In February 2017 the Sydney Environment Institute and the Balanced Enterprise Research Network at the University of Sydney convened a workshop featuring the distinguished climate scientist Professor Michael Mann from Penn State University. Mann is well known both for his world-leading climate research and also for his highly effective advocacy on the frontline of climate politics in the US. He has been the lightning rod for attacks from those who oppose any policies to address the climate crisis but has stood his ground and become one of the most important global voices on this vital issue.

0 comments |

Image credit: Parliament of Australia

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is currently inquiring into Australia's proposed ratification of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. On 27 September 2016 I gave evidence to a hearing of JSCOT. What follows is my opening statement to the Committee. My written submission to JSCOT can be found here, and the full transcript of the oral evidence is in Hansard

0 comments |


Twenty-five years ago today Australia signed the Madrid Protocol which banned mining in Antarctica and set aside the icy continent as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. Amid the gloom about the future as global warming grips the planet, the historic achievement in 1991 shows what is possible when Australia pulls out all diplomatic stops to advance the global environmental good.

Today we take the idea of Antarctic wilderness for granted, forgetting just how close we came to opening the fragile continent to the mining industry. In 1988, as Crowded House topped the charts, diplomats gathered in Wellington to sign a treaty to enable mining in Antarctica.

There was to be an historic turn of events after Bob Hawke saw Australia's proposed ratification of the mining treaty on the agenda for a cabinet meeting in May 1989.

As Hawke told Fairfax Media's Nick O'Malley recently, "I just couldn't believe it. Here was the last pristine continent. We were going to be called upon to ratify it and I thought, 'No bloody way.'" The treasurer,Paul Keating was also set against the mining treaty and argued that Antarctica should be a "world park".

Over the objections of sceptical voices in cabinet, Hawke and his then environment advisor Craig Emerson set to work to convince the world to dump the mining treaty in favour of a new agreement that would protect Antarctica forever. Hawke had an influential international ally, the late French prime minister Michel Rocard, and they eventually cajoled and convinced other leaders that Antarctica needed protection not prospectors.

Hawke's diplomatic coup is a reminder of the potency of Australian environmental diplomacy, and the place that Australia once held as a global environmental leader. On climate change, a force that will occasion more damage to Antarctica than mining ever could, Australia is a now a laggard not a leader. With weak emissions targets, and having abolished the carbon price necessary to deliver them, Australia is now seen by some as the "Saudi Arabia" of the South.

The Abbott and Turnbull governments' insouciance to global environmental challenges could not come at a worse time. We are now in the "anthropocene", a new geological era in which humanity is the dominant force of global environmental transformation. This new period calls for renewed environmental leadership from Australia. Given Australia's historic role in Antarctica, it is a natural place to redouble these efforts.

In two weeks, international delegates will descend on Hobart to consider proposals to protect the ocean around Antarctica from fishing and climate change. Researchers are calling for greater protection of Antarctica's seas not only because they are inherently valuable, but also because of the vital role they play in the earth system. Just last month, a team of scientists discovered that Antarctic krill plays a central role in the global oceans' capacity for carbon capture. As CO2 levels rise, this research is critical.

Antarctica shows how modern conservation not only needs protected areas but also effective strategies to safeguard them from outside impacts. Fortress conservation is no solution when external pressures are eroding the fortress walls. We are seeing this with the Great Barrier Reef which has experienced devastating bleaching as water temperatures rise. Much the same holds true in Antarctica, as the ice sheets melt and as ocean acidification caused by our CO₂ emissions affects the plankton at the basis of the Antarctic food chain.

Australia rightly sees itself as a leader in Antarctica. Australia lays claim to the largest slice of the continent, and has been a strong voice for protecting the Antarctic environment. Indeed, Australia is behind a proposal for new marine protected areas in East Antarctica. But Australia's voice is often confined to the rarefied rooms and corridors of Antarctic treaty meetings.

Negotiations to protect Antarctic waters have come to a stalemate, with Russia blocking progress. It's time Australia took Antarctic issues globally again, and shook things up in the same way Bob Hawke did so successfully in the 1980s. The truth is that there is no other way to save the last wilderness on earth.

Tim Stephens is a Professor of International Law and a specialist on Antarctica from the Sydney Law School. This article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 October 2016.


Before we begin the proceedings, I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. It is upon their ancestral lands that we gather today.

It is an honour to be asked to launch the SULS 2016 Education Guide. I’m not sure when SULS first began to publish the Education Guide, but it wasn’t something we printed when I was President of SULS, almost 20 years ago. At that time there were few resources prepared by Sydney law students for Sydney law students. SULS publications were fairly limited. We published Headnotes, a very short guide for new students, a weekly (or mostly weekly) newsletter called Hearsay containing scandalous gossip about staff and students and sometimes serious items (like our coverage of the demise of the bell curve), an academic journal, Polemic, that was always years behind schedule (until Ben Saul took it over from Julian Morrow), and Blackacre, the yearbook for the graduating class.

The Law School wasn’t much help either. Course information was very limited, just a paragraph or so in the handbook. And so students were expected to muddle through as best they could. The best resource for finding out how good Ross Anderson was, whether the subject Cricket and the Law was interesting (yes that was a real unit of study), or whether Family Law was too hard, was to hang around the cafeteria on Level 5 of the Old Law School in Philip Street and chat to other students. Remember at this time the internet was only in its infancy (it had just been invented by Al Gore or Malcolm Turnbull – I can never remember who devised it first), and obviously well before social media. Taste Café this most certainly wasn’t, but Level 5 with its bain-maries, ping pong and pool tables did mean that there were plenty of opportunities to share thoughts about the merits and otherwise of the legal education we were getting.

We are in a different world today, but it is striking how valuable a comprehensive, well written, well structured and elegantly designed student publication can still be. The 2016 SULS Education Guide is all of these things. Running to an impressive 100 pages, the Education Guide does four, important, things.

First, it includes a helpful guide on how to get the most out of lectures, seminars and tutorials, how to make notes, sit exams and write assignments. All of this is very useful. Strangely omitted from the advice is to make friends with a prospective University medallist and get hold of her or his notes, or better still go out with them (and even eventually marry them, as I had the good fortune to do). I note that Bill Clinton was giving similar advice at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week when explaining, a little creepily it must be said, how he met Hillary in the Yale Law School Library in 1971.

The second thing that the Education Guide does is to provide a ‘warts and all’ guide to compulsory and elective units. For compulsory units (I believe included in the Education Guide for the first time this year) it is a survival guide for what just has to be endured. For the electives it is a shopping catalogue, so students can forum shop for Private International Law or learn about consumer rights in Competition Law. We all know that unit descriptions tell only a small part of the story of what a subject might contain, how the assessment will work, and how it will be taught. The Education Guide lifts the veil, and not just in Corporations Law, and provides insights from students as to what the unit covers and the best way to approach the subject. There are comments on whether the set texts are helpful, tips on how to do well, and how well the unit has been taught in the past.

On this it is clear that the Editors have taken David Rolph’s Media Law: Defamation and Privacy unit, as the guide refrains from saying anything remotely libellous about me or my colleagues. Where there is criticism it is fair and constructive. This is valuable, and keeps us on our toes. Should the Sydney Law School follow the University of Idaho and introduce Pokemon Go into its curriculum we can rightly expect to be taken to task by students. Or perhaps, as is more likely, we can expect praise for innovative legal pedagogy.

Third, the Education Guide provides information on the off-shore study opportunities that are available through exchanges and units overseas, and how study at the Sydney Law school can be enriched through internships, volunteering and by participation in mooting and other competitions.

Fourth, and finally, the Education Guide looks to the future, to the opportunities for further study at the Sydney Law School and beyond, in the UK, North America and elsewhere. These opportunities are simply astonishing, and it is amazing where a law degree from Sydney can take you. But it can only do so if you are in the know about how to apply, when to apply, how to obtain scholarships and so. It used to be said that the main challenge for obtaining a place at Cambridge was correctly completing the application form that seemed to go on for ever, and to be honest I don’t think much has changed.

So in closing, I extend my congratulations to the Editors for compiling such a helpful and attractive publication. To Emily Shen, Editor in Chief, Meena Mariadassou, SULS VP, the editorial board, the designers Jennifer Jiang and Kieran Hoyle, and of course the sponsor Clayton Utz, well done on producing this fabulous publication.
And finally, and with great pleasure, I formally launch the Education Guide, and I commend it to you.