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Welcome Chief Justice Robert French


Cite as: (2008) 89(12) LIJ, p.25

Chief Justice Robert French was welcomed at a ceremonial sitting of the High Court in Melbourne on 2 December 2008. Among the speakers was then LIV president Tony Burke. This is an edited version of his speech.

I appear on behalf of the LIV and the 12,500 or so solicitors of this state to welcome you to Victoria in your capacity as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

We hope to welcome your Honour frequently to our state as a guest.

And in that hope, I would like to give you some free, perhaps even gratuitous, advice about the great state of Victoria, and in particular Melbourne.

First. When in Melbourne, always wear black. It is reputedly our uniform. If your Honour wants to travel around incognito it would be wise to dress accordingly.

Second. Watch out for trams. They will not watch out for you. They always have right of way. And don’t even think about passing one on the right. You will be run out of town if you do.

Third. Hook turns. Don’t attempt them. If you want to go west we suggest that you head east instead and take a generally anti-clockwise course of ever increasing circuits until you arrive. That way you will never need to turn right or attempt a hook turn as they are an acquired skill, one most people struggle with unless they are born locally. It is a bit like driving in Canberra where given the strange road system you generally head north when you plan on travelling south.

Fourth. Your teams. There is of course only one league in Victoria and that is the AFL. And unfortunately your Honour has picked the wrong teams. Do not advertise your support for either the Dockers or the Eagles while visiting Victoria and you might be wise to consider adopting another, local team. May I commend the Mighty Hawks?

Fifth. Feel free to talk about the weather. Do it often. It’s our consuming passion, alongside sport, at which we excel as spectators.

Sixth. Mind your colloquialisms! Terms such as “Carlton identity” and “industrial mediator” have a particular local resonance that you would do well to note. Chris Judd may be a Carlton player but he might sue if you refer to him as a Carlton identity. And my learned colleagues at the Bar might do likewise if you refer to any of their number as an industrial mediator.

Finally, coffee. We take it very seriously here. For many, barristas rate ahead of barristers in our pecking order. You will know you have made it as a local when you walk into a café near court and they instantly produce – without checking your preference – your brew of choice.

I offer this advice on our local mores, as it’s well documented that your Honour is in need of no assistance with your legal career.

As has been widely reported, your Honour comes to the High Court after a full and distinguished career which began in Western Australia.

My colleagues at the Law Society of Western Australia speak highly of your Honour and have the privilege of knowing you well.

You are an honorary member of the Law Society of Western Australia. Its current president, Dudley Stow, describes you as a “good bloke”. In this country, in our idiom, that speaks volumes.

He went on to say that you are diligent and a hard worker and that you have had a wide and varied career.

He also noted your Honour’s broad interests and social conscience, exemplified by your central role in establishing the Aboriginal Legal Service in Western Australia from 1973 to 1975. This was early evidence of your social conscience, as your Honour was only admitted to practice in December 1972.

As we have heard, you went on in 1975 to establish the partnership of Warren McDonald & French before you went to the Bar. So you have that essential balance of time served as a solicitor before going to the Bar.

We have also heard of your Honour’s long and distinguished career, your service to the Federal Court of Australia.

And, of course, your appointment to the High Court has been widely praised.

Your Honour, we look forward to seeing more of you in Melbourne.

On behalf of the LIV and the solicitors of this state, I welcome you and I assure you of our continuing service whenever you and your Court visit our state.


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