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Margaret Wilson to be awarded honorary doctorate

Margaret Wilson to be awarded honorary doctorate

The founding dean of Waikato University's School of Law, the current Attorney-General Margaret Wilson, is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the university in March 2004.

The award, which recognizes Margaret Wilson's outstanding contribution to the teaching of law and the development of a uniquely New Zealand jurisprudence, will be a highlight of the university's 40th anniversary celebrations.

"Margaret Wilson has made a huge contribution to Waikato University and the wider community and it is with pleasure that I announce the forthcoming award of an honorary doctorate," says Vice-Chancellor Bryan Gould.

"Throughout her career, Margaret has been consistently active in the community, working especially for the furtherance of social justice. Her leadership skills, dedication and organizational ability enabled us to establish a law school despite severe funding difficulties.

"She has gone on to make a great mark in politics, gaining a ministerial post immediately after being elected to parliament. She is currently Attorney-General, Minister of Labour, Minister in Charge of Treaty Negotiations, Associate Minister of Justice and Associate Minister for Courts. These appointments are a tribute to her impressive capabilities.

"In short, Margaret Wilson exemplifies the type of major contribution Waikato University, through its alumni, students, staff and ex-staff, makes to the Waikato region and New Zealand."


Biographical details:

Margaret Wilson was born in Gisborne in 1947. She was raised in the Waikato town of Morrinsville where her parents owned a grocery store. She is an active family person whose extended family includes her parents, brother, two sisters and five nieces.

Her education started at St Joseph's School and later at St Dominic's College, Northcote and Morrinsville College. The Catholic social justice teaching of the time, as well as being educated by independent and strong-minded women, provided powerful early role models, together with the independent thinking and social values of her parents.

As a young woman she struggled with a potentially fatal cancer. She believes that without the adequate public health care she received, she may well have not survived. Her involvement with issues facing the physically disabled dates from this time. Today this involvement stretches to Cambodia and association with an initiative to train Cambodians in the provision of prostheses for land mine victims.

Margaret studied law at Auckland University, completing an LLB (Hons) and a MJur (1st class). After graduation she worked as a law clerk and barrister and solicitor before beginning her academic career, teaching at Auckland University from 1972 to 1987. She was appointed as foundation Dean and Professor of Law at Waikato University in 1990.

Through her academic career, her professional practice and her community involvement, Margaret has made significant contributions in the areas of industrial and labour law, women and law, and public law. Her public service includes Chief Political Adviser and Head of the Prime Minister's Office 1987 - 1989; Director of the Reserve Bank 1985 - 1989; Law Commissioner 1987 - 1989; and, chair of the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women, 1987 - 1992. She has also been a member of the Judicial Working Group on Gender Equality, and convened the Government Working Party on Equal Pay and Equal Opportunities.

>From early in her career, Margaret Wilson was associated with trade unions and, as a lawyer, she made many appearances on behalf of trade unions and their members. She has also been extensively involved with conducting seminars for trade unions to explain and advise on aspects of industrial law.

She has explored these issues of law through her research and scholarly involvements. She was the founding co-editor of the New Zealand Journal of Industrial Relations, founder member of the Auckland Women's Lawyers Association and president of the Woman and Law Research Foundation. She has contributed chapters to a wide range of books concerned with issues of gender equality and labour issues, and has produced a large number of articles in the fields of industrial relations and human rights. She has written two books (Women and the Law in New Zealand, Labour Party in Government 1984 - 1987) and has co-edited a third Justice, Biculturalism and Difference.

Margaret Wilson has also made a large contribution to the New Zealand Labour Party. She became involved with the party during her time studying at Auckland University, a period which coincided with the second wave of feminism and when women were still a rarity in New Zealand law schools. She became a leading member of the "systems feminist" wing of the women's movement in the mid-1970s, focusing on social issues debates and organising behind the Working Women's Charter and anti-nuclear policies. A talent for organization and networking brought Margaret to the Presidency of the Labour Party from 1984 to 1987. During her incumbency, the party constitution was revised and increasing numbers of women candidates were selected for winnable seats.

In 1999 she herself entered Parliament on the Labour Party list. She gained a Ministerial post immediately after her election as a first term MP and is ranked 11th in the cabinet. Her work in her current portfolios is solidly based on her academic and professional involvement over many years with many facets of human rights, both national and international. She is driven by her desire to support social change.

She had key responsibility for the new Employment Relations Act, for justice and introducing the Property Relationship Bill, and for a renewed commitment by Government to achieving Treaty settlements. She was also Minister responsible for establishing the new Supreme Court.

It is through her involvement with Waikato University's School of Law, however, that Margaret Wilson has made her most direct contribution to the university. In only ten years, the law school has grown to include 30 academic staff and nearly 800 students. It is now an established and dynamic part of the university campus.

It was the first law school to be established in New Zealand in over 75 years and it is to Margaret Wilson's lasting credit that she met this challenge and helped the school grow from simply an idea to "establish degree programmes, appoint staff, establish a library, plan for buildings and inform a wide range of public groups of the aspirations of the law school". She encouraged teaching and research collaborations across disciplines, hosting and organising conferences, and a robust research community contribution by staff of the law school. The on-going successes of graduates, both academically and vocationally, is testimony to the success of the School of Law and its distinctive approach to legal education.

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