William Deane

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Sir William Deane

William Deane official portrait.jpg
22nd Governor-General of Australia
In office
16 February 1996 – 29 June 2001
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime MinisterPaul Keating
John Howard
Preceded byBill Hayden
Succeeded byPeter Hollingworth
Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office
25 June 1982 – 11 November 1995
Nominated byMalcolm Fraser
Preceded byNinian Stephen
Succeeded byMichael Kirby
Personal details
Born (1931-01-04) 4 January 1931 (age 88)
St Kilda, Victoria, Australia
Spouse(s)Helen Russell
Alma materUniversity of Sydney

Sir William Patrick Deane AC, KBE, QC (born 4 January 1931) is a former Australian lawyer and judge who served as the 22nd Governor-General of Australia, in office from 1996 to 2001. He was previously a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1982 to 1995.

Deane received his undergraduate education at the University of Sydney, and later studied international law at the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. Prior to joining the judiciary, Deane worked for periods as a barrister and university lecturer. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1977, and later that year was also appointed to the Federal Court of Australia. Deane was elevated to the High Court in 1982, and during his tenure was generally considered to fall on the court's progressive side. He retired from the court in 1995, and the following year was appointed governor-general on the recommendation of Paul Keating. Deane had a low profile during his five-year term, facing no major constitutional issues, but did come to international notice by officially opening the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Early life[edit]

William Deane was born in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. He was educated at Catholic schools, including St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated in arts and law. He also attended the Hague Academy of International Law.

After graduation, Deane worked in the federal Attorney-General's Department in Canberra and at the law firm Minter Simpson (later to become Minter Ellison). He also travelled to Europe to study international law. He was called to the Sydney Bar in 1957 and also lectured in law at university.

During this time, Deane was active in the Catholic community and showed an interest in politics. In 1955 he briefly became a member of the Democratic Labor Party, a predominantly Catholic and anti-Communist breakaway from the Australian Labor Party. He soon became disillusioned with the party and played no further part in active politics, but he was strongly influenced by progressive Catholic doctrines of social justice and of opposition to racial discrimination.

Judicial career[edit]

In 1977 Deane was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and, in the same year, he was appointed to the Federal Court of Australia and as President of the Australian Trade Practices Tribunal. In June 1982 he was appointed to the High Court of Australia, replacing Sir Ninian Stephen on his appointment as Governor-General. He received a knighthood in August 1982.[1] On the court he formed part of the majority which recognised native title in the landmark Mabo case of 1992.


Deane at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney.

In August 1995, the Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, announced that the Queen of Australia had agreed to the appointment of Deane as Governor-General to succeed Bill Hayden. Deane retired from the High Court in November and was sworn in as Governor-General on 16 February 1996.[2] Less than a month later the Liberal/National coalition led by John Howard defeated Keating's government in the 1996 Australian federal election.

Deane was Australia's first Catholic governor-general. He "represented the Catholic social justice position on just about every issue that came forward".[3]

Deane's term of office was due to expire on 31 December 2000 but was extended on the recommendation of the Howard Government until the middle of 2001 to enable him to be Governor-General at the time of the Centenary of Federation celebrations.[citation needed]


Deane officially opened the 2000 Summer Olympics, giving a brief speech in front of a crowd of 110,000 people at the Sydney Olympic Stadium. Prime Minister John Howard had originally planned to open the games himself, with the agreement of the organising committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, in November 1999 he changed his mind and advised the IOC that Deane would be opening the games. Howard said this was due to "a concern that my opening the Olympic Games would become a party political issue [...] I think in the long run it'll be better for the Olympic Games for the Governor-General to open them because we will be removing that one area of political controversy". Members of the opposition Labor Party had advocated that the Queen be asked to perform the honours, arguing that it was hypocritical for Howard to support the retention of the monarchy at the 1999 republic referendum but not call upon the Queen to represent Australia.[4][5]

Later years[edit]

Deane in 2011, at the unveiling of an artwork in Canberra

As of 2014 Deane acts as Patron or co-Patron of a large number of charitable organizations working for the disadvantaged, including Matthew Talbot Homeless Services, Father Chris Riley's Youth off the Streets, the Starlight Foundation, the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation and Home in Queanbeyan. He is also a Patron of Reconciliation Australia and of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association. The A.C.T. Government appointed him as Patron of the National Capital's 2013 Centenary Celebrations. He is a former Patron and Chair of international aid-organization CARE Australia and a member of its advisory board.


Deane was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 10 August 1982, a few weeks after being appointed to the High Court.[1] On Australia Day 1988, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). He is also a Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great and a Knight of the Venerable Order of St. John.[6]

In 2001, Deane was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize "for his consistent support of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians and his strong commitment to the cause of reconciliation".[7]


  1. ^ a b It's an Honour: KBE
  2. ^ Racism. No Way.: Fact Sheets: The Honourable Sir William Deane AC KBE
  3. ^ "Hollingworth Agonistes I (transcript)". Radio National. 27 February 2002. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  4. ^ PM agrees to allow GG to open the Olympics, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11 November 1999
  5. ^ Howard explains Olympics backflip, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11 November 1999
  6. ^ It's an Honour: AC
  7. ^ "2001 Sir William Deane AC KBE". sydneypeacefoundation.org. Sydney Peace Foundation. 2001. Retrieved 31 December 2014.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Bill Hayden
Governor-General of Australia
Succeeded by
Peter Hollingworth