The Evatt Foundation was established in 1979 as a memorial to Dr Herbert Vere Evatt with the aim of advancing the highest ideals of the labour movement: social justice, equality, democracy and human rights. The Foundation seeks to do this through research, publications, conferences, seminars, public discussion and debate.
A BRILLIANT AND CONTROVERSIAL CHARACTER
Dr Herbert Vere Evatt (1894-1965) realised many of the labour movement's highest ideals, as a scholar, lawyer, High Court Judge, and the Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) in the Curtin and Chifley governments, and as the Leader of the Opposition during the 1950s. He was one of the great innovators of the labour movement, influencing Australian public policy and society to this day. His achievements and uncompromising stand for just principles in public life will always be remembered.
Dr Evatt initiated Australia's first independent foreign policy and became widely recognised around the world as a supporter of the right of the smaller nations to peaceful development and equality.
As leader of the Australian delegation to the meeting that founded the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945, he took the step of including a woman in the delegation. The woman was Jessie Street. This was a brave move for a political leader in those days, when women in politics were not highly regarded by most male politicians.
At the San Francisco Conference, Dr Evatt spoke to the Great Powers on behalf of the other nations of the world with a voice that commanded universal respect. After three months of diplomatic struggle, the Charter of the United Nations was adopted; a Charter that had become more humane and larger in scope, now containing provisions for the poor, the weak and the oppressed, provisions that had never been envisaged by the Great Powers.
Alan Renouf characterised Evatt's performance as:
"of virtuoso quality: for sheer brilliance in an international forum there is nothing in Australia's diplomatic annals to surpass it. For the public, he was one of the outstanding personalities (newspaper representatives voted Harold Stassen of the United States and Evatt as the most impressive delegates). Abroad, he was loaded with praise ... The reputation Evatt won for himself as the voice of Australia long endured in the United Nations. It brought great credit to his country; more than any other national leader, Evatt made Australia known universally and made it known as a country of courage, responsibility and liberalism ... Deprived throughout the war of the say to which Evatt thought Australia was entitled, he had his reward at San Francisco, where Australia was heard as never before. What was of more lasting value was that when it was heard, it had something worthwhile to say."
In 1948 Dr Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the only Australian to have ever held the position. He presided over the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone of human rights protection throughout the modern world. "It was the first occasion on which the organised community of nations had made a declaration of human rights and fundamental freedoms", Evatt reflected, "millions of people, men, women and children all over the world would turn to it for help, guidance and inspiration."
After Labor lost office in 1949, the Doc's fights for freedom continued. Against all odds, in 1950 he contested the Communist Party Dissolution Act introduced by the Menzies government in the High Court and won, saving Australia from a serious blot on its democracy.
Doc Evatt and his wife Mary Alice were also great patrons of the arts and gave encouragement to struggling young Australian artists, including Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan, purchasing many of their paintings and drawings and donating them to galleries and local councils around the country.
Faith Bandler, the leader of the 1967 referendum that formally recognised Indigenous Australians and one of Dr Evatt's greatest admirers, paid tribute in a speech to the inaugural meeting of the Foundation in 1979:
"Dr Evatt fought for the oppressed, he fought for our political rights and civil liberties, our freedom of thought and action. We would not find it possible to be as outspoken today as we are if Dr Evatt had not fought for us as a judge, as a politician and as an Australian."
For more information, visit the Evatt Collection at the Flinders University of South Australia.
Over the years, the Foundation has been located in the Chief Secretary's Building (Macquarie Street, Sydney), the New South Wales Labour Council building, on the campus of the University of New South Wales, and in the Sydney Trades Hall. In keeping with its origins, and Dr Evatt's own career as a brilliant student, the Foundation has been affiliated with the University of Sydney since 2007.
Over the past 41 years, the Evatt Foundation has established a prominent public profile through its education program of seminars, conferences and publications. A major reason for the Foundation's success has been the support of its loyal membership base. The guiding hand of the institution's policy direction and management has always been the Executive Committee. A booklet commemorating the 40th anniversary is available as a free download.
41 YEARS OF PUBLIC ACTIVISM
The Evatt Foundation was established in 1979 as a memorial to Dr Herbert Vere Evatt with the aim of advancing the highest ideals of the labour movement: equality, democracy, social justice and human rights. For 41 years, the Foundation has been helping to promote these ideals through research, publications, public discussion and debate.
The Evatt Foundation was launched in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney on 27 September 1979. Before a large audience of supporters. inspirational speeches were made by (in order): Sir Richard Kirby, the inaugural President of the Evatt Foundation, Sir Zelman Cowen, Governor-General of Australia, Neville Wran, QC MP, Premier of New South Wales, Bill Hayden, MP, Leader of the Federal Labor Party, Hal Missingham, former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Bob Hawke, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and Faith Bandler, leader of the successful campaign to remove discriminatory provisions of the Constitution in the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal Australians. The vote of thanks was moved by Gough Whitlam, AC QC, former Prime Minister of Australia.
To encourage the Foundation to pursue its objectives, major grants were awarded by the New South Wales Government, the Tasmanian Government and other public and private bodies, including trade unions and business enterprises. From 1984 to 1999 the Foundation received an annual grant from the Commonwealth Government and was managed by a full-time executive director. Since 1999, the chief executive role has been undertaken by an executive member in an honorary capacity. From inception, the position — known as executive director or secretary — has been filled with distinction by Tjerk Dusseldorp, John Scott-Murphy, Peter Botsman, John Freeland, Jeannette McHugh, Chris Gambian, Monika Wheeler, Anna York, Eamon Waterford, Erin Watt and Clara Edwards.
The Evatt Foundation is dedicated to upholding the highest ideals of the labour movement by promoting:
research and discussion of public issues, including international issues;
awareness of social, political and economic aspects of Australian life;
academic and applied research for trade unions, the labour movement and other community organisations;
education and vocational training;
young artists in Australia.
Elizabeth Evatt AC, was Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia, 1976 to 1988, and President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, 1988 to 1993.
From 1984 to 1992 she was a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination; she chaired the Committee from 1989-1991.
From 1993 to 2000 she was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee. She was a Judge of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal from 1998 to 2006, and a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists from 2003 to 2018.
She was Chancellor of the University of Newcastle from 1988 to 1994. Currently she is a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee of the NSW Corrective Services Commission, and a board member of Sisterhood is Global.
Jeannette McHugh was a Member (Australian Labor Party) of the House of Representatives in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1983 to 1996. The first woman elected to the Parliament from New South Wales, McHugh represented the electorate of Phillip (1983-93) and — after that division was abolished in a redistribution — the electorate of Grayndler (1993-96). Her greatest victory was in the 1990 election, which secured Labor's fourth consecutive term of government under the leadership of Bob Hawke. In the context of a national swing away from Labor, Jeannette increased her winning margin with the strong support of the trade union movement in a contest against the high-profile candidate from the Liberal Party, Charles Copeman, the reactionary employer in the bitter Robe River dispute of 1986.