Duncan Kerr

The Honourable Justice
Duncan Kerr
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Denison
In office
11 July 1987 (1987-07-11)  19 July 2010 (2010-07-19)
Preceded by Michael Hodgman
Succeeded by Andrew Wilkie
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
1 April 1993 (1993-04-01)  27 April 1993 (1993-04-27)
Preceded by Michael Duffy
Succeeded by Michael Lavarch
Minister for Justice
In office
24 March 1993 (1993-03-24)  11 March 1996 (1996-03-11)
Preceded by Michael Tate
Succeeded by Daryl Williams
Justice of the Federal Court of Australia
Assumed office
10 May 2012 (2012-05-10)
Personal details
Born (1952-02-26) 26 February 1952
Hobart, Tasmania
Nationality Australian
Alma mater University of Tasmania
Occupation Judge
Profession Barrister, Politician, Judge

The Honourable Justice Duncan James Colquhoun Kerr (born 26 February 1952[1]) is a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Kerr was previously a politician, as the Labor member for Denison in the Australian House of Representatives, serving between 1987 and 2010. He was Minister for Justice between 1993 and 1996, and in 1993 briefly also Attorney-General of Australia.

Early life and education

Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Kerr was educated at the University of Tasmania, where at one stage he was President of the Tasmania University Union. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree, and later with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work.



Kerr was the Labor candidate in the Division of Braddon in the Australian federal election, 1977, losing to future Premier of Tasmania Ray Groom. In the Australian federal election in 1987, Kerr defeated the sitting Liberal member, Michael Hodgman QC, for the Hobart-based seat of Denison to become the first Labor member elected from Tasmania since the defeat of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

Kerr served in the Australian House of Representatives as Member for Denison from 11 July 1987 to 19 July 2010. Prior to entering politics, Kerr acted as Crown Counsel in the Tasmanian Solicitor-General's Department, as lecturer in constitutional law and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Papua New Guinea, and as Principal Solicitor for the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service.

Kerr served as Minister for Justice from 1993 to 1996, and briefly also as Attorney-General in 1993. Prime Minister Paul Keating's original choice for Attorney-General in 1993 had been Michael Lavarch, but Lavarch's re-election was delayed by the death of an opposing candidate for the seat of Dickson; Kerr held the portfolio in the interim until Lavarch won the resulting supplementary election. Kerr served as Attorney-General for 26 days.

Kerr was a member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry from 1996 to 2001. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs in the Rudd Ministry in 2007.

Prior to his appointment to the First Rudd Ministry, Kerr was Co-Convenor of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, a cross-party group that advocates harm minimisation as being more effective, more cost-efficient and less harmful than zero-tolerance when it comes to dealing with drug use.

On 14 December 2009 Kerr resigned his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and indicated he intended to return to legal practice. Kerr retired from politics at the 2010 election.[2] Upon Kerr's retirement, the previously-safe Labor seat of Denison was won by Andrew Wilkie, an independent.


Kerr is the author of Annotated Constitution of Papua New Guinea (1985), Essays on the Constitution (1985), Reinventing Socialism (1992) and Elect the Ambassador; Building Democracy in a Globalised World (2001).

Kerr was leading counsel in the High Court case Plaintiff S157 v The Commonwealth. This important case, concerning the implications of a privative clause in the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), has been described as one of the most far-reaching and influential of the High Court's decisions on constitutional matters in the past 100 years.[3]

Kerr was appointed a Senior Counsel in 2004, and as Adjunct Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology in 2007. Kerr has acted as counsel in the High Court of Australia, Federal Court of Australia, Family Court of Australia, Supreme Court of Tasmania, District Court of New South Wales, Supreme Court of New South Wales, and the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea.

In 2010, Kerr became a founding member of Michael Kirby Chambers in Hobart where he practised as a barrister specialising in public law, constitutional and administrative law, refugee and human rights law and appellate work.

On 12 April 2012 he was appointed to the Federal Court of Australia, taking his seat on the bench on 10 May 2012. Concurrently with his judicial duties, he serves as President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He is one of six former federal politicians to have served on the Federal Court, along with Robert Ellicott, Nigel Bowen, Tony Whitlam, Merv Everett and John Reeves.


On 23 August 2011 Kerr was conferred with the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the Ambassador of France, his Excellency M. Michel Filhol for defending values dear to France and for his role as Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs in enhancing friendly ties between Australia and France.[4]


  1. "The Hon Duncan Kerr SC, MP". Senators and Members. Parliament of Australia. 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  2. Duncan Kerr to retire from politics: The Australian 10/9/2009
  3. Crispin Hull, Canberra Times, High Court Centenary Issue
  4. Embassy of France in Canberra
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Tate
Minister for Justice
Succeeded by
Daryl Williams
Preceded by
Michael Duffy
Attorney-General of Australia
Succeeded by
Michael Lavarch
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Michael Hodgman
Member for Denison
Succeeded by
Andrew Wilkie
Legal offices
Preceded by
Judge of the Federal Court of Australia
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