Professor Loane Skene

Following is Cameron Stewart's 'epideictic oratory' on the occasion of awarding Life Membership to Loane Skene. The award was made at the Conference Dinner, at the 2013 AABHL Conference in Sydney.


Dear Friends

Back in 2009 when Mal and I were working on the amalgamation one of the ideas we had was to offer life memberships to people who had made an extraordinary contribution to the ABA, ANZIHLE and now AABHL. In the last 12 months the committee of AABHL, especially the never failing and inexhaustible Jean Murray, worked on making this idea a reality. Tonight is the night when we appoint our first life member.

This person graduated from Melbourne Law School in 1969 and took out the Anna Brennan Memorial Prize for the best female honours student. She started her legal career at Whiting and Byrne and later worked in the UK and then in Nova Scotia setting the trend for what would be a very international career with friends dotted around the globe.

After returning to Australia she took up a position at the Victorian Law Reform Commission and worked there for 10 years proving her effectiveness, being seconded to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and also being invited to be a sessional lecturer back at her alma mater. During this time she stamped her name onto the medical law field with her book You, Your Doctor and the Law.

The Melbourne Law School is known for quickly snatching up great talent and it wasn’t long before she was made a Senior Lecturer at the School and the academic career began in earnest. She eventually rose to the heights of university management being Vice-President and then President of the Melbourne University Academic Board and Chair of Undergraduate Studies.

Our life member took part in the early life of AIHLE, later ANZHILE and became its president in 1999 until 2003. Under her leadership the organisation flourished and grew exponentially. It was around this time that she started to work closely with a younger Julian Savulescu and, helping her as ANZIHLE secretary, was an even younger Ainsley Newson, an undergraduate law student (I wonder what happened to her?).

Our life member has had an indelible impact on the emergence of our field and she continues to dominate its metes and bounds. Her most recent text Law and Medical Practice and its several iterations is a classic gold standard from which all other medical law texts take their mark. She has touched on so many areas – informed consent, reproductive regulation, abortion law, end-of-life, professional regulation – that it is impossible to asses her impact on the field. She made the field. She marked out the boundaries, laid the turf and put up the fences.

Our life member also has contributed greatly to the public debate engaging the public at the hard end of bioethics and law. Here is a short and incomplete list:

-          Baby M coronial inquest, Australia’s first consideration of neonatal death management;

-          Speaking out for justice against Senator McGauran’s behaviour in the Victorian late term abortion saga;

-          Working alongside Justice Lockhart and Ian Kerridge in the Lockhart Inquiry and serving on the later Heerey Committee in 2011;

Our life member was rightly named amongst the Australian Financial Review’s most powerful cultural figures in Australia.

Her enormous academic achievements are outmatched by a generosity of spirit and collegiality. Our life member has helped innumerable students, postgrads and young academics go further and deeper into their studies, always supporting them and encouraging them. She always makes time and her approach is marked by an openness and love for inquiry that is infectious and fun. She knows that the great joy in life is asking questions.

I remember fondly my first ever academic paper presentation as an associate lecturer from Campbelltown. I’d travelled to Melbourne in a borrowed suit looking like something that had crawled out of a hollow log. I spoke about the role of administrative law in healthcare and quickly anaesthetised the entire audience into a stupor. But as soon as the session was over this incredibly dynamic woman took my arm and began drilling me for more information, showing an interest in my paper that was not entirely human (or sane). I’d never heard such encouragement before from any peer. I had made a great friend for life.

I have no doubt that many in this room have their own stories and tonight I invite you all to tell them. AABHL is an association of scholars but it has always been (I think more importantly) an association of friends. I think this is largely due to the impact of our inaugural life member on an entire generation of scholarship in Australia and New Zealand.

Ladies and gentlemen, the AABHL inaugural life member is Professor Loane Skene.