian governments and the US had a freedom of information law. Australia was the first national parliament in a Westminster system to enact the law. Nearly 40 years later, it is enacted in more than 100 countries. It’s a law that’s taken for granted, yet of fundamental importance to the function of democracy,” he said.
Since 2000, Professor McMillan has held a variety of statutory positions. He was the Commonwealth Ombudsman between 2003 and 2010, becoming the third ANU legal scholar – joining Professors Richardson (1977-85) and Pearce (1988-91) – appointed to the role.
From 2010 to 2015, he served as the inaugural Australian Information Commissioner and later would be appointed acting New South Wales Ombudsman and a member of the Australian Copyright Tribunal. Throughout most of this period (2003-14), Professor McMillan was also an active member of the Administrative Review Council.
Together with Professor Creyke, he is a co-author of the text Control of Government Action: Text Cases and Commentary (6th ed. 2022, LexisNexis).
Professor McMillan said that being recognised with an honorary doctorate was particularly special given that ANU has been a “defining feature of my career and personal journey”.
“I’ve maintained a strong connection with the ANU Law faculty for more than 50 years, and having that connection marked by an honorary doctorate is a source of immense personal satisfaction for me,” he said.
“Being a part of the public law tradition at ANU has been enormously important and a delight for me. It’s also been rewarding to see the University’s law faculty grow in its national and international standing.
“Our graduates are engaged in influential roles around the world and we’ve diversified through government and the legal profession to have representation in all areas of law, government and society here and around the world.”
Professor Dennis Pearce AO FAAL has had an exceptional career in both academia and public service.
He joined ANU in the then Faculty of Law in 1968, becoming a professor in 1981. Prior to this appointment he held several leadership roles in the Faculty and the University including Sub Dean and Associate Dean. Following his appointment to a chair, he twice served as Dean of the Faculty as well as acting as Deputy Vice Chancellor in 1994.
Between 1985 and 1987, as chair of a discipline review of Australian Law Schools, he helped to reshape law teaching and the role of law schools across Australia.
“It’s nice to be recognised for our contributions to the University,” said Professor Pearce.
“We’ve been a very close cohort for a very long time and were in the underpinning of the establishment of administrative law in the Commonwealth.”
Despite his formal retirement from full-time academia in 1996, Professor Pearce remains research active with his work remaining relevant today.
He is Australian’s leading authority on statutory interpretation and has received 150 citations in the last four years. He is currently working on new editions of three books: Delegated Legislation in Australia (6th ed. 2022, LexisNexis), Interpretation Acts in Australia (2nd ed. 2023, LexisNexis) and Statutory Interpretation in Australia (10th ed. 2024, LexisNexis), the next edition of which will mark the text’s 50th anniversary.
Professor Pearce has also demonstrated significant public service in a variety of roles held before and since his retirement.
The most significant of these was as Commonwealth and Defence Force Ombudsman from 1988 to 1991 during which period he took leave from ANU. He played a key part in the establishment two statutory tribunals.
In 2001-04 he was the foundation President of the ACT Racing Appeals Tribunal. In 2008-11, he was the first Chair of the newly established Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. Professor Pearce’s other public offices have included the Chair of the Attorney-General’s Copyright Law Review Committee (for which service he was awarded a Centenary Medal), the chair of the Australian Press Council which hears complaints against the print media, and a member of the Copyright Tribunal
As a practising lawyer, Professor Pearce was recognised in the Best Lawyers list receiving the top honour for public law in Canberra in 2017 and 2019.