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Southern Cross University has 81-year-old taking on the law


1 August 2005
Learning never stops. Just ask Lismore's Bill McCaughey, 81 this month, who has completed a stint studying law with Southern Cross University.

Mr McCaughey successfully completed the subject Veterans' Law. He will be presented with a Certificate of Completion by the Head of the School of Law and Justice Professor Stanley Yeo and senior lecturer Richard Harris at a presentation on August 2.

For the past 14 years, Mr McCaughey has been heavily involved in volunteer work as a pension officer for the RSL.

He undertakes preliminary research, on behalf of war veterans, their families and war widows for their claims to compensation or a pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Evidence is then handed over to Legal Aid in Sydney for presentation to the Department. He also assists civilian aged pensioners with advice for Centrelink claims.

"I became interested in how the claims I dealt with actually fitted with Veterans' law, which is an established body of law. So studying case histories has been critical" Mr McCaughey said.

"I liked the realism of looking at past cases, they were really like a light on the hill. Law is one thing but to understand how it applies is important. It opened a door for me, a way of thinking."

The Veterans' Law short course at SCU is a partnership between the university and the Veterans' Review Board (VRB). Canberra-based executive officer of the VRB and the foremost expert in veterans' entitlement law in Australia is Bruce Topperwein, also the lecturer for the program.

The subject Mr McCaughey completed is one of four subjects making up the SCU Veterans' Law Short Course which commenced five years ago following the suggestion of a law graduate, also a Vietnam veteran, who foresaw the need for such specialist knowledge.

The Veterans' Law Short Course at SCU is the only university veterans' law course in Australia, and one of only two in the world with the other at the Columbus University in Washington DC.

Head of the School of Law and Justice Professor Stanley Yeo said Mr McCaughey's decision to take on and complete tertiary studies in law in his retirement years was admirable.

"He selected a subject with special personal relevance. It matched and furthered his interests and life experiences. Completing the unit is a real accomplishment," he said.

"We feel it's important to offer, as well as degrees, programs ranging from a single subject, such as the unit Bill studied, to short courses and associate degrees. So we have a variety of programs covering areas of life and work from a legal perspective."

Mr McCaughey grew up in Lismore, and spent two years with the RAAF during the Second World War training service personnel in Sydney. He later studied at night school and commenced a long career as an accountant with the office of the Post Master General. Poor health at the time forced retirement, and he moved back to Lismore 27 years ago.

Mr McCaughey is a keen landscape painter. He has been a J.P. since 1955 and served on the Lismore Base Hospital Board for 18 years from the late 1970s. His community work was recognised in 1999 with a Commonwealth Recognition Award for Senior Australians. He certainly rises to challenges coming through a quadruple heart bypass operation two years ago.

The School of Law and Justice at SCU offers short course programs, with most available either internally or externally, covering veterans' law, dispute resolution, criminal justice, conveyancing, legal research and information technology.

Media opportunity: Media are invited to attend the Certificate presentation to Mr McCaughey. It is at the SCU Lismore campus School of Law and Justice boardroom, level 2, L-block, on August 2 at 10.30am.Media contact: Kate Benecke, SCU Media Liaison, 6620 3144.