Dr. Kenneth Deakin Rivett (1923-2004), academic, immigration reformer and refugee advocate, was a man of great generosity of spirit. He was a founding member of RCOA and the principal benefactor to the Australian Refugee Foundation. RCOA has held several events to honour his lifetime commitment to refugees and to reform of Australia’s immigration policies.
Ken was born in Melbourne to a family at the heart of the Victorian establishment. His father was Sir David Rivett, professor of chemistry at the University of Melbourne and chief executive and chairman of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. His mother’s father was Alfred Deakin, barrister, journalist and prime minister.
Ken graduated as a bachelor of commerce with honours from the University of Melbourne. He received an MA and a PhD in economics from the same university and was five years there as a lecturer before coming to Sydney, where he took up a position in the Economics Department at the University of NSW. He retired as an associate professor in 1984 and for the rest of his life remained on the university staff as a very active honorary fellow. He will, however, be remembered most for his enduring interest in immigration and in refugees.
All this started with his pivotal involvement in the campaign to abolish the While Australia Policy. Ken was a leading member of the Immigration Reform Group that was formed in 1959 which went on to produce the persuasive pamphlet “Control or Colour Bar?”, later described by Donald Horne as one of the most influential pamphlets in Australian history. The work of the Immigration Reform Group paved the way for the immigration reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the eventual abolition of the White Australia Policy.
The obituary that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald reflected on this period of Ken’s life thus:
Rivett’s role went far beyond writing and editing … In the often passionate arguments in early meetings of the group about how widely Australia should throw open its doors to Asian migrants, he combined a mixture of strong moral commitment to devising genuinely non-racial grounds (with respect to individual applicants) with a hard-headed sense of which arguments would prove persuasive. Throughout shone a scrupulous intellectual honesty which insisted that one should always rebut opponents on the strongest parts of their case and not just rubbish them by slamming the weakest.
While immigration policy remained a life-long interest, the treatment of refugees became a passion. He began with the Indochina Refugee Association and went on to become a founding member of the Refugee Council of Australia, being on the Board until 1991 and being awarded the status of Life Member in 1998. Ken’s passion for justice and intellectual rigour guided and challenged the Refugee Council’s deliberations throughout his close and active association.
When the Australian Refugee Foundation was formed in 1997, Ken became a Trustee. His economic knowledge and insight guided the activities of the foundation in the careful management of the substantial funds under its control and made him a truly valued member of the Board of Trustees.
(Source: 2004-2005 Annual Report, Refugee Council of Australia)
2011 Kenneth Rivett memorial event: Personal Stories from six decades of refugee protection
The following speeches were delivered at a memorial event held during the 2011 Refugee Conference at the University of New South Wales.
Address by Mr Andrew Havas, former refugee from Hungary
Address by Ms Natalie Lobastov, former refugee from Russia
Address by Ms My-Yen Tran, former refugee from Vietnam
Address by Ms Nazifa Ali, former refugee , from Afghanistan
Address by Mr Atem Atem, former refugee from Sudan
2005 Kenneth Rivett orations
In 2005 RCOA, in cooperation with Sydney University Law School, proudly sponsored the inaugural Kenneth Rivett Orations. These were delivered in three cities by one of the world’s leading scholars in Refugee Law, Dr Guy S Goodwin-Gill.
Dr Goodwin-Gill is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He was previously the Professor of International Refugee Law at Oxford, the Professor of Asylum Law at the University of Amsterdam, and worked for over a decade for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is the author of the premier refugee law text, The Refugee in International Law, and was the founding editor of the International Journal of Refugee Law.
Dr Guy Goodwin-Gill delivered a series of thematically linked orations on the topic: International Refugee Protection : A Work in Progress. You can read the orations here.