Dyson Heydon bites the dust

Former High Court of Australia judge, Dyson Heydon, was chosen by ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott to run a royal commission to put “the boot into the unions”, Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard. The whole exercise was a disaster.

Susan Kiefel, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, revealed this week the secret contents of a long-running investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon. She chose Vivienne Thom, a former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, to conduct the secret investigation.

The public wasn’t told that Heydon was under scrutiny, nor were politicians or the media. It was conducted in total secrecy by a tiny cabal at the High Court of Australia. They appear to have done a thorough job, but to learn of another example of the machinations of Canberra’s “Secret State” is alarming.

Heydon has strenuously denied he sexually harassed female associates at the High Court, but apologised for any offence “inadvertently” caused.

Heydon’s chequered legal career began at Sydney University where he was known as “Dirty Dyson” for his aggressive approach to winning rugby union games. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in 1964 to attend University College at Oxford.

In retirement he gave Rodney Cavalier, former NSW Education Minister in Premier Neville Wran’s era, a list of his favourite books. He cited Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Rudyard Kipling’s Poems and de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. But the eye-catching inclusion was The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx.

Heydon wrote: “Our sixth book has the considerable virtue of being the shortest. Many of Marx’s later writings are almost unreadably dull. But The Communist Manifesto was certainly not dull. It was published during the revolutionary period of 1848 – the historical turning point at which history failed to turn. Certainly, its main influence came later. Marx ‘solved’ the problem of the tyranny of the majority by proposing as an ideal – indeed predicting as fact – that there would be a dictatorship of the minority, followed by a somewhat misty socialist future which sounded attractive up to a point but appeared to rest on dictatorship as well. Marx may have weaknesses as a prophet, his thinking may have done harm in the long term, but his confident and dogmatic analysis of how the capitalist Europe of 1848 had reached that condition, whether one believes it or not, undeniably has a mordant and relentless power. Marxism did not have much influence on the British socialist tradition: it owed more to Methodism than to Marx. But Marxist parties became forces in European politics.”

Heydon’s intellectual dalliance with Rodney Cavalier’s left-wing Newsletter was coupled with his devotion to the right-wing pro-Liberal magazine Quadrant. It was typical of the man: always walking two sides of any street.

It was something he learned as a young student at Sydney’s Church of England Grammar School, known as Shore. The school’s Latin motto, “They Hand on the Torch of Life”, certainly comforted actor Errol Flynn who enjoyed a mega-career in Hollywood but was less kind to disgraced Prime Minister John Gorton.

Misogyny is not taught. The boys have one campus and the girls have another. When Heydon was appointed to the High Court in 2002, there was much merriment, especially when one of the guests told the story from a 1995 lunch when the waiter asked a judge what he would like to eat. “Sirloin steak,” he replied. The waiter then asked: “What about the vegetables?” He replied: “They can order for themselves.”

Ho, ho, ho! The raucous hoots of laughter could be heard all over town.

But history, society and modernity have caught up with The Hon Dyson Heydon AC QC. In 2015 he was forced to withdraw as royal commissioner into the trade unions when he agreed to attend a Liberal Party fund-raiser: the apprehension of political bias was too great to cover-up. His two reports – for which he was paid about $7m while his handpicked junior counsel, Fiona Roughley, took home $830,000 – are gathering dust in a filing cabinet somewhere in Canberra.

Following this week’s sexual harassment allegations he will recuse himself from public life.

Oh, and by the way, Melbourne’s football host Sam Newman has resigned from Channel Nine after calling Minneapolis cop victim George Floyd a “piece of shit”. Another one bites the dust.

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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