CEREMONIAL SITTING – 18 September 2009
Address by the Hon Justice Pierre Slicer
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this place and thank you for your acceptance of me as family and your presence here on behalf of the mob, hello, welcome my grandmother. I acknowledge all those who work in this place and without whom this Court could not function and thank each for their loyalty, both personal and professional. To all here assembled you honour me with your presence and I owe you and my community more than I have given.
Attorney, I prefer this form of farewell than that of a State Funeral but could you pass onto your Treasury my condolences that this by far, I trust, the more expensive option for me. Mr Kerr, our lives have crossed and connected over many many years and it is ironic that for both of us at the end of this part of our journey as participants in a dual of the Pacific Samoan. Mr Tree, you know my respect for you and could you convey to our profession my gratitude for its understanding and protection given to me as a student practitioner, as a practitioner qualified and as a judicial officer over nearly half a century. I will express that more fully in its own gathering to farewell me. Michael I will leave until later.
But I speak now for the last time as an instrument of State for that is what we are. Not service providers, as some presume, we are those who enforce the coercive power of the State in crime and make our orders at the behest of citizens against each other or against the State itself and they come here because it can be enforced by the State. And I think I can at last answer the vexing question of my youth. Am I a class traitor or a class enemy, and its determined which war you put it against, but I will try and answer that and four other questions that I posed to myself before today.
From where did I come to here, a varied journey but I hope one which was at least consistent. I watched student awakening, Vietnam, conscientious objectors, (thank you Norman), pharaonism, race, environment, gay rights, refugees and a wide social discourse. No regrets as to where I have been.
What did I bring to this Court? I brought two families, one through marriage and blood and the other through acceptance and adoption. Within these rooms are direct all but one generation removed from Prague, the Ukraine, Mirtha Tidwell in Wales, Chicago, Japan and Dover, Tasmania. And within that one generation I brought to the Court a perspective, or wider perspective, of Australia because they are places from whence we came and it is that which we made, in many ways, part of our nations state.
My second family is local having been here for at least twenty five thousand years. Firstly, well, Furley, I should say firstly, Furley, I think you were correct when you said at the hand back on Cape Barren Island, We put you here. I think thats right. That family which accepted me gave me a sharing culture and identity in adversity. It gave me a sense of timelessness or continuity in engaging in social redress. Heather, Michael and Rosie, we have taught each other within the discipline of the law. I have Rory and Rolla as nephews. I like to think that Ive brought some of what you gave me to this place and to share with my colleagues. Sorry about the arrears of rent but I will be coming home and will try and pay my arrears of rent.
The second thing which I brought here I hope was an encouragement of different journeys and ways of looking at common values, problems and outcomes. I may have looked through a different prism but take comfort in that we have, as judges, ordinarily reached similar conclusions. And the third thing Ive brought to this place was a love of the discipline of the law. Ive been lucky in that much of my work has fitted well with my philosophy and the discipline itself. And, fourthly, in that journey before I came here I had three judicial role models one of whom is here today. Bob has graced me with his presence. Some may say in those three judicial role models that I failed to adopt their strengths and virtues but embraced instead their weaknesses. Well maybe but Ill take those weaknesses as my virtues any day.
What did I receive from here? Trust, a difficult concept to explain. First of all the trust from a Premier, Attorney and Secretary of Cabinet whose decision some might call courageous but which I might regard as trust in their wisdom and good judgement. But also I received trust from my brothers and sister judges, past and present. It is hard and lonely in this task and to survive requires having the absolute and ultimate trust of colleagues, without that we are broken. I cannot convey to those who have not sat here how that unreserved trust feels and operates. Becoming a judge touches at the core of self identity, who and what am I? What is this role that Im being asked to do? Does it change me? What is it that is asked of me? So it touches at the core of self identity and confidence. If that trust of and by judicial colleagues is not absolute then we are lessened. So trust was the first thing which this place gave me.
Secondly, a sense of comfort of being part of a working community, of all those who work within the courts. And, thirdly, I hope acceptance by my community. As judges we watch and try to understand the interactions of the human experience and make sense of it all. Sometimes we fail. But without acceptance by our community we become isolated and might feel helpless in our task. Acceptance though does not mean approval. I think I speak for us all we do not seek approval and that is different from acceptance but we seek acceptance and I have tried at least to keep those two separate.
What do I leave behind? I dont believe that I caused too much damage, I suppose is my proudest boast, and at least our judgments all have a short shelf life, but I might have encouraged others that different journeys are not fatal. That different journeys can entitle you to bring into a court a richness and a way of looking through that prism and it is not fatal to perceive within the law by having a different past, present and future. So I hope that I might have encouraged others thanks to the wisdom of Premiers and Attorney and Heads of Department, Michael, that differences can enrich. And thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and acceptance of the mob and my being taken in as family. To my successor here you will enhance the Court.
Finally I ask what it is that I take away. Sir Guy, and see I could use those two words once in my life but I do so today, Sir Guy, better already, Guy, you taught me not to panic, at least outwardly, but you taught me when I came here that no matter how terrifying it looked if you didnt panic and you settled it and came back to it you would probably not harm yourself but at least you wouldnt do too much harm to others. Bill, on my first day here, and I did feel an outsider, I wasnt even in my own shortlist, when you brought in the Biography of Higgins and said, I couldnt think of anyone better to give this one to, you settled me. You settled me through acceptance and a casual well it wasnt casual but the way that you do things appears to be casual. The gesture you made settled me and I thought I probably can call this place home sooner or later. Ewan, I take with me your friendship and your understanding. My friend, before I come to my colleagues, my friend Hodgman, may I say to you, as has been said here many times, I will say Long live the Queen if youll say, Longer live the President.
To my colleagues behind the barricades, and on a Monday actually a Tuesday, Wednesday and the like, it does feel like that, but they are barricades in a way, and we are by our discipline cautious and conservative so to my colleagues on this side of the barricades I take away knowledge. We are not social engineers as our critics would have but nor are we social technicians as executives would like us to be. We are something different. We perhaps are guardians, a deep and difficult word, we are instruments of State, so I go back to my question, am I a class enemy or a class traitor, but we are agents in instruments of State independent of clamour and transient calls that are made within our community for something ought to happen or they ought to do something or whatever is is on the banner of the tram rattling past. So we are something different and we are by inherent discipline conservative. So to my colleagues what I take away from here is that knowledge that that is what we are and that adds to my knowledge of who I am.
This part of my journey has ended. The next, not yet, not yet.