Woman Tay, Alice Erh-Soon (1934 - 2004)

Academic, Human rights activist and Lawyer

Written by Alexandra Dellios, The University of Melbourne

Alice Erh-Soon Tay was born in Singapore in 1934. She practiced as a criminal lawyer before completing her PhD in Soviet Russia, and then arriving in Australia in the 1960s to take up a position at the Australian National University. Among the highlights of Tay's distinguished career as an academic lawyer at the University of Sydney, was her appointment as president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), a position she occupied from 1998 to 2003. This was a seminal time for human rights challenges in Australia, including the MV Tampa affair and violations to the rights of asylum seekers, and especially children, in detention. She was steadfast in her defense of human rights and the rule of law.

Tay was also active in fostering international human rights through her involvement with the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue. She strongly believed in the contribution to public life of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, often linking these ideas to human rights discourses. In her speech to the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia in 1998, she stated, 'there is a pressing need for action if all Australian women are to be treated justly and receive the services to which they have a right' (Tay, 1998). She was also director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at Sydney University from 1993 to 1998, and organised legal training courses in China and Vietnam. Tay died in 2004.

Published Resources


  • Doeker-Mach, Gunther and Ziegert, Klaus A, Alice Erh-Soon Tay: Lawyer, Scholar, Civil Servant, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • Leech, Graeme, 'Outspoken Champion of Human Rights', The Australian, 12 May 2004, p. 26. Details
  • Sheehan, Paul, 'Huge Intellect Not Afraid to Go Into Battle', The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2004, p. 33. Details


  • Tay, Alice, Contributions to Australia by Women from Diverse Cultures, Speech delivered at the FECCA National Conference, 22 November 1998, 22 November 1998. Details

Online Resources

See also