Swearing-in of Justice Peter Murphy as a Judge of the Family Court of Australia
May it please the Court.
It is my privilege on behalf of the Bar to welcome your Honour, Murphy J, as a Judge of the Family Court of Australia and to congratulate you on this appointment. The only reason one as lowly as I address the Court this morning, is that the presidents of both the Queensland and the Australian Bar Associations are unavoidably engaged on other important business. Were it not for this, the two leaders of the Bar would be standing here instead of me. Both Mr Fraser QC and Mr Estcourt QC have specifically requested me to convey to your Honour their warm congratulations on this appointment and also their keen disappointment at not being able to be here to speak themselves.
As your Honour knows, the Court is a vitally important one. It is one of the busiest, if not the busiest trial Court in the land. The subject-matter in many of the disputes which must be determined by that Court are amongst the closest to the hearts of the litigants that appear before it. In many instances, in particular when the interests of children are concerned, something close to your Honour’s heart, the decisions of the Court have ramifications for the wider public interest well beyond the goal of determining the disputes between the litigants who appear before it on a given day.
Often, because of the nature of the disputes and because of the deterioration in relationships which have led to them, there is also an emotional intensity to the litigants’ approach to hearings which is not found in other jurisdictions and creates special burdens for the Judges of the Court. As such, the Family Court of Australia occupies a unique position of the institutions in our civil society.
It follows that it is essential that the Judges appointed to this important Court have demonstrated abilities and qualifications which not only equip them for the demanding task ahead of them, but which also command the confidence of the broader Australian community. I have every confidence in your Honour’s qualifications for this appointment. Your wide-ranging, and almost crushingly busy practice at the Bar alone qualified you for this important role.
As a barrister you won the admiration of your colleagues from both branches of the profession for the hard work you lavished upon your briefs and the calm, concise, and I’m told, courageous way in which you advocated the interests of those for whom you appeared. Your reputation gained a high gloss, in particular, as a result of the dedicated way you appeared so extensively in support of the interests of children, an often unremunerative task, but your Honour’s life has not been one narrowly focused upon a legal practice. Away from your busy professional life, you have served tirelessly on numerous community organisations in honorary capacities. Your commitment to community service, I understand, is a genetic inheritance stemming from your mother, also a pillar of the community.
You are the prime mover behind a recreational AFL football team that Mr Slipper has mentioned which regales in the name of Murphy’s Law, although I see no similarity between your Honour and Candice Bergen. The integral part, however, to play in this team and, in particular, its midfield made up of your contemporaries known by a synonym of The Plump Five arguably gives rise to one of the few stains on your Honour’s otherwise admirable record, and I will return to that later, if I may.
Mr Slipper has also stolen my thunder in respect of the extraordinary work that your Honour did in resurrecting the Bar News, the organ of the Bar Association of Queensland. There are few outside the committee and subsequently the council of the association who understand the enormous amount of work that you did, and the quality of the publication that exists today is in no small measure attributable to your Honour’s work.
At the University of Queensland where you studied law, you were an active student. I see your Honour smiling. There are many stories, I feel, that I simply can’t tell today because I happened to be part of them at the time they occurred. So to a large extent your Honour is safe at least as far as I’m concerned. Your Honour was an active student at university, one so active that you often found it difficult to find your way to lectures.
After admission, as has already been mentioned, you left for points overseas where, in addition to the numerous positions Mr Slipper has referred to, you variously ran a rickshaw business in Central London, and that was so successful we now see that great city covered by rickshaws when we visit it. You worked as a journalist for a well known cycling magazine and acted as a part-time sub-editor on a London tabloid. The trip across the Sahara with your great friend, Tim Gartside, was the highlight of your life.
On your return from London you practiced in commercial law as a solicitor. One of the firms you worked for was M G Lyons & Co. It was an establishment firm with the predominantly, if not exclusively Catholic character. At the job interview for the position, which you ultimately took up there, the corridors teamed with the product of All Hallows College, St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace, St Joseph’s Nudgee College and St Joseph’s almost everywhere else I imagine. In this context Peter Joseph Murphy demonstrated a keen understanding of the power of silence. Your Honour won the position of a solicitor in the busy commercial litigation team of the firm without feeling it at all necessary to confide in a certain Mr Neil Buckley, the Honourable Mr Buckley being present this morning, that you were in fact of good Anglican stock and an alumnus at the Yeronga State High School.
You also worked for that other firm of peerless reputation, Rinaudo & Stack. You then came to the Bar and after an initial period of resistance you succumbed to the gravitational force that family law seems to have exerted over you. Despite this you’ve also done other work including difficult cases and forays even into commercial law. As such, your Honour can be seen as a man who has rubbed up against life in its many forms and learnt much in the process. This experience will be of inestimable value in performing the important tasks that you now have as a Judge, your Honour.
Like many things, however, the tale of your Honour’s life is not without blemish. Firstly there is Murphy’s Law which I have mentioned. As a self appointed captain, coach, mentor of this AFL team, your Honour may justly be held responsible for the crippling of a large segment of the middle aged men in our profession here in Brisbane. These, with your cunning encouragement, callous and cunning encouragement, have ignored the obvious demands of middle age and succumbed to the quest for glory that you dangled before them.
Chief Justice, one concern I personally have about his Honour’s appointment is the risk it carries of the heavy potential of reeking sartorial havoc upon your Honour’s Bench. Many is the time in the early morning in the cafÃ© at the bottom of the MLC building, of which your Honour and I shared chambers until recently, I have had to endure his Honour’s dissection of the collection of clothes that I had hurriedly put on some time earlier that morning in the dark often. “That tie doesn’t go with that shirt.” “Why are you wearing a suit at all?” And all of this being delivered by a gentleman whose ensemble consisted of thongs, shabby shorts and t-shirts which charitably can only be said to have definitely seen better days. However, this process had become so entrenched that I can offer your Honour no guidance as to how to remedy it. It is probably simply something that we’ll have to grin and bear.
The final aspect of your Honour’s life which demonstrates a serious shortcoming and so deserves attention is your complete lack of insight into your own destiny. I have it from an impeccable source, who was present at the South Brisbane Railway Station as your Honour departed for overseas in about 1980, I think it was, that your Honour vehemently proclaimed there to the world, “I am leaving this country and I shall never return.” Thankfully your Honour was wrong about that.
Next it is reported that on commencement of practice at the Bar you loudly complained to all who wanted to listen to you, that you would never, ever be drawn into the web of practice in the Family Court. This, it seems to me, demonstrates a peculiar lack of insight, your Honour. I’ve already mentioned that your Honour worked at M G Lyons & Co where your Honour worked most closely with the partner of the firm, Mr Neil Buckley. This honourable gentleman, as I’ve said, here this morning, was a highly respected and highly influential former member of this Court and has always been and remains a staunch, a very staunch supporter of your Honour in all that you have done in a professional sense. Buckley J also, however, demonstrated an astute sense of the strategic. One is tempted to conclude that he always had in mind that your Honour would join the ranks of this Court so that, despite your Honour being oblivious to this very important prospect, it was always your Honour’s destiny to end up here. I am told that this path is likely to be brought to a very neat conclusion soon when your Honour succeeds to Buckley J’s car-park in the bowels of this very building. Your Honour, the Bar whole-heartedly supports your appointment.
Michael Stewart SC