Professor Patrick Parkinson AM has been teaching, researching and contributing to public policy in family law and child protection for more than 30 years. He is calling for urgent reform to the family law system to tackle the more litigious members of the legal profession, especially in Sydney.
Professor Patrick Parkinson, AM, has a room with a view in the Sydney Law School’s futuristic new building. It overlooks the green expanse of Victoria Park, which borders the University of Sydney. Perhaps it reminds him of the green fields around the University of Oxford where he gained a law degree with first-class honours.
Parkinson went on to study a master of laws at the University of Illinois, where he also taught, and developed an enduring interest in international family law. He is the immediate past president of the International Society of Family Law and was a member of the Expert Group on Family Policy Development convened by the United Nations in New York in 2015. This international perspective underpins his views on the wellbeing of children, as does his faith –he entered Oxford with a plan to become an Anglican minister before turning his mind to the law.
Parkinson is deeply committed to the role of the academic lawyer in the development of public policy, especially in the neglected field of child protection. His work influences the education of law students in Australia. His recent books include Australian Family Law in Context: Commentary and Materials, 6th edition, 2015; Tradition and Change in Australian Law, 5th edition, 2013, and The Voice of a Child in Family Law Disputes, 2008, which he co-wrote with Professor Judy Cashmore, a highly regarded researcher in child protection and psychology.
“I believe it is part of the role of academics to be able to speak to the public about what is going on and to speak simply,” Parkinson says as we meet in his office, which is piled high with books and articles.
Parkinson is a former chairman of the Family Law Council, an advisory body to the federal Attorney-General. He chaired a review of the Child Support Scheme in 2004, leading to major legislative reforms. He is currently chairman of the Families and Children Activity Expert Panel, advising the Australian Government on evidence-based services for families and children. He is special counsel at Watts McCray Lawyers, a leading family law firm, working one day a week with his own clients and providing advice and running seminars for the solicitors.
His work is telling him one thing: Australian families are in trouble and, as a consequence, Australian children are in trouble. Big trouble.