Lionel Murphy

Lionel Murphy

Infobox President
name = Lionel Murphy QC

order = Attorney-General of Australia
term_start = 1972
term_end = 1975
predecessor = Gough Whitlam
successor = Keppel Enderby
office2 = Puisne Justice of the High Court of Australia
term_start2 = 10 February 1975
term_end2 = 21 October 1986
predecessor2 = Sir Douglas Menzies
successor2 = John Toohey
birth_date = birth date|1922|8|30|df=y
birth_place =
death_date = death date and age|1986|10|21|1922|8|30|df=y
death_place =
spouse = Nina Morrow
Ingrid Gee (née Grzonkowski)
religion =
constituency = Senator for New South Wales
party = Australian Labor Party
languagesspoken = English

Lionel Keith Murphy QC (30 August 192221 October 1986) was an Australian politician who in 1972 became Attorney-General in the government of Gough Whitlam. In 1975 he became a Justice of the High Court of Australia.

Personal life

Murphy was the youngest son of William and Lily Murphy, and grew up in Sydney. He was educated at state schools, including Sydney Boys High School, and the University of Sydney, where he graduated in science and law.

He was admitted to the bar in 1947, and became a QC in 1960. In July 1954, he married Nina Morrow at St John's Church in Darlinghurst. Their daughter, Lorel Katherine, was born in 1955. In 1967, Murphy's marriage to Nina ended in divorce. In 1969, Murphy married Ingrid Gee (née Grzonkowski). They had two sons, Cameron Murphy (who, as of 2005, heads the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties), and Blake Murphy. Ingrid died in October 2007. [cite news
title=Enigmatic smile on the landscape
publisher=The Sydney Morning Herald
date=October 17 2007

Parliamentary career

A member of the Australian Labor Party from an early age, he was elected to the Australian Senate in 1961, and, in 1967, he was elected Opposition Leader in the Senate. In 1969 Labor Leader Gough Whitlam appointed him Shadow Attorney-General, and when Labor won the 1972 election he became Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise.

One of Murphy's more dramatic actions as Attorney-General was his unannounced visit to the Melbourne headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) in March 1973. This came about because ASIO officers were unable to satisfy his requests for information concerning intelligence on Croatian terrorist groups operating in Australia.

Murphy's concern about the matter was heightened by the impending visit to Australia of the Yugoslav Prime Minister Dzemal Bijedic. ASIO officers claimed not to be able to locate the file with which to properly brief Murphy.

Murphy's most important legislative achievement was the Family Law Act 1975, which completely overhauled Australia's law on divorce and other family law matters, establishing the principle of "no fault" divorce, in the face of opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and other right-wing forces. This act also established the Family Court of Australia.

Judicial career

In February 1975, Whitlam appointed Murphy to a vacancy on the High Court of Australia. He was the first serving Labor politician appointed to the Court since Dr H.V. Evatt in 1931 and the appointment was bitterly criticised. He resigned from the Senate on 9 February 1975 to take up the appointment.

Although it did not become a constitutional requirement until 1977, it had been longstanding convention that a Senate casual vacancy be filled by a person from the same political party. However, on 27 February, the Premier of New South Wales, Tom Lewis, controversially appointed Cleaver Bunton, a person with no political affiliations, to replace Murphy in the Senate, beginning the chain of events which led to the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975. These events in turn laid the groundwork for the 1977 constitutional change that now ensures such an appointment can never be repeated.

Conviction and controversy

In July 1985, during the term of the Hawke Labor government, Murphy was convicted on one of two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice, over allegations made by Clarrie Briese, the Chief Magistrate of New South Wales, that Murphy had attempted to influence a court case against Sydney lawyer, Morgan Ryan, whom Murphy referred to as "my little mate". Murphy subsequently won a retrial and was acquitted in April 1986.

Attorney-General Lionel Bowen, acting on what he said was his belief that the Justices of the High Court were minded to take some independent action to assess Justice Murphy's fitness to return to the Court, introduced legislation for a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, constituted by three retired judges, to examine "whether any conduct of the Honourable Lionel Keith Murphy has been such as to amount, in its opinion, to proved misbehaviour within the meaning of section 72 of the Constitution." (Section 72 specifies that a High Court judge may be removed only by the Governor-General and both houses of Parliament "on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity".) The terms of this inquiry specifically excluded the issues for which Murphy had already been tried and acquitted.

The legislation establishing the Commission of Inquiry received assent in May 1986. In July, Murphy announced that he was dying of untreatable cancer. The establishing legislation was repealed. [cite web
title=Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (Repeal} Act 1986
work=Commonwealth Consolidated Acts
publisher=Australasian Legal Information Institute
] That repeal legislation vested control of the Commission's documents in the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. Murphy returned to the Court for one week of sittings. He died on 21 October 1986.

Other interests and contributions

In addition to his work as a legislator, Murphy also took a lifelong interest in science. At Sydney University he combined his Bachelor of Laws degree with a Bachelor of Science, and Justice Michael Kirby identified Murphy's later scientific reading as a positive influence on his approach to jurisprudence. [cite web
title=Lionel Keith Murphy
first=M D
publisher=The Lionel Murphy Foundation

The Lionel Murphy Foundation funds postgraduate scholarships for students who "intend to pursue a postgraduate degree in science, law or legal studies". [cite web
title=Terms & Conditions of Lionel Murphy Postgraduate Scholarships
publisher=The Lionel Murphy Foundation

The Lionel Murphy Nebula was named in acknowledgement of Murphy's interest in science, and for a perceived resemblance to his distinctive nose. Fact|date=July 2008



*Blackshield T, 'Murphy affair', in Blackshield, Coper and Williams "The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia" (Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-19-554022-0
*Hocking J "Lionel Murphy: a political biography" (Cambridge University Press, 1997) ISBN 0-521-58108-7
*Scutt J A (ed) "Lionel Murphy, A Radical Judge" (McCulloch Publishing, Melbourne 1987) ISBN 0-949646-17-2
*Williams J, 'Murphy, Lionel Keith' in Blackshield, Coper and Williams "The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia" (Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-19-554022-0

External links

* [ Lionel Murphy Foundation]
* [ Mr Neal is Entitled to be an Agitator] 58 min documentary film about the life of Lionel Murphy. Dir: Daryl Dellora. Australian Human Rights Award.

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