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Tasmanian human rights convenor recognised as University law alumnus of the year


Jessica Nelson
2 October 2018

Former Coffs Harbour florist now Australian Lawyers for Human Rights state convenor for Tasmania Johanna Byrne has been named the School of Law and Justice Alumnus of the Year 2018 at Southern Cross University’s annual awards recognising exceptional achievement and outstanding service.

The Australian University, with campuses in Lismore, Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast on the country’s east coast, welcomed home more than 50 global change makers to the high-anticipated Alumni of the Year Awards and the inaugural ‘Conversations that Matter’ alumni event where Ms Byrne headlined an all-female panel discussing the empowerment of women globally.

The former Coffs Harbour florist battled on in the face of tragedy when her husband passed away unexpectedly in 2014, leaving her a single mother of seven children in the first year of her Southern Cross online law degree.

She went on to become the 2016 National Indigenous Law Student of the Year and secured a coveted graduate position in a top tier firm in Perth, before moving to Launceston earlier this year to in preparation to become a barrister. Ms Byrne was elected the Indigenous co-chair of the Australian lawyers for Human Rights National Committee and later the State Convenor for Tasmania and still makes time to mentor scores of Southern Cross University law students and give guest lectures.

“It is an honour to receive the award, which, to me, an acknowledgement that I am going in the right direction with my career and volunteer work. What I am doing would not have been achieved without the great education and support I received through Southern Cross University’s School of Law and Justice,” Ms Byrne said.

“As a mature age student who studied online I was told by many people I’d never find graduate employment or achieve my goals, but I believe women in every profession need to know what they want and chase their dreams even if they’re knocked back and told they can’t do it, because at the end of the day they can. While it can be hard to juggle family and work, it’s not impossible if you have good time management and good mentors.

“Mentoring is so important. I could not have got through my degree without a mentor. When I moved to Perth I did not know a single person so I started networking and asked Head of WA Bar Peter Quinlan to mentor me. Soon after he became the Solicitor General and then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of WA, so I was very grateful to have his support and help with building a network.

“We moved to Tasmania because I want to become a barrister. It’s the best way to advocate for Indigenous people, as a lot come in contact with the law and need more than legal aid for appeals, with barristers usually costing thousands of dollars per day. I also work on raising awareness and closing the gap in areas where people suffer inequality.”

Southern Cross University has expanded its law program at the Coffs Harbour campus. To complement the Bachelor of Laws, a double degree in law and psychological science in a mixed mode structure with units offered on campus and online is now available. Students can also study a Bachelor of Laws and Creative Writing.