JOHN MENADUE: Justices of the High Court

No wonder we have lost confidence in institutions when Justices of the High Court act improperly

Jenny Hocking has reminded us many times of the improper behaviour 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. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was waiting to tell the Governor General that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had lost the confidence of the House of Representatives and that Gough Whitlam should be sworn again as Prim Minister.

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.  I was misled.

This is a repost from March this year

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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