Penelope Mathew holds the Freilich Foundation Chair. Her primary research interests are international law, human rights law, refugee law and feminist theory.
Prior to her appointment at the Freilich Foundation, Professor Mathew was a visiting professor and interim Director of the Program in Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan Law School, where she convened the 5th Michigan Colloquium on Challenges in International Refugee Law. From 2006 – 2008, she was a legal adviser to the ACT Human Rights Commission, where she conducted the Human Rights audit of the ACT’s Correctional Facilities. Professor Mathew has also taught at ANU College of Law and Melbourne Law School, and she is a past editor-in-chief of the Australian Yearbook of International Law.
Prof. Mathew’s career has been devoted to human rights, particularly the rights of refugees. In 2001, Prof. Mathew advised the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ regional office for Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific concerning the problems with Australian legislation underpinning the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’. She was also a participant in the third expert panel on refugee law organised by UNHCR during 2001 as part of the ‘global consultations’ on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. She has written numerous submissions to parliamentary inquiries, particularly those relating to changes to Australia’s immigration laws and their impact on refugees and asylum-seekers. Her evidence to the Australian Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Committee concerning the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, a bill which sought to extend aspects of the Pacific Solution, was cited extensively by the Committee when it recommended that the bill should not become law. Prof. Mathew has also provided academic opinions to lawyers working on refugee cases before Australian courts, including the test cases for East Timorese asylum-seekers. She is a non-judicial member of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges and a member of its human rights working group. She was one of the faculty members, along with Professor James Hathaway and Rodger Haines QC, for the advanced refugee law workshop organised by the International Association of Refugee Law Judges in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2002. During the 1990s she worked in a variety of capacities with the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Victorian Refugee Advice and Casework Service (now the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre). In 2008, she was presented with an International Women’s Day award by the ACT government for her outstanding contribution to human rights and social justice.