Frank Brennan (priest)

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Frank Brennan

Frank Tenison Brennan

(1954-03-06) 6 March 1954 (age 67)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
OccupationPriest, lawyer, academic
Known forHuman rights activism
Parent(s)Gerard Brennan
Patricia O'Hara

Frank Tenison Brennan SJ AO (born 6 March 1954) is an Australian Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic. He is known for his 1998 involvement in the Wik debate when Paul Keating called him "the meddling priest" and the National Trust classified him as a Living National Treasure. Brennan has a longstanding reputation of advocacy in the areas of law, social justice, refugee protection, Aboriginal reconciliation and human rights activism.

Early life and education[edit]

Brennan is the first born son of Sir Gerard Brennan, a former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and Patricia O'Hara, an anaesthestist.

Brennan is a fourth generation Australian. He is of Irish descent on both sides of his family and has German ancestry from his paternal grandmother.

Brennan studied at Downlands College in Toowoomba, and at the University of Queensland where he graduated with honours in arts and law. He then studied at the Melbourne College of Divinity, where he graduated, again with honours, in divinity. He was awarded a Master of Laws in 1981 as a result of further study at the University of Melbourne, where he resided at Newman College.


Brennan's contact and involvement with Aboriginal Australians began early in his priestly ministry. In 1975 he worked in the inner Sydney parish of Redfern with priest activist Fr Ted Kennedy, where he also met and worked with Mum (Shirl) Smith among others who were founding indigenous Australian legal, health and political initiatives.

In 1997, he was Rapporteur at the Australian Reconciliation Convention and the following year he was appointed an Ambassador for Reconciliation by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. On 10 December 2008 he was appointed as the chairperson to the Australian Government's National Human Rights Consultation Committee.[1] In 2009 this independent committee consulted with the Australian community about the protection and promotion of human rights. On 30 September 2009, it reported its recommendations to the Attorney General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP.

Brennan is a professor of law in the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University,[1] a visiting professorial fellow at the University of New South Wales and served as the founding director of the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre in Sydney from 2001 to 2007.[2][3] In 2005, he returned to Australia from a fellowship at Boston College.[4]

During 2011, Brennan was critical of the refugee policies of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, saying that she has led the Labor Party into moral decline and that the Malaysia Solution is morally derelict and tantamount to "offshore dumping".[5]

On 15 August 2017 Brennan stated that if the law was changed to require clergy to report child sexual abuse learned of during confessionals he would consider breaking it. Brennan told ABC Radio National that "I as a Catholic priest would have to make a decision, whether in conscience, I could apply with such a law". He also claimed that "I think it would make children more vulnerable and not less".[6]

During the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, Brennan dissented from traditional Catholic teaching, telling the media he would vote yes and stating that "We've got to factor that in to the common good argument about what's necessary." He stated that, while in the context of Catholic marriage he would continue to uphold marriage as being between a man and a woman, he considered the issue of civil marriage to be separate.[7] Following the survey, Brennan was appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to serve on a Philip Ruddock-led review into religious freedoms.[8]

In November 2019, it was announced that Brennan would be one of 20 members of the Senior Advisory Group to help co-design the Indigenous voice to government set up by Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians. The Group is co-chaired by Wyatt, Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.[9]


In 1995 Brennan was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in recognition of service to Aboriginal Australians, particularly as an advocate in the areas of law, social justice and reconciliation.[10] In 1996, Brennan was jointly awarded with Pat Dodson the inaugural Australian Council For Overseas Aid Human Rights Award. In 1998 he was named a Living National Treasure during his involvement in the Wik debate.[2] In 2002, Brennan was awarded the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal for his work as Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor.[11]

Brennan has been awarded, honoris causa, a Doctor of the University from the Queensland University of Technology and a Doctor of Laws from the University of New South Wales.[12]


  • Brennan, Frank (1983). Too much order with too little law. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
  • — (1991). Sharing the country. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin.
  • Brennan, Frank, ed. (1992). Reconciling our differences: a Christian approach to recognising Aboriginal Land Rights. Richmond, Victoria: Aurora Books / David Lovell Publishing. p. 117. ISBN 1-86355-030-5.
  • Land rights Queensland style: the struggle for Aboriginal self-management. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. 1992. p. 182. ISBN 0-7022-2407-3.
  • One land, one nation: Mabo: towards 2001. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. 1995. p. 236. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  • Legislating Liberty: a bill of rights for Australia? A provocative and timely proposal to balance the public good with individual freedom. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. 1998. p. 201. ISBN 0-7022-3011-1.
  • The Wik debate: its impact on Aborigines, pastoralists and miners. Sydney: UNSW Press. 1998. pp. 93. ISBN 0-86840-409-8.
  • Tampering with Asylum: a universal humanitarian problem (paperback). St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. 2003. p. 234. ISBN 0-7022-3416-8.
  • — (2007). Acting on conscience : how can we responsibly mix law, religion and politics?. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. Winner of the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Award.
  • — (2015). Amplifying that still, small voice : a collection of essays. Adelaide: ATF Theology.
  • No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia. St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. 2015. ISBN 9780702253324.
  • — (13 November 2016). "Five reasons to welcome US Manus deal". Australia. Eureka Street.


  1. ^ a b Hughes, Christopher J. (13 September 2011). "Few surprises for new University president". Go Lackawanna. United States: The Times Leader. Retrieved 16 October 2011.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b "Who's Who: Father Frank Brennan AO - Chair". National Human Rights Consultation. Commonwealth of Australia. 2010. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  3. ^ "Profiles: Frank Brennan SJ AO". Jesuit Social Justice Centre. 2006. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  4. ^ "Father Frank Brennan". Archived from the original on 29 November 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  5. ^ Massola, James (27 September 2011). "Jesuit priest Frank Brennan says Julia Gillard has led Labor into 'moral decline'". The Australian. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Why an archbishop and a priest wouldn't report a confession to police". ABC News. Australia. 15 August 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  7. ^ Koziol, Michael (1 September 2017). "Legalise same-sex marriage for the 'common good', says Catholic priest Frank Brennan". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  8. ^ Koziol, Michael (2 January 2018). "Public submissions to Philip Ruddock's review of religious freedom to be kept secret". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Voice Co-Design Senior Advisory Group". Ministers Media Centre. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Search Australian Honours: Brennan, Frank Tenison". It's an Honour. Commonwealth of Australia. 12 June 1995. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Search Australian Honours: Brennan, Frank Tenison". It's an Honour. Commonwealth of Australia. 12 February 2002. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  12. ^ Citation for D.Ll. honoris causa at University of New South Wales Archived 24 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine

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