Vale Professor Robert Baxt
11 March 2018
In 1960, a young law student was driving down Parramatta Road, in Sydney, when his car overturned after skidding on a patch of malt that had fallen off the back of a brewery wagon and veering across the road. Witnesses agreed he was lucky not to have been killed.
The driver’s name was Bob Baxt, and good luck would continue to follow him for decades to come. He went on to establish a stellar career that sat at the apex of public, private and academic arenas, making enormous contributions to each.
Bob, who died on 11 March, aged 79, was dean of law at Monash for eight years. He was a visionary, combining high academic achievement with considerable business nous. His area of expertise was commercial law, and he was, according to a colleague, a “thought leader’’ long before the term became fashionable.
Bob worked energetically to build bridges with business and the legal profession. He waged war on old-school conservative beliefs, occasionally clashing with some of his more purist colleagues. Nevertheless, he's regarded by many as one of the most dynamic and innovative deans in the faculty’s history.
Robert Baxt was born in Shanghai in 1938 and came to Australia in 1947, settling in Sydney. He studied arts, then law at Sydney University (LLB) and Harvard (LLM), where he first became interested in competition law. He joined Monash as a senior lecturer in 1968, where he “terrified” students with his Socratic method of teaching. And yet beneath his tough exterior beat a gentle heart. Bob was the champion of the underdog, a fierce mentor and supporter of students. He never let the gravitas of his academic standing become a barrier.
He was appointed the Sir John Latham chair of law in 1972, and in 1980 he became dean.
Immediately, he was conscious of the need to develop and maintain close links with the legal profession, and did so in a variety of ways, notably setting up the Centre for Commercial Law in 1985.
Bob’s expertise in competition law led to his appointment as the blunt and forthright chair of the Trade Practices Commission in 1988 (which later became the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), where he waged war on monopolies and fought to augment the commission’s powers. After three years at the helm, he left to become a partner of the law firm Arthur Robinson and Hedderwicks (later Allens Arthur Robinson).
Bob chaired a number of legal committees and advised both federal and state governments. He was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) in 2003 for services to the law, and was the recipient of a Centenary Medal.
From 2011, he was an emeritus partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. He continued to work from his hospital bed right up until a few weeks before the end of his life. He was awarded an honorary doctorate (LLD) from Monash on 8 March.
Bob married Ruth Adler in 1961 and the couple have two daughters, Miriam and Simone.