JOHN MENADUE: Justice Murphy and Chief Justice Gibbs.

Jenny Hocking has reminded us again of two High Court judges at the time of the Whitlam Dismissal; Sir Garfield Barwick in briefing and encouraging the Governor General to dismiss the Whitlam government. We also learnt  about the role of Sir Anthony Mason, later Chief Justice, who not only coached the Governor General on what he might do  to dismiss Gough Whitlam but on the afternoon of the Dismissal advised the Governor General he need not see the Speaker of the House of Representatives who was kept waiting at the gate of the Governor General’s residence for an hour.

We know only too well the role of former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon in the Royal Commission designed by the government  to embarrass Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard.

I had an acquaintance with another  Justice of the High Court when I was on the Council of the Order of Australia. In my book, ‘Things you learn along the way’ published in 1999 I said

‘As Secretary of the Department of Special Minister of State I was a member of the Council of the Order of Australia for about 12 months in 1983-84. The Chairman of the Council was Sir Harry Gibbs, the Chief Justice. I proposed that Lionel Murphy receive an AC, the senior award in the Order of Australia. Gibbs asked that the matter be deferred as he would like to consider it further. At the next meeting, Gibbs said that he had spoken to Murphy and Murphy was not interested in such an award. I was very surprised. My proposal lapsed.’ 

But that was only half the story. Several years later when I was on the board of Qantas from 1986-89, I had a discussion with Ray Gietzelt who was also a member of the board. We privately discussed the Order of Australia. Knowing that Ray Gietzelt had been a very close friend and industrial colleague of the late Lionel Murphy, I expressed surprise that Murphy had declined any interest in an award in the Order of Australia. Ray Gietzelt said that he also would be very surprised if Murphy had so declined. He said however that he would speak to Ingrid, Murphy’s wife. At the next Qantas board meeting, Ray Gietzelt went out of his way to tell me that he had spoken to Ingrid Murphy who was also confident that an offer of an award in the Order of Australia had never been made to Lionel Murphy.

All the key people in this matter are now deceased, so it is unlikely that we will get any further clarification.

I don’t believe that Gibbs raised the issue with Murphy. Whether Murphy would have been interested is another issue.

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5 Responses to JOHN MENADUE: Justice Murphy and Chief Justice Gibbs.

  1. I think it most unlikely that Sir Harry would have lied to Murphy. Murphy could well have accepted that it was better not to mire the award in controversy, or that it was inevitable that the committee would reject it in view of Sir Harry’s opposition, or that it was better not to have Sir Harry expounding the reasons for his opposition to the committee, or as a matter of courtesy, or even taken the view (as I do) that the State should be the servant of the citizen, not the master, so that accepting awards such as this involves an element of forelock tugging to the State that inverts the proper relationship between citizen and the State.

  2. Jim Kable says:

    These breathtaking examples of abrogation of ethics by those supposedly of the utmost legal integrity is now so par for the course that there should be no reason to accept any Supreme Court or High Court decisions – which fly in the face of decency and respect – without loud murmurs. I trust that the names mentioned in this article will remain pilloried for all time and I certainly hope that any memorials to these traducers of the fair and democratic Australian process are removed or else coated with some kind of recognised public ignominy!

  3. Andrew Farran says:

    Is it any wonder why there is so little trust in our system, no matter how far up you go. Perhaps even more so there.

    But to lie like that where integrity should be de rigour is particularly disappointing. Better that they should have faced the issue and if having resolved one way or the other advised Murphy or his proponents of the outcome (had he wanted to know).

    This is what the ‘law’ does to some people. For them Murphy should not have been in the ‘Club’. Who defines the ‘Club’ I wonder, or for those in it it requires no definition. That of course would be needless!

    It is a pity that some of those who take these actions or act in this manner couldn’t stay alive long enough to recognise the nonsense of their assertions. The arguments put forward by Barwick and others justifying the Dismissal on the grounds that the Whitlam Govt couldn’t command a majority in both houses can be seen today for the nonsense it was. When you go behind the scenes the NSW bar had something to answer for.

    We await with interest the High Court’s decision on ‘citizenship’. If they can’t recognise that much of the Constitution, as its stands, taken and enforced literally would lead in quick time to the breakdown of government altogether then the need for thorough revision becomes overwhelming.

  4. Eugenie Lumbers says:

    All power corrupts

  5. Christopher Sheil says:

    Thanks for that John.

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