Dr Austin (BA ’66 LLM ’74 LLB ’69) has had a luminous career: he has worked at a top law firm; taught and researched at local and global institutions; advised the federal government; co-authored leading texts; and has sat on the Supreme Court of NSW.
The University of Sydney Law School, which he attended and where he has subsequently taught full-time or part-time for 51 years, has recognised his achievements by awarding him a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) this week.
“Dr Austin is one of a group of pre-eminent corporate law scholars in Australia, with an international reputation. He was a well-respected judge, and remains a much admired and respected legal academic, and commercial practitioner,” said University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM, who conferred the degree at the Great Hall earlier this week.
A corporate and commercial law leader, Dr Austin began his professional life studying Arts and Law at the University of Sydney. After receiving First Class Honours in his Master of Laws, he began teaching at Sydney Law School in 1969. In his initial 20-year tenure, he rose to become a Professor and Head of the Department of Law.
He also obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University and held visiting positions at its Corpus Christi and Harris Manchester Colleges, as well as at Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto; Duke University, North Carolina; and Columbia University, New York.
Head of School and Dean of Sydney Law School Professor Simon Bronitt said: "Dr Austin has made a significant contribution to the academic sphere during his long academic career, and, for the last 28 years, as Challis Lecturer in Corporate Law.
“He has been a guide and mentor to law students over many years, and his commitment to fostering the development of successive generations of lawyers has been exemplary.”
In 1990, Dr Austin became partner at law firm Minter Ellison while continuing to teach part-time. In 1998, he was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of NSW – a position he held until 2010. He presided over notable cases including ASIC v Rich (2009), where he dismissed proceedings against former executive directors of One.Tel for breach of their duty of care.
He was also the first plaintiff in a 2003 case involving judicial pensions for State judges, where the High Court held that Commonwealth legislation purporting to impose a superannuation surcharge on these pensions was unconstitutional.
His service to others extends to foreign affairs: in 2011, he was retained by the Australian government to lecture, consult and advise Indian officials on the preparation of their country’s new Companies Act.
His advancement of legal scholarship is underscored in his co-authorship of key textbooks, including Ford's Principles of Corporations Law; Company Directors: Principles of Law & Corporate Governance (2005); and Austin & Black's Annotations to the Corporations Act. As organiser of the annual Supreme Court of New South Wales Corporate and Commercial Law Conference, his work in this respect is far from over.