Graduation address given by Bruce McWilliam

Bruce McWilliam gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Law graduation ceremony held at 2.00pm on 22 May 2009. Bruce is Commercial Director, Seven Television Network and a recipient of the title of Honorary Fellow of the University.

The photo of Mr McWilliam is copyright, Memento Photography.

Bruce McWilliam

Graduation address

I am honoured by the award of Fellow and would like to thank the University for bestowing this upon me. For a start given my wife has a Masters of Law degree and is studying for her Ph.D., these robes restore a measure of equality to our matrimonial wardrobe.

I would also like to say how honoured I am to have on the dais some people who have been very helpful to me throughout my life and career, Assoc Prof Barry Spurr of the Department of English and also former senior tutor of St Paul’s College and Justice John McLaughlin also a tutor in law at St Pauls College. Also Ron McCallum and his wife Mary who inspired me to become involved in the Law School fund raising project and then the Advisory Committee, as well as his successor the Dean Gillian Triggs with whom I have been working on the new Law Foundation.

The Pro Chancellor himself a leading QC has with his diplomatic skills in referring to me managed to avoid making reference to the fact that I come from the television industry.

I think in a sense that overlooks the contribution of the television industry to the law. We at Seven Network are enthusiastic participants in the law on a daily basis. We are repeatedly defendants in defamation cases through our ground breaking and hard hitting current affairs program Today Tonight, not to mention committing and alleging breaches of copyright, contempt of court and other things routinely We keep our lawyers up to speed and push them into new tax brackets....whatever they are

As recently as last week In his judgment in the High Court in ACCC versus Seven Network concerning a broadcast on Today Tonight, Mr Justice Dyson Heydon – about whom more will be heard later – said our broadcasts were certainly revealed … “as tasteless, as vulgar, as pandering to the basest of human desires, and as highly likely to achieve both popular and critical acclaim."

Mr Justice Heydon was the only one who held in our favour in that decision. You can imagine what the ones who found against us said! And this is a case where we had won 3 nil in the Full Federal Court only to go down 4-1 in the High Court. That was the second television decision in the past month where the industry won unanimously in the Full Federal Court only to be overturned decisively by the High Court. Our competitor Nine Network lost its Ice TV case on compilation copyright in program listings the same way. We live in interesting legal times. This is the world in which you come to practice. Good luck with advising your clients.

But I digress with hard case law. I also refer to our program Boston Legal which shows the levels of legal practice that those graduating today might only dream of. In earlier times the movie 12 Angry Men showcased the jury system. Who seriously can say they are not partly here because of LA Law, Ally McBeal or The Practice? – all have pushed the boundaries of legal knowledge and increased understanding of what we lawyers do. I know I do not need to go into further detail as I am sure that these shows are familiar to you all and that they have been included in your curriculum and rigorously studied for your exams.

Our Law School has been a veritable recruiting ground for the entertainment industry. Not only the Chasers went here (Craig Reucassel, BEc ’99, LLB ’02; Julian Morrow, BA ’95, LLB ’98; Chas Licciardello, BSc ’99, LLB ‘00), but also Andrew O’Keefe, James O’Loughlin, Peter Garrett, and Geoffrey Robertson. Tim Friedman, an alumnus, named his group the Whitlams after the real one who is also an alumnus, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam of course succeeded Sir William McMahon another alumnus whose son Julian left the Law School and Home and Away to go to LA where he starred in Nip Tuck. He has never returned! Elle McPherson enrolled but fled to the US as well. The medical faculty may have George Miller but we have Charles Waterstreet and also Peter Duncan producer of Children of the Revolution and more recently Unfinished Skies. Some would even say Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey belong in the entertainment category. Certainly at Law School Malcolm Turnbull was the political reporter for Radio 2SM and then he was a columnist for the Bulletin. As we worked together I can recount that at one stage he said to Kerry Packer, then owner of the Nine Network, that he wanted to do a current affairs show “Turnbull at Ten”. “Certainly son”, responded Packer, “just make sure it’s on Ten.”

Mr Justice Michael Kirby pioneered by popularising the role of the courts and legal issues in the media. Ian Callinan left the High Court to become a writer of fiction, as did Marcus Einfield from the Federal Court. Our former chief justice Murray Gleeson, is equally as well known as the father in law of Eric Bana. Even after his retirement, we are fortunate that the Sydney University Law School majority on the High Court (with Heydon and Gummow) is maintained through our alumni Susan Creenan and Virginia Bell (herself a former barrel girl on the late night TV series Golden years of Television). Mary Gaudron a medallist, was the first female member of the High Court and successfully argued the equal pay case in 1972. Jenny Klugman was NSW’s first female Rhodes scholar.

My main function today is to congratulate you on your graduation. It was hard enough to get in. You have already either achieved spectacular school results or you have excelled in another faculty or you have done law as a second degree. Perhaps all of the above. By whatever route you came, you have not only achieved admission, but you have stayed the course and you have graduated, in many cases with high honour.

I also congratulate your parents and families. To those families of graduates, who have provided support, this is an especially happy moment and something to be enormously proud of, to have been responsible not only for the basic human capital base for such achievement but also for providing the practical financial support and nurturing and perhaps push along the way. The demands on students and their families have never been greater; I know that many of you had to work in order to pay your way, therefore not only the workload but also the financial demands of achieving a degree such as this are very high. And it shows no signs of abating. But nothing good ever came easily.

You also share the honour of being the last year to finish their degrees at Philip Street. I was personally worried, when approached about raising money for bringing the Law School back to campus, that the valuable and unique link with Phillip Street might be lost. I refer not just to the unique link with the profession, the bar and the courts from whom many of the faculty originally came, but of course to the fact that the new Law School building is predominantly above ground. What will the effects of vitamin D be on law students and their studies? The quality of today’s graduating class shows that sub terranean life has not had a bad effect. Will the new crop of law students be able to keep going at the same rate and withstand the temptations of sunshine but also fresh air? Perhaps to ease the transition some of the building opposite is still partly under ground, albeit with a wall of light overlooking Victoria Park, and also the Louvre- like light well through the centre, to provide natural light internally. Whereas the IM Pei pyramid in the Louvre filters light gently down through a reverse pyramid and if we believe the Da Vinci Code to start the trail to the Holy Grail, its counterpart in the new Law School illuminates down into the Turnbull Reading Room in the Freehills Library, far more inspirational surely?

President Mitterand personally directed that there be 666 panes of glass in the pyramid at the Louvre. In our case we were fortunate enough to have an enthusiastic group of donors, I mention quickly Freehills, Clayton Utz, Allens Arthur Robinson, as individuals Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull, David and Michelle Coe, Geoffrey Hilton, John Landerer, Kevin McCann and the Macquarie Bank Foundation. All in their own right or as members of firms, recognised the special link with the Law School and responded enthusiastically.

The fact that the University has devoted so much to creating such an amazing law faculty building shows the importance that it places on legal studies, and particularly the central place of this degree that you receive today occupies, in the University. I don’t think there is a finer new public building in Australia. Chancellor, I think with medicine now being post graduate we can modestly point to it as the premier degree. Some on the stage may not agree. The Chancellor were she here could have defended the medical faculty.

The proud history of the Law School and the standards set by those who came before you place on you the special responsibility of carrying forward and upholding their standards. You are fortunate to be able to choose many ways in which you may use your law degree. As you have such outstanding records of achievement the expectation is that you will make a difference to the society that you will serve. And the expectations are high.

Not only to carry on the great traditions. But also to mentor younger colleagues. I was fortunate in my early days of practice to be able to work with both Dyson Heydon and John Lehane, and I continued to work with them for many years thereafter. Despite the demands that will be made on you I hope that you will still be able to give something back, to the University and to the wider community, as so many of those who have gone before you have so demonstrably done.

For however you choose to apply your law degree, you must not forget the unique skills which a Sydney University Law degree confers on you. The intellect you have brought to bear in achieving your degree must not be ignored as you utilize it. Law is ultimately applied common sense. Law comes down generally to identifying fairly simple elements and to judgment calls once you know what they are. If you don’t allow yourself to get rushed or hassled, and if you don’t suspend disbelief, there aren’t many situations when it won’t work out, even in the global financial crisis.

All of the people I mentioned went to this Law School. You walk in the steps not only of chief justices (state as well as high court), high court judges, judges of all the major courts, several prime ministers, leaders of the opposition and cabinet ministers, professors, business leaders, Rhodes scholars. But also people who have quietly carried on their careers at a high professional standard. They all felt a special link with this place. It all adds up to a proud tradition, one you have surely earned a right to be part of, but it brings with it a responsibility to carry it on. Not just for high honour and commercial reward, but also to give something back along the way, to the community, and to the causes you hold dear. You will be surprised at the respect you are accorded as a lawyer. And I know you will all be worthy recipients of it. Above all it is earned, not taken lightly, not demanded.

Congratulations again on your achievement and good luck for your futures The main point of today is to celebrate and take stock of a special milestone we celebrate and congratulate you as a very special group of people and families who can all be very proud. And I hope you treat today as a milestone in your involvement with the Law School, and not as the finish line

Thank you