Opening the new offices of Griffin Legal, Canberra - Speech



It is a real pleasure to be here opening a Canberra legal office. As a current politician, former economist and a former lawyer, it feels like a bit of a homecoming. I acknowledge that we are meeting on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and I pay my respect to their elders past and present. I acknowledge Griffin Legal’s partners Claire Carton, Peter McGrath and Carina Zeccola, as well as military officer, writer and cricket buff Catherine McGregor, recently appointed as Senior Consultant in your firm.

So let’s start with cricket.  

One of the really eye opening books for me in my law studies was David Fraser's 1993 book Cricket and the Law: The Man in White is Always Right. The thing I loved about Cricket and the Law is that it suggested that you had to look at law through the framework of an outsider. Too often those of us who have spent many hours studying law can take it all for granted. The great thing about Cricket and the Law is that it reminds you that the rules can sometimes be a little unusual. Sometimes you have to do what umpires say even when they're wrong. It reminds you that there are unwritten rules as well as written rules, that sometimes you want to walk even when you're not given out and that sledging while it might be tolerated in the game is generally against the spirit of the game. But the thing too about Cricket and the Law is that it reminds you to the extent to which the law can be a tool used by the powerful or it can be a voice for the vulnerable. 

What I love about Griffin Legal is that you've seen the opportunity to use the law to lift up the most vulnerable, those on the margins of our society - the invisible Australians. When you work with not-for-profits, with local community groups then you use the law to its very best and you help people who feel so nervous and scared about the law. After we students finished studying Cricket and the Law we were told to do a simple exercise: go into a court in a jurisdiction about which you know absolutely nothing, sit up the back of the court and just be an observer and it was that moment for me as a law student of realising how utterly indecipherable must be for outsiders. But you do what the best of lawyers do which is to make people not only feel that they've been treated well by the legal process but they can understand what it going on.

You've also chosen some inspired names for your rooms, we have of course the Meaghan Bradford room and it has been a real pleasure for me tonight to have the opportunity to chat with Meaghan's parents and friends and get a sense of her tenacity and the way in which she was able to bring skills as a lawyer to work as a hockey goal keeper. Apparently in order to be a good goal keeper, you need to recognise your role and how it interacts with the fullback. You need to recognise that sometimes the fullback will have the ball and if you go in there then you'll be making a mistake. I think that is integral to running a good legal practice. If you try and step in and do what others are doing you won't be able to work as an effective team.

We have of course the Edmund Barton room named after the Prime Minister Australians didn't know until Centenary of Federation when we had this series of TV ads saying “do you know who was Australia's first Prime Minister?”. When the ad series finished, Australians knew who our first Prime Minister was. The question then was how many knew our second Prime Minister? Barton of course has that lovely moment in 1903 where he steps down from being Prime Minister, hands the job over to Alfred Deakin who then turns around and appoints Barton to be one of the first High Court judges. Barton was a man who enjoyed living the high life, who had more than one fine meal. Indeed, Barton was referred to by The Bulletin as ‘Toby Tosspot’, but given that The Bulletin at that time has as its masthead "Australia for the white man" I reckon that Barton can bear their insults as a mark of pride.

You have the Marion Mahony Griffin room named after the underrated co-designer of Canberra, someone who graduated from MIT in 1894 as one of the first women architects in the world. Her drawings caught the eye of the judges in the Canberra competition. The willingness of Marion Mahony Griffin to interrupt their honeymoon in order to design a new city I think is either an example or a warning to young lawyers.

Then you have the Gough Whitlam room. Whitlam of the one-liner. We think back to the moment when his Cabinet started to complain about the class of travel they were permitted. Whitlam reportedly turned to his cabinet and said “I am a great man, I could fly economy and I would still be a great man. Most of you are pissants, you can fly first class and you'd still be pissants”. Gough Whitlam who after the dismissal said that Australia now had appointed the burglar as the caretaker. Whitlam who observed that in his dotage he possibly had more influence than he had as Prime Minister. A mark of somebody who can bring perspective to their role and I think you desperately need that as a lawyer. You know you're not going to win every case but you do know that you can be out there and make a difference, you know that a window as short as three years can change a country for the better.

So thank you for all of the work that you do as lawyers to make the law work. One of my fellow judicial associates at the High Court, Jamie Edelman, used to tell me that he loved the law. I guess that's why Jamie has gone from High Court Associate to being High Court Judge in a shorter period of time than just about anyone else. I can never say that I loved the law, but I admired those who did. Those who took a simple pleasure from making sure that justice was done, from being part of a system that didn't just worry about the big cases splashed across the front page but saw a simple dignity in Mrs Smith's fence dispute being settled with fairness and honour. The law too as it is used as a tool to look after the vulnerable is enormously important. The work you do through Griffin Legal strengthens our community and the work that you've done in setting out these beautiful premises continues to tell wonderful stories; the stories of Bradford, of Mahony, of Barton and of Whitlam. Thank you very much for inviting me here tonight, and may you continue to prosper in the years to come.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.