Legislative Council Tuesday 12 September 2023
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, my office recently received a call from a gentleman who used to teach at Hellyer College in Burnie for a number of years - probably including the time I was there, too. He also fondly remembers the famous green carpet, but the reason for his call was not to talk about the carpet. This was some weeks ago, to bring my attention to an ex-Hellyer College student who grew up in my electorate had just been appointed to serve on the highest court in the land, the High Court of Australia, and has made history by being the first Tasmanian to do so.
I am sure many of the members here would have read about this significant appointment. Robert Beech-Jones, now Justice Robert Beech-Jones, grew up
as the youngest of four boys in the mining town of Savage River on the north west coast. His father had a management role at the Savage River Mine, which at the time boasted the world's longest pipeline of some 80 kilometres, constructed to connect the town's magnetite iron ore mine with its pelletising plant at Port Latta. The family also had a brief stint in Montreal, Canada, from 1975 to 1977.
Justice Beech-Jones attended Wynyard Primary School and Wynyard High School until 1981 and then went to the Hellyer Matriculation College, as it was known then. He then won a scholarship to study law at the Australian National University in Canberra, graduating with honours in 1988. He currently sits on the New South Wales Supreme Court as a judge of appeal and Chief Judge at Common Law, but still considers himself a Tasmanian.
As reported in local media, Justice Beech-Jones was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1992 and has had an illustrious career focusing primarily in the areas of commercial law, regulatory enforcement, white collar crime and administrative law. Justice Beech-Jones also did a lot of community legal work in his early days at the Bar and his fellow judges acknowledge his warm collegiate style and no-fuss attitude. In 2006, he was appointed as a silk, the informal term for Senior Counsel, who are barristers who have demonstrated outstanding skills as advocates and advisers in the administration of justice. They work on particularly complex or difficult cases.
Justice Beech-Jones acted for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, including in the trial against the former directors of James Hardy, and was counsel assisting in the Royal Commission on the HIH collapse. He also acted for Mamdouh Habib, who was a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who sued the federal government. He has also written a number of important judgements in sexual assault cases and acted for Christina Rich in one of the biggest sexual assault cases in Australian history.
It was in 2012 that Justice Beech-Jones became a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and in 2021 he was appointed as Chief Judge of the common law division and a judge of appeal. He was described at the time of this appointment as being a man of great intellectual ability and integrity by the then New South Wales attorney-general, Mark Speakman. Justice Beech-Jones describes the appointment as being an exciting opportunity and a great challenge, noting this was a time when the court had transitioned to delivering civil and criminal proceedings remotely during COVID-19.
Reading through various articles about Justice Beech-Jones, it is clear he is widely regarded and respected by his colleagues. He has been described as being a passionate defender of human rights, a genuine asset and a delightful man with a fine sense of humour. He is also recognised for having excellent writing skills, having contributed numerous articles to the Australian Institute of Administrative Law Forum, although perhaps not at the same level as his famous wife, Australian playwright Suzie Miller, with whom he has two children.
Growing up in Tasmania, Beech-Jones developed a keen interest in, and some have described it as an obsession for, Australian Rules Football. He has maintained his connection with the game into adulthood and coached at his son's junior AFL club. He also developed a keen interest in marathon running and completed half marathons, and participated in Sydney's iconic City to Surf.
Outside of sporting interests, he also has been described as having a dazzling mathematical ability and he has a bachelor of science to complement his law qualifications. The following words are taken from a speech delivered at his Supreme Court of New South Wales swearing-in ceremony in 2012, where he described his childhood and going to school in Wynyard.
"It is a good place to live and the people there looked out for each other. The high school had committed teachers and AFL and basketball games at lunchtime were played with State of Origin level intensity, mixed with an amount of sledging that Steve Waugh would have been proud of. It was good practice for the bar."
He goes on:
"As town names go, Savage River always excites interest, but having lived there I can tell you that is where the excitement ended.
For me the major highlight was the arrival of the town's first only space invaders machine. Savage River was a good place to study."
I am sure we will all agree that Justice Beech-Jones, a product of small-town upbringing and a public school education, brings a wide breadth of experience and character qualities that will hold him in good stead as he takes on this new role as High Court Judge.
His appointment will take effect on 6 November 2023. I sincerely congratulate Justice Beech-Jones, a boy from the country who has not forgotten his roots, living and growing up in one of the best places on the planet. I am sure I speak for all Tasmanians when I say it is about time we have a Tasmanian sitting in the highest court of the land.