Paul Murphy: lawyer motivated to creating a more equitable society
Paul Murphy: April 4, 1952 - December 19, 2018.
Paul Murphy is a former IEU staffer. This piece first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Paul Murphy, grandson of an Irish immigrant, grew up in humble circumstances, in the backblocks of Milperra, free to go to sites of visiting circuses but unable to get in because he did not have the money. Throughout his life, he never forgot his origins and devoted himself to industrial law and conditions of employment. The bright boy motivated to creating a more equitable society, he became an outstanding labour lawyer, practised in courts and lectured in Australia and internationally.
His lifelong friend, Narelle Kennedy, said: “Unlike many, Paul lived and acted on his ideals. Without fanfare and not always neatly, Paul worked out what he believed in, what was just and fair, and put in the effort to make it happen - getting more streetwise and skilled as he grew older.”
Employment law specialist
Paul Murphy was born on April 4, 1952, one of four sons of a Maritime Services Board employee, Michael Murphy, and Eileen (nee Smith). He grew up in a fibro house his father had built on a block of land bought post war for 50 pounds on Henry Lawson Drive, then a dirt road.
Murphy and his brothers swam in the Georges River. Michael Murphy supplemented the family income by growing flowers and raising chickens. Young Paul weeded the gardens and sold flowers at Bankstown Hospital, but also showed an early absorbing interest in reading. He went to Benilde Senior High School, a De La Salle college, which he considered a great influence on his future career.
Murphy began an Arts/Dip Ed degree at Macquarie University in 1970, majoring in English, Linguistics and History. Graduating in 1974, he taught English/History at non-government schools. Two years later, he travelled and worked as a Qantas flight attendant. Then he became a senior health education officer with the NSW Department of Health.
Young IEU organiser
Seeing needs within these areas, Murphy became an advocate for the Independent Teachers’ and Flight Stewards’ Associations. Michael Raper, a former colleague and long-standing friend, said: “I met Paul in the late '70s as a young organiser in the Independent Education Union when Paul, having taught for a brief time as I had, got on to the union’s council as a young reformer. We needed knowledge and skills to challenge so much unfairness in the ‘wild west’ of nongovernment schools at the time … so we signed up for a post grad diploma in Labour Law at Sydney Uni. This became the foundation of Paul’s career.”
In 1982, Murphy was awarded a Diploma in Labour Relations and Law from Sydney University. Continuing industrial advocacy and study, he graduated from UTS in 1988 as a Bachelor of Laws, with Honours, receiving the Butterworth Prize for Academic Excellence.
He married a social worker, Pamela Kelly. Their first daughter, Bridget, was born that year. In 1989, Murphy joined a Sydney law firm, Jones Staff & Co, and began lecturing part time at UTS.
Qantas v Christie
He was involved in an internationally significant High Court case, Qantas v Christie which focused on the issue of age discrimination and forced retirement of pilots. He became a board member of the Environmental Defenders’ Office between 1991-1995.
His second daughter, Lucienne, was born in 1992. In 1996, Murphy started his own legal firm, Paul Murphy and Associates, specialising in industrial relations, discrimination and human rights.
In 1999, Murphy was accredited by the NSW Law Society as a specialist in employment and industrial law, and joined its industrial law committee. He sometimes said he would have liked to be a journalist but had not had the right connections or background. But he did write letters and contributed opinion pieces to the .
Narelle Kennedy said: “Paul always had a strong moral compass, a well-developed sense of right and wrong . . . Paul may have been at times exasperated, disgusted or incredulous about world affairs and the venalities of politicians and politics, but he never abandoned the fight and he was never a wrecker.”
In 2008, Murphy became a member of the law society’s Specialist Accreditation Committee for Employment and Industrial Law. He did a Master’s degree in Law at Sydney University and as part of that course he went to Wuhan University in China, where he developed a great interest in Chinese law. He developed a course in postgraduate Chinese (environmental) law.
In 2012, Murphy presented a paper on loss of chance/damages at the Australian Labour Law Association Conference and went on in 2015 to put into effect his theory by successfully sustaining the availability of such a remedy in the NSW Court of Appeal. Murphy greatly broadened remedies available to wrongfully dismissed workers in the general court system.
Justice Michael Walton, then president of the NSW Industrial Commission, said Murphy was “not only a formidable practising lawyer but also someone who could pioneer the development of the law as a means of assisting those in need".
As committee member of LawAsia, Murphy presented several well received papers in the Asian legal community in Hanoi and at Chennai in India. Justice Walton said: “He spoke on many topics and chaired sessions, the most recent being in Tokyo, but became a virtual labour law rock star in Asia by his critique of the western legal authorities protecting post employment restraint clauses in contracts.”
A few weeks before his death, he had an opinion piece published in the on the issue of discrimination by religious schools on the basis of a teacher’s sexuality. Narelle Kennedy said: “Paul made it his business to be informed, to know what’s going on, to test orthodoxies, to have an opinion and to do something about it. He shaped and participated in life’s events—a genuine activist.”
Paul Murphy died on December 19, 2018. A celebration of his life was held at Macquarie Park on January 2. He is survived by Pamela, his two daughters, Bridget and Lucienne, and his two brothers, Anthony and John, and others in an extended family.