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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11340

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP CEREMONIAL SITTING OF THE SUPREME COURT 175TH ANNIVERSARY – NEW SOUTH WALES

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 17/05/1999

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11340

E&OE...................................................................................................

Chief Justice, Chief Justice of Australia, your Excellencies, your

Honours, Premier,

Mr Whitlam.

I have the honour and privilege today to participate in this ceremony

on behalf of the solicitors of New South Wales and to offer my congratulations

on behalf of the Law Society of New South Wales to this Court on obtaining

its 175th anniversary.

It is, of course, a time when I believe despite our reluctance as

Australians over the years to think over much about our history and,

as Mr Whitlam said, we have tended in the past to think of history

as belonging to other countries. I do believe that as we approach

the Centenary of the Federation of the Australian nation and as Australians

begin to ponder the fact that within a very short period of time there

will be no Australians left alive who were personally associated with

many of the seminal events which have given shape to the modern nation.

We are as Australians becoming increasingly interested in and preoccupied

with our history. We are finding new meaning to many of the institutions

that have been important to our society over the years. And no collective

view, no institution has been more important to the development of

the modern Australian society than, of course, the rule of law.

We have many debates in our community about the desirability of writing

a bill of rights into our Constitution. There is an ongoing debate

acquired on most occasions as to whether the best protection of liberty

is a robust common law or perhaps something that is more firmly rooted

in statute. And it is not my role today to prolong or to add further

dimension to that debate except to express the view that in all the

time I have been in public life I have held very strongly to the conviction

that there are three great bulwarks to a democratic society in its

best sense. You need a vigorous and robust parliamentary system, you

need a free press and you need an incorruptible judiciary. And the

courts of this nation of which the Supreme Court of New South Wales

is in many ways the exemplar, the courts of this nation through the

years have demonstrated constant integrity, a constant discipline

and constant incorruptibility. The willingness of courts to impose

upon themselves and particularly this court those disciplines, to

impose those disciplines on its members has been a constant reassurance

to successive generations of Australians.

Of course the court has changed. Of course the profession of which

I had the honour of practicing until I entered Federal Parliament

has changed. I am reminded of the more obvious changes, the far larger

number of women. When I did my first year at the Sydney University

Law School in 1957 something in the order of 12 or 15 in my year were

women. When my daughter commenced that same year 35 years later 52

per cent of her first year were women. The technological changes that

have overtaken the practice of solicitors in the last quarter of a

century would leave a person who had been out of practice for 25 years

which is my situation returning to that practice in many respects

bewildered. It would have changed in so many ways yet there is a continuity

and that continuity is that the practices of a solicitor is the practice

of public service. A solicitor has an obligation to serve clients,

a solicitor has an obligation to honour the traditions of the profession,

a solicitor has an obligation to honour the principles and the service

of the law. The law is a valuable bulwark against tyranny and a slide

into authoritarianism. As we have seen only too sadly in one or two

places recently the first signs of a drift to authoritarianism is

an apparent encroachment by the executive upon the absolute independence

and the absolute integrity of the courts of a nation.

Your Honour, it is a privilege to extend on behalf of the solicitors

of this State the members of the Law Society of New South Wales, our

sincere congratulations on the 175th anniversary of this

very distinguished court, this great bulwark of freedom in Australia.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 11340