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Judiciary: Welcome Justice Jack Rush

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Cite as: April 2014 88 (04) LIJ, p.32

Justice Jack Rush QC was welcomed to the Supreme Court of Victoria on 5 December 2013. Among the speakers was 2013 LIV president Reynah Tang. This is an edited version of his speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, to congratulate your Honour on your appointment to this Court.

This is a particular pleasure because my law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, had the privilege of acting effectively as your Honour’s instructing solicitors in the Bushfires Royal Commission chaired by my former partner, Justice Bernie Teague.

Another former partner, Val Gostencnik, now a deputy president of Fair Work Australia, headed the Corrs team that supported your Honour and your team of counsel assisting the Commission.

Mr Gostencnik found your Honour a delight to work with throughout that long and drawn out traumatic experience. The Commission began in February 2009. The final report was published in July 2010.

From the outset, your Honour set the direction of the legal team: courtesy and empathy towards the victims; the dispassionate collation, synthesis and presentation of evidence to the Commissioners; and the fearless and thorough pursuit of the truth.

Your Honour worked with and mentored the young solicitors from Corrs. You supported them through the often crushing stress and the emotional toll and vicarious trauma that comes from working on these kinds of matters. You taught them and praised their good work.

Mr Gostencnik nicknamed your Honour “Denny Crane” – the William Shatner character in the TV series Boston Legal – because of your gravelly voiced, somewhat abrupt, style of self-introduction: “Jack Rush”. Your Honour hadn’t then heard of Boston Legal.

Fortunately, your Honour has a keen sense of humour. One of your instructors remarked, “There are not a lot of senior silks with whom one can share a good hearty chortle”.

From 1994 to 2000, your Honour worked on the “Stolen Generation” case. The trial ran for 106 sitting days. Your Honour took care to inform yourself about Aboriginal customs and traditions. You had a workshop for the legal team so that everyone would be informed.

Your Honour’s scrupulous sensitivity and respect for Aboriginal customs and traditions – your attentive listening and personal respect and human compassion for each individual – were all foundational to the deep trust and affection in which your Honour was held by every Aboriginal client and witness.

There were some 700 claimants from the Northern Territory and the Islands, male and female, and from a wide variety of clan groupings. The work took your Honour to almost every state and territory.

The two lead plaintiffs were Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner. Lorna’s tribal/language groups are the Warlpiri and Warumungu from the Tennant Creek region of the Northern Territory. Peter’s tribal/language groups are the Anmatyerre and the Alyawarre from the Sandover River region, just north of Alice Springs.

The Aboriginal custom is that references to one who has died be preceded by the word “Kumm -’n-jigh (as in “high”)”. Accordingly, after his death, Your Honour spoke of him as “Kumm-’n-jigh Gunner”.

In September 2007, the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales with the Commonwealth Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission sponsored a one-day conference marking the tenth anniversary of Sir Roland Wilson’s landmark report, Bringing Them Home.

Speaking at that conference, your Honour frankly acknowledged the failure of the Cubillo and Gunner case to make the Commonwealth government accountable for its policy of removal and detention of part-Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

You said this: “The elapse of time means it is easy to lose inspiration – to extinguish the passion that drives us to do good and address wrongs. Re-reading the Cubillo and Gunner case motivates to renew this fight for justice – to achieve an apology and some form of reparation for those who have suffered so much as a consequence of this policy of removal. I hope it has a similar effect on you”.

Not long after, your Honour’s instructor was invited to Canberra for the apology on 13 February 2008 – as were a number of your claimants, including Lorna Cubillo and Valerie Day – and they were on the floor of the House and personally greeted by the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and then leader of the opposition, Brendan Nelson.

The apology was a highly anticipated and greatly acknowledged moment for all your claimants.

One of the things we honour today is your Honour’s “passion that drives us to do good and address wrongs” – a passion that drove your Honour – and enthused all who worked with you – a passion that will enliven your Honour’s sworn duty to do justice.

Your Honour’s instructing solicitors have always admired your Honour’s human and personal engagement with their clients. Clients are often nervous of contact with their eminent QC. However, within 10 minutes, your Honour had their confidence and trust – whether the client was an Aboriginal from the Stolen Generation in a hut in the remote North; a mesothelioma victim on the verge of death, whose evidence had to be taken at home, or the distraught family of a bushfire victim. In each case, your Honour engaged immediately and easily with them as a caring human being.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I wish your Honour satisfying and distinguished service as a judge of this Court.

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