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Former Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen To Receive State Funeral

Australia's governor-general from 1982 to 1989 has died in Melbourne.

29/10/2017 9:12 PM AEDT | Updated 29/10/2017 9:12 PM AEDT
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Sir Ninian Stephen, a judge and former governor-general of Australia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1998.

Former governor-general Sir Ninian Stephen will be honoured with a state funeral following his death at the age of 94.

Government House on Sunday announced Sir Ninian, who was Australia's governor-general from 1982 to 1989, had died in Melbourne.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to the "great statesman", and said "there are very few honours that Sir Ninian doesn't have to his name".

"He's been knighted five times, was a Justice of the High Court of Australia and Supreme Court of Victoria, member of the Privy Council and Australian Ambassador for the Environment," he said in a statement.

"Australia will remember Sir Ninian for his humility, his intellect, and his lifelong commitment to justice and the rule of law.

"Sir Ninian's family has accepted my offer of a state funeral."

Australia's only immigrant Governor-General was born in Britain and arrived in Melbourne in 1940 aged 17. He studied to become a lawyer before joining the Australian Imperial Force.

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Sir Peter Hollingsworth [left], Sir Zelman Cowan and Sir Ninian Stephen at the launch of Sir Zelman's memoirs at the Melbourne University Law School in 2006.

After the war, Sir Ninian returned to law, becoming a QC in 1966 and a Victorian Supreme Court judge four years later.

He went onto the High Court before being chosen by Malcolm Fraser to replace Zelman Cowen as governor-general in 1982.

Soon after stepping down in 1989, Sir Ninian was appointed Australia's first ambassador to the environment under Bob Hawke.

In 1992, the British and Irish governments chose Sir Ninian to head a new round of peace talks in Northern Ireland.

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Queen Elizabeth II and Governor General Michael Jeffery (seated) with former Governor Generals (L-R) Peter Hollingworth, Bill Hayden, Sir Ninian Stephen and Sir William Deane in 2006.

He later became a judge on the international tribunal to try war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

Approaching his 80s, Sir Ninian remained in demand, advising on South Africa's constitution and helping negotiate a way through a political impasse in Bangladesh.

He was also part of an investigation in Burma on behalf of the International Labor Organisation, and helped set up a tribunal to hear Cambodian atrocities and draft a constitution for post-Taliban Afghanistan.

At an 80th birthday dinner for him, then-High Court judge Michael Kirby said: "Serving Australia was not enough for Ninian Stephen. He went beyond and served a wider world."

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