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Tuesday, 15 August 1972
Page: 6

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) (Minister for Works) - I rise on the occasion when the Senate offers its tribute to Sir Owen Dixon because his inestimable qualities have been a beacon to most of us who had the privilege to live through his generation. Others have spoken of the affection and admiration which all men and women of the Bar and people having business before the Court held with abiding feeling for him. His unfailing courtesy and attention to the arguments of even the most unable of the Bar signalised him as a man to whom genuine respect was accorded always.

Senator Sir KennethAnderson has referred to the contributions by Sir Owen Dixon to the public life of Australia outside his court. I wish to say 2 things only in that respect. One demonstrates the humility of this man. 1 have the first on the information of a non-lawyer, a great human character, the late Senator George McLeay, who was Minister responsible for shipping and transport at the time. As soon as Dixon disembarked from his ship about 3rd, 4th or 5th September 1939, he telephoned Senator McLeay to ask: 'Can I be of service?' Dixon came down here saying that all he wanted was a desk in the corridor and a pen. He evolved the structure by which the shipping of the Commonwealth was to be controlled throughout the war.

A little later, when the Curtin Government took office, he was commissioned and took authority from the Government on the 4th of the month - I forget which month; I verified the figures in 1956 and perhaps my memory is a little astray - aided on one side by the arch conservative. Sir Thomas Gordon, the shipping magnate, and on the other by the ultra-communist. Jim Healy. By the 7th of the month he had formulated the legal framework by which the stevedoring operations of the Commonwealth should be guided through the war.

Other speakers have mentioned his great diplomatic efforts. As Senator Greenwood has quite properly said it is for his work in court that he will wish to be remembered and will be remembered for all time not only by people in Australia but also by people in other countries. Chief Justice Parker of England, Lord Chancel-' lor Simmons and judges of the Supreme Court of the United States of America have gone on record to say that he was acknowledged as pre-eminent as a jurist of the English-speaking courts of his period.

He was a great master of the common law principles, which he analysed at all times with clarity. He used a striking Anglo-Saxon diction which he never permitted to be obscured but often aided with his storehouse of classical knowledge. But I venture to say, Mr President, in the presence of my fellow senators that it was in application of these principles to our own specially important Constitution that the late Chief Justice made his most substantial mark and contributed to the building of a body of doctrine which, in my assessment, will stamp his as an era of exposition superior in importance to the great constitutional decisions of the Stuart period. He worked in a period of great challenge, a period in which the judge was tested as the final repository and the protector of individual rights under the law. We remember that it was in the airways case that he established the essentials of freedom as outlined in section 92 of the Constitution. He further expounded those essentials, against strong dissent but with great perseverance, in the road transport cases, in which he declared that freedom must insist upon opposing arbitrary government discretion. Then in the Communist Party dissolution case he took a notable lead. Two sentences from his judgment in that case I take leave to quote, for they are etched indelibly upon my mind:

History, and not only ancient history, shows that in countries where democratic institutions have been unconstitutionally superseded, it has been done not seldom by those holding executive power. Forms of government may need protection from dangers likely to arise from within the institutions to be protected.

The last of the four great pillars, as 1 think of his decisions was in the boilermakers' case in which he insisted that no other arm of government should encumber the judiciary by adding to it non-judicial power, and no other arm of government should detract from the judiciary by weakening or undermining its proper constitutional jurisdiction. My hope is that some scholar of adequate capacity will undertake a complete study of every judgment that Sir Owen Dixon delivered judicially, dissenting judgments and majority judgments alike.I believe that a complete study of those judgments would reveal a body of jurisprudence which would be invaluable in the guidance of the government of this country for centuries to come.

You have listened with patience to me speaking at greater length than I usually permit myself on occasions such as these. It is with the memory of a character exalted and revered in the highest degree that every honourable senator in this place pays tribute to the late great Chief Justice of our High Court.

The PRESIDENT - I ask honourable senators to stand in their places as a mark of respect and to join me in a small tribute to the memory of the late Right Honourable Sir Owen Dixon, one time Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. (Honourable senators stood in their places.)

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