Royal Commissioner John Dyson Heydon AC, QC

Photo of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon AC, QC
25 August 2015

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [5.59 p.m.]: I reluctantly enter the public debate about the Hon. Dyson Heydon, AC, QC, and the application to remove him as a royal commissioner on the grounds of alleged apprehended bias. I have no doubts that Mr Heydon will deal with this issue with the propriety and integrity that have been the hallmarks of his stellar legal career over many years. I have had dealings with Mr Heydon only in our respective positions as lawyers. Mr Heydon lectured me in equity in 1985 at the University of Sydney law school. He did so as a public service because, as a leading Queen's Counsel, he had higher-paid things to do with his time. I had the fortune to brief Mr Heydon on three occasions prior to his appointment in 2000 as a justice of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, which was his first judicial office. He was appointed by the Carr Labor Government. Everything that has been said recently about the exceptional quality of Mr Heydon's intellect is well deserved.

On the question of his integrity, I should share my firsthand experiences. I was the partner of a firm of solicitors that instructed Mr Heydon as senior counsel to take over a case from another Queen's Counsel who had become unavailable just prior to the time that some written submissions needed to be completed for a hearing before the Court of Appeal. Mr Heydon refused to include in those submissions several points that the junior barrister and I had put in the draft submissions. We vigorously discussed whether the points should be included. I had the power to sack Mr Heydon and brief another barrister in order that the points I favoured could be included. Mr Heydon knew I had the power to sack him but refused to include the material I advocated for in the submissions. I still recall him saying that "signing a submission is like signing a cheque." He would only put his name and integrity to something that he believed was intellectually credible. He showed the sort of professional integrity and independence for which he is legendary.

Everyone who worked with him was left in no doubt that his intellectual integrity and independence was at the core of his professional ethos. I cannot imagine that his approach to the unions royal commission is any different. I believe Mr Heydon has lived in the Ku-ring-gai electorate and in the Federal electorate of Bradfield for at least the past 20 years. I have been a member of the local Liberal Party for the past 16 years, including from 2008 to 2015 when I was the Bradfield Federal Electorate Conference (FEC) president, which is the senior voluntary position in the local Liberal Party. To my knowledge, Mr Heydon has had nothing whatsoever to do with the Liberal Party during the years of my membership and active local involvement in the party. In my experience, the comment attributed recently in the media to one of Mr Heydon's former High Court colleagues, who described Mr Heydon as "apolitical", is correct.

I should add one further observation. Mr Heydon was a member of the High Court when I took my bows as a new silk in early 2012. Prior to the ceremony he invited some of the new Sydney silks and their partners to have lunch in his chambers at the High Court of Australia building in Canberra. I do not know for sure the politics of all those who were invited and attended, but I am certain from the conversations on that day that there were people who were very left of centre and who are unlikely to be supporters of the Liberal Party. But they were guests of Mr Heydon at that lunch in his private judge's chambers. I hardly knew Mr Heydon socially prior to that day, having met him only through the legal community and having had only some minor conversations with him. It was very generous of him to have those present as his guests for lunch.

Those who know Mr Heydon are not just Liberal Party members like me or what people would call "conservatives". For example, Mr Richard Cobden, SC, a former President of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and an intellectual property law expert, last week wrote a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald expressing similar sentiments to mine about Mr Heydon. When good decent people like Mr Heydon, who have led a life of exceptional service to our community, are unfairly berated and denigrated, we all as a society lose out. I have been very saddened by the events of recent weeks. I think it has reflected very badly on those who have conducted the public attack on one of our country's greatest lawyers. We need people of outstanding ability and integrity like Mr Heydon in public life. I hope that people like him are not deterred from entering public service because of the attacks upon a man of such good standing. I thank the House.