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Law Council Gala Dinner 2023 Address

Speech delivered by Mr Luke Murphy, President, Law Council of Australia at the LCA Gala Dinner, Canberra, 1 December 2023. 
 

"90 years ago to the day the recently established Law Council of Australia elected its first officers. The first President was Mr Herbert Mayo KC from South Australia and the two Vice-Presidents were respectively Mr R Clive-Teece KC and Mr G F Pitcher, who were respectively the representative of the Council of the Bar of New South Wales and President of the Law Institute of Victoria.

They were interesting and challenging times. In the late 1920s, Australia had the second highest level of debt in the world. This was very quickly followed by the great depression where in 1932 unemployment hit 29 per cent.

It was not a society of stability. Every government in Australia changed between 1931 and 1934. Western Australia on 8 April 1933 had voted to leave the Commonwealth – I think David Price wishes that decision had been given effect to as it would have saved him many years of worry about capitation fees.

It was against this political, economic and social background that the LCA was formed. What was the catalyst to drive the 10 original constituent bodies to create the Law Council and to elect their first representatives 90 years ago today?

The prospect of a national body had been on the agenda for over two decades prior to 1933. Many high-profile members of our profession had advocated publicly for a national body. A constitution had even been drafted in 1923 but was opposed by SA, QLD, and TAS – who could possibly imagine SA, QLD and TAS opposing a proposition supported by NSW and VIC.

What changed in the 10 years between 1923 and 1933 – clearly the socio-economic environment was different, but history says, and I think somewhat unsurprisingly, it was the passage of a particular Commonwealth Act that galvanised the profession into action. The Financial Emergency Act of 1932 which amended the Invalid and Old Aged Pension Act 1908 by introducing a means test.

In short, our forebears identified the need for our profession to ensure that legislation enacted by the Commonwealth was good law. They believed the Financial Emergency Act was not good law. A co-ordinated response was needed nationally.

The decision recognised that an affiliation of legal bodies throughout the Commonwealth would be able to present a united front on vital issues of national import. There was a belief that a united profession could more effectively advocate state interests at a national level with a view to encourage, shape and resist action by the Commonwealth.

That same belief has underpinned the leadership of each of the 21 Presidents who are here with us this evening including: my father Gerry in 1982 – addressing National Legal Aid; Mr Fabian Dixon SC who led during the embryonic stage of the national practising certificate; Ms Anne Trimmer AO and the immigration policy response to the Tampa affair; Ms Fiona McLeod in undertaking the Justice Project; and our Presidents who saw us through COVID, including Magistrate Pauline Wright; and Mr Tass Liveris fighting for the introduction of a federal judicial commission.

Ladies and gentlemen – the Law Council of Australia's fundamental role and reason for being has not changed for nine decades. As is evident from an analysis of this year's LCA work we continue to encourage, shape and resist action that the Commonwealth government undertakes to ensure that good law is made and that it is in the public interest and that legislation and policy does not compromise the operation of the fundamental cornerstone principles of law upon which our democracy depends."

Read full speech below.

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