Woman Rubenstein, Kim (1965 - )

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Legal academic and Legal practitioner

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Kim Rubenstein (pronounced Ruben-steen), a leading legal academic and practitioner, is currently Professor and Director of the Centre for International and Public Law at the Australian National University, a position she has held since 2006. In addition she was the inaugural Convenor (2011-2012) of the ANU Gender Institute. She is Australia's citizenship law expert and was one of the early instigators of feminist scholarly approaches to Australian constitutional law.

Rubenstein was born in Melbourne in 1965, the elder of two daughters of Susan Ruby Rubenstein and Leigh John Rubenstein. She began her school life at Mount Scopus College, and in 1974 moved to Presbyterian Ladies' College where she completed her Higher School Certificate in 1982. She was elected by her peers as School Captain under the Principal Joan Montgomery OBE AM. The relationship was of great influence and Rubenstein is currently writing Montgomery's biography.

During her high school years Rubenstein was involved in the Zionist Youth Movement, Netzer, and spent a year in Israel after finishing high school. She studied a youth leadership course in Jerusalem and lived on kibbutzim in the north and south of the country. She returned to Melbourne University to study Arts and Law (Honours), graduating in 1989. During her University years she continued volunteering as a youth leader in Netzer and served as President of the Melbourne University Jewish Students' Society in 1986. She continued involvement with the Victorian Debating Association - she had been the only girl in the Victorian State School's team in 1982. She represented the University of Melbourne in national law school mooting competitions and served as joint editor of the student-run journal, Melbourne University Law Review in 1987. She was awarded a non-resident exhibition to Ormond College through her law studies, enabling her to attend law tutorials and participate in other aspects of college life.

On completing her undergraduate degrees, Kim Rubenstein undertook her articles at Corrs Chambers Westgarth and signed the Victorian and High Court rolls in 1990; she has maintained a practising certificate (first in Victoria and now in the ACT) to the present. In September 1991 after 18 months of practice as a lawyer she set off to Harvard University where she had been selected to undertake an LLM with the support of the Sir Robert Menzies Scholarship, a Fulbright award, and a Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Trust award. It was during her time at Harvard that she determined an academic career would best suit her interests - a love of teaching which she had developed as a youth leader, a love of legal research which had been evident through her studies and also an interest in public policy work. Her LLM was by course work and thesis; her thesis on bills of rights and administrative law was published in the inaugural edition of the Australian Journal of Administrative Law.

On her return to Melbourne in 1993 Rubenstein was offered a tenured lectureship at the University of Melbourne law school, where over the next 13 years she was promoted to senior lecturer and then Associate Professor. During that time she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at Georgetown University Law School from August 2002 to February 2003. In 1995, with Deborah Cass she wrote one of the first law review articles on gender and Australian constitutional law. Relying on some of the work from this article she led a public campaign to lobby for equal numbers of women participants in the lead up to the 1998 Constitutional Convention. She argued that given women were absent from the 1890s Conventions it was essential they have an equal voice a century further on. This ultimately led to her being on a Women's Ticket running for the elected positions to the Convention (headed by Eve Mahlab). Kim ultimately attended the Convention, not as an elected member but rather as an adviser to Misha Schubert who had been elected on a youth ticket. In the lead up to the Convention, she became involved assisting the organising of a Women's Constitutional Convention held in Parliament House in the days preceding the mainstream convention. The Women's convention drew several hundred participants from around the country. She continues to contribute to discussions about women and a republic, including her 2008 Dymphna Clark Lecture.

After the publication of her book Australian Citizenship Law in Context (2002) Rubenstein was approached to be involved in three significant High Court cases on citizenship, in two of which she appeared as lead counsel for the applicant. She argued the matters herself before the High Court (still rare for women) and in one case was junior counsel to the Commonwealth Solicitor General. She has written on the issues raised by straddling the academic and practitioner roles. Rubenstein was appointed as a consultant to the Commonwealth in its redrafting of Australian citizenship legislation, resulting in the 2007 Act and later was a member of the Independent Expert Committee set up to review the Australian Citizenship Test that reported in 2008. Her present research involves three Australian Research Council grants including an oral history project on Trailblazing Women and the Law, with partners including the National Library of Australia, the National Foundation for Australian Women, the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Australian Women Lawyers.

With the move to Canberra in 2006, Kim Rubenstein and Garry Sturgess, whom she married in 1997, and their children Cohava Rubenstein Sturgess (born in 1998) and Eliezer Rubenstein Sturgess (born in 2000) became active members of the ACT Jewish Community. In 2011 Rubenstein was elected Vice President and in 2012 became President of the ACT Jewish Community and Vice President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for the year. In 2012 she was appointed an ANU Public Policy Fellow and was named in the first batch of Westpac '100 Women of Influence' Australian Financial Review awards for her work in public policy. In October 2013 she was awarded the inaugural Edna Ryan award for 'leading feminist changes in the public sphere'.

Additional sources: Personal correspondence between Kim Rubenstein and Patricia Grimshaw.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Kerwin, Hollie and Rubenstein, Kim, 'Reading the Life Narrative of Valerie French, the First Woman to Sign the Western Australian Bar Roll', in Davis, Fiona, Musgrove, Nell and Smart, Judith (eds), Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth-Century Australia, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2011, pp. 172-187. http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/fff/pdfs/french.pdf. Details

Edited Books

Journal Articles

Online Resources

See also