I’m sad to hear of the passing of Paul Mees, who was one of the rare bright spots on the Australian academic landscape:
While working as a lawyer, Mees became involved in public transport advocacy through the Public Transport Users Association. As the association’s president from 1992 to 2001, he became one of Victoria’s most recognised spokespeople on public transport planning and management issues. In the 1990s, Mees launched a legal challenge against aspects of the Victorian government’s CityLink infrastructure project, which eventually went to the High Court. In the early 2000s, he helped to establish the Public Transport First Party, which sought to put transport issues on the agenda in key electorates. He was also a member of the community reference group for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy.
He was only 52. Sadly, there are not nearly enough academics who take their job seriously in the way Mees did.
While undoubtedly a notable academic, it was Mees’ capacity to engage in public debate that set him apart from many of his scholarly peers. For nearly three decades he shared platforms with politicians, activists, journalists and commentators, developers, planners and designers, bureaucrats, researchers and concerned citizens. He was arguably Australia’s highest-profile authority on public transport planning and development, demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to canvassing issues in the public arena.
As a respected commentator, a provocateur and a campaigner, Mees will be remembered for his candour, integrity and tenacity. In recent months, despite being seriously ill, he continued to participate in public debates. Questioning the Victorian government’s plans for an east-west tunnel system across Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs, he argued there was little substantial research behind the project.
If you have deep specialist expertise on a matter of public import, the best thing you can do is act as a translator and facilitator who helps others harness that expertise to the public good.