About John Greenwell

Between 1954 and 1970, John Greenwell practised as a barrister specialising in commercial and administrative law. In March 1963 he became President of the Victorian Section of Amnesty International, the first Section of Amnesty established in Australia.

In 1970 he joined the Australian Government and, in 1971, was in charge of the constitutional and legal areas in the government for Australia’s external territories territories including Papua New Guinea, which was then in the process of acquiring self-government and moving to independence. In 1974 he became Director of the Papua New Guinea Office which was the body responsible for advising the Minister charged with bringing Papua New Guinea to Independence.

In 1975 he joined the Commonwealth Attorney Generals Department and thereafter was in charge of the Business Affairs Division and at various times in charge of the intellectual property law, international trade and international business law (involving international negotiations on the problems of extraterritoriality) and subsequently for twelve months was in charge of Family Law.

In 1987 he was appointed Deputy President of the Australian Law Reform Commission for five years during which he was a member of the Commission on various references, including Product Liability, and was in charge of an inquiry into the Customs Act.

John has been retired since 1992. He resides in Canberra, Australia with his wife Jill.

Published on December 24, 2009 at 11:48 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] John Greenwell (Director of the Papua New Guinea Office in 1974 – the office which was the body responsible for advising the Minister charged with bringing Papua New Guinea to Independence) has written a well-constructed argument on the K64 million question: […]

  2. Dear Mr Greenwell

    I am in enrolling in the LLM by research at Monash University under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Guy Powles.

    The working title of my thesis is ‘The western legal response to sorcery in colonial Papua and New Guinea”. My interest is in how at a societal level the rational and irrational interact, and particularly how the purportedly rational legal systems of the west dealt with Pacific colonies in which belief in witchcraft and sorcery was a given.

    As part of the enrolment process, I am gauging how much material is available for research. I note that some of your duoments are held by the NAA, and I was hoping you might be in a position to share with me your experience of the administration of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, particularly as this coincides with the passage of the Sorcery Act 1971.

    If you are available and interested, I would be very grateful for your assistance. Although I live in Sydney, I am more than wiling to travel to Canberra.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Mel Keenan

    • Dear Mel,

      I was very interested in your inquiry and have thought
      about how I could be of help. I was not involved in connection with the sorcery legislation and its relationship to custom and
      Western legalism during my government work. But it is, indeed, a very important and interesting topic. My Division covered constitutional development and the land legislation etc. I was personally and directly involved in Village Justices and the Torres Strait issue.

      I would be very happy to meet with you and share my experiences and reflections on the relationship of Western law and PNG custom. I should emphasise that I was not involved with the sorcery act and so wouldn’t be much help in that regard. If you were to come to Canberra, I could try to arrange to introduce you to Bill Standish, a friend, who has had a very long standing engagement with PNG. He might be able to help.

      As it happens I am about to go to PNG for a few weeks (for the first time in nearly 40 years). I will chat to my son Harry who has worked with the PNG government for some years, for some suggestions about your field of inquiry.

      Best wishes,


  3. John, I am not really à jour with how to blog. I just was wondering if your Mother’s name was Babs? I was (am) Meredith Hampshire Stanbury, the grand-daughter of Phyllis (Walina) Bridgeford (née Frederico). I live in Brussels. If you are the wrong John, I apologise. Best regqards, Meredith

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