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5 June, 2003  

“Smiler” polling just over one percent for GG job … Kirbs keeps his money to himself … more media grumps to NSW Court of Appeal … Federal Court judges go feral over ALJ assault … Hulls tearing at the exquisite finery of the law … High Court travel “splurge”

Search for safe hands

If Little Johnnie Howard is looking for a safe pair of hands at Yarralumla there would be none safer than Smiler Gleeson’s, even though the Chief Justice is rating just over one percent in opinion polls of desirable candidates.

Another line of speculation is that if Smiler becomes Governor General then Queensland’s proudest son, Daphnis “Two Wigs” de Jersey, will be CJ of the High Court.

An outsider in the safe-hands department for Government House is Sir “Lancelot” Gobbo, former Governor of Victoria and chairman of the Council of the National Library of Australia. He holds the title Gran Croce dell’ Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana – and it doesn’t get more exotic than that.

Thank God judges and generals are back in contention after the fiasco with the archbishop.

Monarchist mouthpiece tripped by peasants

The Queen’s spiritual adviser in Australia, the oleaginous Professor D. Flint, has been by the side of Dr Hollingworth through thick and thin, like a faithful Corgi.

The opinion columns of the leading tissues have resonated with the professor’s blathering about the republic and the “witch-hunt” against the GG.

As one might expect of such a fruity little chap Flinty tends in his prose towards florid stylistic flourishes.

So it was in The Canberra Times early in May when he wrote on the seamless majesty of our constitutional arrangements and the need for the GG to stand firm. For good measure he tossed in the frogophile phrase “bien pensants”.

A sub-editor at the paper was puzzled by this and changed it to read “bien peasants”, which made the article even more mysterious.

Emeritus Professor Flint was livid and requested a correction, which was duly run the next day.

Theodora has come upon a wonderful letter to the paper published in the wake of the correction. It was penned by Robert Todd, not the Blakes’ partner in Sydney, but a former deputy president of the AAT, head of the ACT legal aid commission, member of the Taxation Board of Review etc:

Todd delivered a subversive plea for sub-editors across the nation to continue to sabotage Flint’s ghastly scribblings:

“I imagine that journos and other contributors to newspapers down the years have often felt injured by the actions of sub-editors. But with the item ‘Corrections’ (CT 7/5), revealing that a sub-editor had changed ‘bien pensants’ in the article by David Flint to ‘peasants’, all is forgiven. This was surely no error of substance, at worst perhaps a Freudian slip. Anything putting down the pomposity of cet homme pretentieux will be a thing of joy forever. Subbies, please just do it again when he next regales us with his outrageous comments on the issue of the republic and in particular on the 1999 referendum.”

Robert, you speak for millions.

No money pool in the Kirbs’ household

Thank God Michael Kirby J has cleared up a point that I know has vexed quite a few of my readers.

It occurred at the commencement of the hearing of a High Court appeal in Kathleen Lloyd v Francesco Tedesco, a case concerning the legal principles which apply where a partner to a failed de facto relationship might recover the benefit of their contributions.

I share the moment with you:

KIRBY J: Mr Shanahan (counsel for the applicant), I should say that I have a non-married relationship in which I do not pool my financial arrangements with my partner, and many Australians in such relationships do not pool their financial position with their partner. Now, if that causes any embarrassment in the case, I would stand aside and let the other justices deal with the matter, but it is a factor that is in my mind because of my own position and I thought I should put it on the record. I do not know if you have any objection, or Mr Martin (for the respondent) has any objection, but insofar as that is an issue in this application, that is the position in my own personal case and therefore I thought I ought to disclose it.

MR SHANAHAN: Certainly for the applicant, your Honour, the applicant has no problem with your Honour sitting in this matter. I cannot speak for my friend.

MR MARTIN: Your Honour, we are obliged very much to you for making that clear to us, but we do not wish to raise any point in that regard. We are certainly content with your Honour to be present as part of the Coram.

KIRBY J: Thank you.

McHUGH J: Yes, Mr Shanahan.

Hatred, ridicule and contempt

One shudders to think what will become of media defendants in defamation appeals at the hands of the freshest inductees to the NSW Court of Appeal: Tobias and McColl JJA – both former presidents of the NSW Bar, Grill & Rotisserie.

Both are on the record exhibiting unfriendliness to reptiles of the press.

Take Ruthless. She is all for rigorous standards of accuracy and fairness on the part of journalists.

On May 10, 2000 she made the following indelible remark to a forum on defamation law reform assembled by the then NSW Attorney General, Jeff Shaw. “Journalists,” she declared:

”...should be subject to the same standards as members of the legal profession an effective system of discipline.”

At the time, few appreciated the amusing potential of this announcement.

Then there’s old Tobias, who precisely three weeks after Ruthless’ little outburst, wrote a letter to the ABC containing the joyful words “seriously defamatory”.

Again in hindsight it all seems faintly hilarious.

The issue was the imminent broadcast of a documentary on the famous Bar crisis over the nudie Geoffrey Proud painting Untitled.

Tobias had ordered the removal of the painting from the Bar common room because it offended delicate sensibilities. The donors of the “art” work were horrified and the air was filled with thunderous letters, declamations and resignations.

Five days before the program was to be aired he wrote to the ABC, insisting that certain priceless insights expressed by the editor of Justinian be cut:

“I have just been informed that next Tuesday evening the ABC proposes to air on Channel 2 at or about 8pm a documentary produced by a final year student at the Ryde School of Television [sic] (if my memory serves me) relating to the removal from the NSW Bar Association’s common room at or about the end of 1993 of a Geoffrey Proud painting. Given that this was a student exercise I agreed to be interviewed for the purpose of the film. In due course I received a video copy of the film and noted with deep concern that I was the subject of a number of defamatory remarks in the film made by Richard Ackland who, apparently, also took part in the programme.”

Accordingly, upon the assumption that the programme is to be publicly aired as I understand it will be, I would be obliged if you would take some steps to delete Mr Ackland’s remarks and statements of and concerning myself.

Yours faithfully,

Murray Tobias QC…”

The program was pulled from the schedule and edited to avoid any hatred, ridicule and contempt.

So what were the beastly remarks to which objection was raised? Apparently they were this description of Tobias:

”...a man, I suppose, ambitious to receive judicial appointment after his statutory time as head of the Bar Association…”

The legal advice to the ABC was that the statement could give rise to a defamatory imputation that Tobias had the painting removed to further his ambition to become a judge, whereas the true reason for its removal was to accommodate the concerns of a number of women members who objected to it.

It doesn’t need much reflection to agree that it was a fairly rotten thing to say about the fellow, and Theodora for one would like to distance herself from those offensive remarks.

“Abhorrent, shoddy” article creates Feral Court tiff

Talking of defamation and judges, the dreary old Australian Law Journal was gingered up by the melee surrounding an attack by retired Bananaland Supreme Court identity and noted scribbler, Hon J.B. Thomas AM.

Hon Thomas let fly in the March issue of the ALJ hoeing into activist judges and those who make “unwise public statements”. In particular he mentioned two members of the Feral Court – Hon Graham Hill and Hon Murray Wilcox.

Thomas drew inspiration for his comments from a couple of the nation’s leading thinkers, Pee Pee McGuinness and Janet Albrechtsen (whose name he couldn’t spell). Amazingly, he believes that these two hacks: ” keep judges honest and disciplined”.

Thomas supported Phillip Ruddock’s remarks about the courts, which the minister said were: “finding a variety of ways and means of dealing themselves back into the (refugee) review game”. Thomas fingered Hon Hill as one who, “seems to provides some basis for a reasonable suspicion” that Ruddock is right.

Then he climbed into Hon Wilcox alleging he publicly criticised the coalition’s agenda to abolish the unfair dismissal laws, thereby earning a rebuke from Little Johnnie Howard himself.

This was followed up in the following issue of the ALJ by outraged letters. Hill wrote:

“The suggestion that as a judge I would allow political views that I am supposed to have to affect my legal judgment is one that I find abhorrent, as well as defamatory. It is hardly a comment worthy of Mr Thomas and I can but assume he has never taken the opportunity to read any judgment I have given.”

Hon Wilcox was more arch:

“Intellectually shoddy though the article is, I would have ordinarily passed it by. However Mr Thomas made an inaccurate reference to me. He said: ‘Similarly, during the 1996 election period, a senior Federal Court judge, Wilcox J, publicly criticised the coalition’s agenda to abolish the unfair dismissal laws.’ Once again, no authority is cited for this statement. No authority could have been cited; the statement is untrue.”

Wilcox also ventilated the chilling word “defamatory”.

As if that were not enough the editor of the ALJ, Hon P.W. Young, had to pour oil on the seething waters:

“The Journal is sorry that Justice Hill feels aggrieved even though we cannot see how anyone reading the article would think any the less of the judge after reading it. The judge is clearly acknowledged throughout the Commonwealth as a fair judge of great learning….”

Hulls’ Victoria: what fresh horror is this?

Victorian Attorney General Rob “Fuckin” Hulls has made it clear that he wants the government out of the bar’s senior counsel selection process.

Unlike NSW, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia, the Victorian government still advises the Governor on each crop of fresh nylons.

Intriguingly Hullsy said that, “the government acts as no more than a rubber stamp, in effect. There is little to no consultation with the government on the list.”

The Age reported the AG as saying that he has asked his department for advice on how the government could “ease out of the system”.

The driving ideological force in the new thinking is that the workers’ government should not be a party to these frightfully elitist baubles. Better to leave the whole business of exclusiveness to the profession itself.

This frightful development comes on the heels of the solicitors’ guild floating the idea of a new gong called “Queen’s Attorneys”. The fact that few aspirants will do any attorneying for the Queen is neither here nor there.

As if creating havoc on the SC front was not enough, the Victorian Attorney then turned his venom on wigs.

“I think in a modern, accessible twenty-first century legal system, there is no place any longer for wigs. I think they only serve to hide the receding hairlines of a number of barristers.

“If wigs were banned in court, I’m happy for barristers to wear them in their own homes.”

When will this horror end?

Junketeering on high

The Brisbane Courier-Mail has been having enormous fun investigating the international travel “splurge” of High Court judges.

The paper obtained some figures under FOI, but when you boil down the splurging it all turned out to be fairly humble. It averaged a modest $14,000 a year for the two years surveyed for each of the seven judges.

When you consider that Little Johnnie Howard knocked up a bill of $62,000 for four nights in a posh Italian hostelry, it is clear that these senior judicial figures haven’t got a clue when it comes to living high on the taxpayers’ teat.

In fact, Little Johnnie’s four nights in Rome came to about the same as Smiler Gleeson’s entire taxpayer funded international travel for two years for himself and Mrs Smiler.

So let’s keep things in perspective.

The Chief Justice’s most expensive splurge was $30,000 spent on going to Paris with his missus for the Australian Bar Association knees-up.

McHugh, Hayne and Callinan also went on the Paris junket, McHugh “alone”, the others with accompanying spice.

According to the FOI information, McHugh’s travel diary reveals he attended a $260 a ticket dinner and show at Le Paradis Latin Cabaret – “a sophisticated Parisian show combining French flair, fine food and wine”.

After Smiler, Tubby Callinan was the next in the pecking order of taxpayer funded offshore travel. He and Mrs Tub knocked-up $55,730.45 attending two legal jamborees in Europe between October 2000 and October 2002.

Kirbs, accompanied by Mr van Vloten, went to Europe for two international conferences, but strangely no figures were published by Rupert’s Courier-Mail on this “splurge”.

The Courier-Mail did the same exercise a few years ago on Queensland Supreme Court judges. Again, not much of interest turned up, other than one judge had a can of lemonade from the mini bar in his hotel room.

The Sydney Telegraph this week ran an internet poll, asking its intellectually challenged “readers”: “Should taxpayers subsidise judges’ travel?”

Maybe the paper should do a run-down of the travel costs of Rupert and young Lachlan and ask shareholders of News Corp whether they think they’re getting value for money.

The more interesting revelation was that $200,000 was spent getting the Tub new chambers in Brisbane. This was regarded as a quiet victory for the court because the initial estimate to chamber the Tub was $500,000.

Taxpayers also footed the bill of $1,020 to replace an old clock in Mary Gaudron’s chambers, because it was losing time.