Ceremonial sitting of the Full Court

To welcome the Honourable Justice Meagher

Transcript of proceedings

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9.30 AM, FRIDAY, 12 AUGUST 2022

ALLSOP CJ: Welcome to this ceremonial sitting of the Court to welcome Justice Meagher to the Court. I commence by acknowledging the Turrbal and Jagera people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Sitting on the bench with Justice Meagher and myself are the judges of the Queensland District Registry. Justice Lee from Sydney, Justice Jackson from Perth and Justice McEvoy from Melbourne. Sitting with the judges of the Court are our former colleagues, the Honourable Jeffrey Spender QC, the Honourable John Dowsett AM QC, the Honourable Andrew Greenwood and the Honourable John Reeves QC.

Justice Meagher, I particularly welcome your family. Your husband, Toby, your sons, Winter and Declan, your mother and father, Mrs Wendy Callinan and the Honourable Ian Callinan AC, your mother-in-law, Mrs Pat Meagher, and your aunt, Dr Madeline Hamon, as well as your many, many friends and colleagues. May I acknowledge the presence of Justice Patrick Keane and Justice Edelman of the High Court of Australia, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Chief Justice Helen Bowskill, the Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, Chief Justice William Alstergren AO and the Chief Judge of the District Court of Queensland, Brian Devereaux SC and the many judges of the Court of Appeal of Queensland and the Supreme Court of Queensland, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia and the District Court of Queensland.

There are a number of apologies all of which I will not read out. But chief among them are the Attorney-General, the Honourable Mark Dreyfus QC MP and the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Honourable Susan Kiefel AC, and all other members of the High Court, Justice Gageler, Justice Gordon, Justice Steward and Justice Gleeson. May I also acknowledge the Bar Table. Ms Kara Thomson, President of the Queensland Law Society who will not be speaking because the Law Council will be speaking on the Queensland Law Society’s behalf and of the presence of the Solicitor-General for Queensland, Gim Del Villar QC.

Justice Meagher, on behalf of all the judges of the court around Australia may I welcome you to the court. You have, of course, already taken up your duties as President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and having been sworn in as a Federal Court judge. The Tribunal, of course, is a centrally important institution in the proper review of Commonwealth administrative decisions at all levels. It is a huge institution calling for great energy and skill in administration and I have no doubt whatsoever that you will bring that energy and skill to the task. I will not be able to look forward to a long association with you on the Court as the Constitution says I must remove my belongings from the building by next April. But while I am here I look forward to working with you to the extent that you consider that helpful in relation to the burdens you have undertaken. I wish you a long and happy judicial career which lies ahead including while you carry on your tasks in the Tribunal. Welcome.

Mr Graham Perrett MP, representing the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth.

MR G. PERRETT MP: May it please the court. I, too, would like to begin by acknowledging the Jagera and Turrbal people and thank them for their strong and continuous stewardship and pay my respects to their elders past and present and I also like to extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples present today. It’s a great privilege to be present here today to congratulate your Honour on your appointment as a justice of the Federal Court of Australia and as the president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Attorney-General, the Honourable Mark Dreyfus QC MP, regrets that he cannot be here to share this occasion with you today. As you might know, he’s dealing with a couple of Attorneys-General and – from the states and territories looking at coercive control in Melbourne. Didn’t want to come to sunny Queensland.

He has, however, asked that I convey the Albanese government’s warmest congratulations to your Honour on your appointment. Your Honour’s appointment to this court is another success in a multifaceted legal and management career. That so many of your colleagues and the legal profession are here today is testament to the high regard in which your colleagues hold your Honour. May I particularly acknowledge Patrick Keane J, justice of the High Court of Australia, James Edelman J, justice of the High Court of Australia, Helen Bowskill CJ of the Supreme Court of Queensland, William Alstergren AO, chief justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, other current and former members of the judiciary already acknowledged and members of the legal profession. Last and definitely not least that I particularly acknowledge my good friend, the former member for Ryan, last but one, Jane Prentice, here today as well.

May I also acknowledge the presence of your Honour’s family, particularly, your very proud husband, Toby, your proud parents, Ian and Wendy, and your children, Winter and Declan, who proudly share this occasion with you. Your Honour undertook primary education at the Indooroopilly State School and completed high school at Brisbane Girls Grammar. Your father, a lawyer and later justice of the High Court, encouraged you to argue your point at home. So you started it. So you took a great interest in school debating which turned out to also – to be an excellent intellectual and social outlet. Your Honour attended the University of Queensland where you graduated in arts and law. Friends advise that during your university studies you made juggling sport, a part-time job and studying the law look easy. But you were always ready to help anyone struggling with the rigours of a law degree.

Following your Honour’s studies you were admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1987 and the High Court of Australia in 1989. In the years preceding your admission you worked as an associate to both the Honourable Douglas Campbell QC and the Honourable Paul De Jersey QC at the Supreme Court of Queensland and toiled as a law clerk at Maurice Fletcher & Cross. From 1988 to ’93 you worked as a solicitor specialising in commercial litigation. In 1993 you became group general counsel and company secretary for the Telecom group of companies with responsibility for advising on large scale commercial transactions, acquisitions and mergers as well as protecting intellectual property in software development.

From 1997 to 2004 your Honour undertook a number of management roles including Queensland manager of the legal management consulting practice group at Blake Dawson Waldron and chief operating officer at McCullough Robertson. You then worked as a management consultant with Beaton Research and Consulting for the next 10 years. From 2014 until 2020 your Honour was a member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal Queensland. You were also the presidential delegate for over a year acting on the most serious of matters balancing the rights of the individual and the community. Your Honour has served at the AAT since your appointment as a member in 2015. You were promoted to senior member in 2018 and then appointment as the division head of the National Disability Insurance Scheme division in 2020.

Growing up your Honour was known as a very keen sports player. Friends note you were a passionate and competitive netballer. My notes don’t say which position but we will get to that later. You were also an accomplished equestrian rider representing Queensland in junior and open competitions and as someone married to someone who loves that calling I know that it takes real – real ticker – real ticker. Your Honour is also well-known at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for your baking skills sharing home baked goods to encourage work collegiality and connection. I understand that you made someone very happy by finally divulging the recipe for your salmon and dill crepe stack – at least, that’s what I’m told.

In fact, I’m informed that your Honour’s appointment commences against the backdrop of a very, very strong family life and that you are quick to credit your husband, Toby, with the enormous contribution that he has made to your family as well as his ongoing support and wisdom, and thanks to providing those lines, Toby – just kidding. Your friends describe you as a devoted mother to Winter and Declan. We understand that Sunday night is referred to by your Honour as “compulsory family night no matter what” with your Honour spoiling your children and any of their friends who happen to be around with one of your culinary feasts. Outside of your professional qualifications and experience I’m told that your Honour stands out for your empathy, decency and willingness to help others – core values for any person but especially valued in the legal profession.

This is exemplified in your Honour’s former board memberships including the Breast Cancer Association, the Youth Advocacy Centre, the Zonta Club of Brisbane and the Brisbane Boys College Foundation where you initiated and raised funds for the establishment of an innovative program for children with special learning needs. A friend also shared an anecdote highlighting your commitment to assisting others when needed. I understand your university pal, who may or may not be in the room, was invited to your Honour’s parents’ home for dinner and at the time was completely unaware that your father was a highly regarded QC in Queensland. The story goes that during dinner the conversation turned to your legal studies and your Honour’s father asked your friend what subjects you were studying that year. Apparently, your friend had spent most of her time at university to that point at the Uni club and playing netball and couldn’t actually recall her subjects.

It sounds like a little bit more of the former and not so much of the latter. But your Honour’s father looked stunned at your new friend. But you quickly came to her rescue by rattling off her subjects and deflecting the conversation back to her sporting prowess. Sounds like a very good friend indeed, your Honour. David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character, argues that society places too much emphasis on CV virtues and awards and promotions are fine and yours are, obviously, very extensive, your Honour. But Brooks says we should focus on eulogy virtues. How we make people feel. Do we treat them with dignity? Do we make their lives better? Now, you have plenty of CV virtues in spades, your Honour, obviously, from – as you’ve shown. So on behalf of the Australian government and the Australian people I extend to you my sincere congratulations and welcome you to the Federal Court of Australia. May it please the court.

ALLSOP CJ: Thank you, Mr Perrett. Mr Dunning QC, Vice-President of the Australian Bar Association and representing the Bar Association of Queensland.

MR P. DUNNING QC: May it please the court. Keane and Edelman JJ, Bowskill and Alstergren CJ, Devereaux CJ, justices of the Federal Court, justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished former justices of the Federal Court, the solicitor general for Queensland, distinguished guests all. Meagher J, it is my privilege and pleasure in equal measure today to speak on behalf of the barristers throughout Australia to offer their congratulations to your Honour on this momentous day for your Honour and your family. It is the ultimate professional attainment to be appointed a justice of a superior court of record and they must be a source of much joy and pride not only for your Honour but for your husband, Toby, and for your sons, Declan and Winter, and also to your parents, Wendy and Ian, who should look upon today as one that they have no doubt thought a true joy.

No doubt, there are many members of your family and friends who can’t be here today. But one sees from those assembled at the bar table in seniority just the regard your Honour is held in. I will echo without repeating your Honour’s academic prowess dealt with by Mr Perrett and also your Honour’s long career in and around the law. Your Honour had a distinguished career as a solicitor. Your Honour had a distinguished career in-house and your Honour had a distinguished career in consulting within law firms all before your Honour commenced, nearly a decade ago, a distinguished career in tribunal work for which the community is, itself, very grateful.

In particular, in 2020 your Honour was made deputy president of the tribunal – the Administrative Appeals Tribunal – and divisional head responsible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme division, one of the most significant growth areas for the tribunal in recent years. In that role your Honour developed a leadership structure for the division to support its functions with respect to member development and collegiality, stakeholder liaison and the development of jurisprudence which is in its early days of implementation. The AAT has the most diverse of jurisdictions. It has divisions described as freedom of information, a general division, migration and refugee, the National Disability Insurance I’ve just spoken of, a security division, small business taxation division, social services and child support division, taxation and commercial and veterans appeals.

But one only needs to recount them to realise the breadth of the jurisdiction of the court – that the tribunal exercises and the fact that it interfaces between the subject and the state at the most coalface level of any tribunal, and that pulled upon it a special degree of skill and talent and experience all of which your Honour brings to the role and, unsurprisingly, with the exception of the late the Honourable Daryl Davies and the late Sir Gerard Brennan, every other member who has become the president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal took on an appointment to the Federal Court for the purpose of becoming president as your Honour has. It would also be remiss of me not to notice on behalf of the barristers of the Commonwealth that your Honour comes, notwithstanding a small period of times as a barrister, but as somebody whose career was marked out in the solicitors’ branch of the profession, and I will not steal the thunder of Mr Murphy who will speak after me and it would be right to say that the bar – the private bar, no doubt, considers that it is the natural selection ground for judicial appointment.

But it’s in every sense appropriate that the bar notices the significant contribution the solicitors’ branch has made to this and other courts, and so your Honour follows in the footsteps of Markovic, who’s presently on the court, the former Greenwood, just retired, and Lehane JJ just as some exemplars of the contribution to this court of people who come from the solicitors’ branch or those who have come from a non-private bar background like Collier and Sarah Derrington JJ. Might I conclude by saying this. Your Honour brings to the court, importantly, not only the attributes of skill and learning. But to those who know your Honour a personal decency combined with a discretion and concern for others that expresses itself in what you do rather than what you say about you do – what you do that make you well-placed for this role. On behalf of the barristers of Australia, Meagher J, I wish you many happy years as a justice of the Federal Court and president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. May it please the court.

ALLSOP CJ: Thank you, Mr Dunning. Mr Murphy, President-Elect of the Law Council of Australia and also representing the Queensland Law Society.

MR L. MURPHY: May it please the court. I first acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal people as the traditional owners of the lands and seas where Brisbane city is situated today and pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge all judicial officers, dignitaries, family, friends and, most of all, your Honour. As, I trust, your Honour is aware, it is a great honour for me, personally, to have this opportunity on behalf of the Law Council of Australia, the Australian legal profession, the president of the Queensland Law Society, Ms Thomson, and the Queensland Law Society to welcome you to your new appointment. Our respective families have enjoyed a long relationship as a result of our profession and this meant that on more than one occasion in my long distant youth I enjoyed the pleasure of your company at your family home at Chapel Hill.

I am also delighted your husband, Toby, whose friendship I enjoyed through our university years is here this morning. Toby, it is a great pleasure to welcome you, Winter and Declan to this very special occasion. As we have already heard, your Honour’s career, once graduating from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws, has been a varied one. It has traversed many of the opportunities that a law degree offers graduates. It has included working in the Queensland courts in private practice across the whole gamut of legal practice. Litigation, commercial, corporate, intellectual and property law as well as time in private enterprise as general counsel, company secretary and a management consultant. The list is quite exhaustive. It is, however, this vast and varied experience that provides your Honour with a unique insight into the challenges that your new dual role presents, particularly, in leading the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which, as we’ve heard, covers such a broad array of fields.

One of your contemporaries who knows your experience and your abilities well said to me that your Honour’s strong analytical and legal skills will bring integrity and thought leadership to the tribunal’s evolving operations, to the development of our country’s administrative law and to the confidence of the community that its rights and privileges will be safe guarded. It is, of course, somewhat trite for me to say that it is a significant responsibility that you have accepted. It is, of course, a responsibility that affects many ordinary Australians in a deeply personal way in their day-to-day lives. It will, of course, therefore, demand all of the attributes that your Honour has been blessed with. Your Honour, as you know, the Law Council is very much looking forward to contributing to your Honour’s work in the ongoing development and management of the tribunal. Your Honour was first appointed to the tribunal in 2015 and during your relatively short time on it you have already been responsible for significant work undertaken to improve access to the tribunal for people with disability. The tribunal’s most recent annual report states – and I quote:

In 2020/21 we welcomed the assignment of Deputy President Meagher as the NDIS division head. Deputy President Meagher has contributed to the coordination and leadership of the division since 2019 as a senior member. She has continued to play a pivotal role in the continuation of the national triage process and establishment of a dedicated team to review all incoming applications. The division has developed a case load strategy which encourages responsiveness, flexibility and timely case management by utilising members and conference registrars nationally and leveraging the tribunal’s recent digital transformation.

Your Honour, you have clearly been diligent in your efforts to improve systems and processes to ensure those who require help can get it without undue delay. Your thoughtful yet businesslike approach has brought both compassion and effectiveness to the resolution of a number of issues that were impacting some of the most vulnerable members of our community. For this we thank you. The Law Council, as you know, believes more can be done to assist NDIS participants navigate the dispute resolution system. The Council recently called for increased funding for legal assistance services relating to NDIS related appeals.

We believe this is critical to ensuring the effectiveness of many of the initiatives that, no doubt, will form part of your Honour’s endeavours to continually improve the tribunal’s operations so that it provides more effective and efficient access to justice for individuals who are seeking to access sufficient funding for critical supports and we look forward to working with your Honour in achieving this.

Your Honour’s reputation and high standing is, though, not restricted to your professional career. As we have heard, your Honour’s reputation as a formidable netball player, as I understand, was well-known and I have been reliably informed struck fear into the hearts of many opponents.

Hopefully, none will have to appear before you on the tribunal. Your Honour’s ability in equestrian sports, of course, would not surprise anyone who was familiar with your maternal history. However, what was of particular interest to me was the common acknowledgement that you were the best cricketer in your family. I am informed a pretty capable batter but a somewhat erratic bowler. More importantly, though, your Honour has, as we have heard, made significant contributions outside of the law to broader community endeavours including education for the disadvantaged and the Youth Advocacy Centre. Your Honour, on behalf of the Australian legal profession I wish you every success in your new role and I have no doubt that with your compassion and commitment the tribunal, the profession and the Australian community will benefit from your appointment. On behalf of the lawyers of Australia, congratulations. May it please the court.

ALLSOP CJ: Thank you, Mr Murphy. Justice Meagher.

MEAGHER J: First, I begin by acknowledging the Jagera and Turrbal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and I acknowledge their continuing connection to land, waters and community and pay my respects to the people, the culture and the elders past and present. Allsop CJ, Keane and Edelman JJ, Bowskill and Alstergren CJ and Devereaux CJ, fellow and former judges, distinguished guests, my family, friends and colleagues thank you all very much for attending today. I am most grateful for your presence. I thank Allsop CJ, Mr Perrett, Mr Dunning, Mr Murphy – for your kind and encouraging addresses.

My appointment to this court is a great honour and I hope that I am worthy of it. I owe debts to many people who have assisted and supported me. I cannot name them all but will mention just a few. It begins, of course, with my parents, Ian and Wendy, who are here in court today. They raised me with values which remain my touchstones. Those values include always to act with integrity and humility, to treat everyone equally and with respect, to see the points of views of others and take into account their feelings and to work hard. They provided me with an excellent education and many opportunities. They encouraged me to be well-rounded, to be interested in the arts, literature, history and public affairs, to participate in and follow sport and to take my education seriously.

That was balanced by insisting upon self-reliance and initiative. As such, I was encouraged to get my first part-time job working in a florist shop when I was 13 years old and I’ve been working ever since, although, part-time for periods during the childhood years. Next, I must acknowledge my husband, Toby, and our two boys, Winter and Declan. Toby is a civil engineer and maths teacher. He is a model of decency, humility, dignity and kindness. His is the voice of reason and practical common sense. As one can imagine, those qualities make him a great support to me and, indeed, all the members of our family who regularly enjoy his quiet and steadfast hand at our backs. It probably also helps that he’s not a lawyer.

My sons are my world and while they have presented the usual challenges they are also my greatest source of pride and joy. I’m quietly I awe of the determined and resilient way they each pursue their diverse and challenging careers. I also thank my friends. I have been fortunate that friends made many decades ago are here today. There are friends from school, from university, made during my career and from the school gate. I thank you all for your unwavering support. The law has provided me with a myriad of options including working as a judge’s associate to DM Campbell J, whose son and his wife remain friends, and later De Jersey J, as a solicitor, a general counsel and company secretary and leading and managing professional services firms, particularly, at McCullough Robertson. It ultimately lead to the last eight years of working in state and Commonwealth tribunals.

The diversity of my career has meant that I have been taught and mentored by many wonderful and generous people. They include the Supreme Court judges, to whom I’ve already referred, and my master whilst an articled clerk, Elizabeth Nosworthy. I was also very fortunate that they included the Honourable Andrew Greenwood who is here today. As was frequently observed at the recent farewell ceremony for him the Honourable Andrew Greenwood was a first class teacher and mentor with a genuine interest in the welfare and future of the young lawyers who worked with him. I am very grateful that for the first few months of my appointment he was the senior judge in Brisbane.

Other leaders in their fields with whom I have been lucky to work including George Beaton, Brett Heading and Mark Darwin, some of whom are here today. Becoming a tribunal member introduced me to more mentors and colleagues. Special mention goes to Barbara Kent, my mentor at the Queensland Mental Health Review Tribunal. She is now a member of QCAT and the MHRTs loss is QCATs gain. I think I should say a little about my commission as the president of the AAT. I intend to be faithful to its two primary purposes. To provide people with the right to challenge government decisions and to improve the quality of government decision-making. The AAT is an important institution in the legal system. I am strongly committed to ensuring public confidence in it. I will be guided by the words of Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE QC in 1997 written in an article entitled “The Parliament, the Executive and the Courts – Roles and Immunities”:

Bureaucracies sometimes regard the AAT as an irksome trespasser on their territory – a cuckoo in the administrative nest. And so it is. And, in my respectful opinion, so it should be. It should also be a constructive participant in the improvement of administration and the refinement of policy. In times of economic stringency, the cost of maintaining a system of external merits review may be more than an Executive Government (perhaps encouraged by its bureaucracy) wishes to bear, but it is hard to overstate the importance of allowing the citizen an opportunity to meet government on equal terms in matters that affect that citizen.

Further, I will approach my duties conscious of Allsop CJs wisdom in affirming his commitment to his office as Chief Justice of this court made on 4 March 2013:

Power is not only to be appreciated, understood and controlled by reference to contentions as to who is entitled to wield it and to what extent, power is also about people, those the subject of its exercise. That is why it is not to be understood by linear or mathematical or strictly logical models only. The court is thus placed at the centre of the review of the exercise of public and private power of the people.

I hope that I have not detained you too long. Thank you again for your presence here today.

ALLSOP CJ: The court will now adjourn.