HOW TIM CARMODY GOT THE PLUM QLD CHIEF JUSTICE JOB
Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.
Campbell Newman’s leap from Mayor to Premier was an indication of the LNP’s shallow talent pool rather than an indication of Newman’s ability.
Campbell Newman’s spectacular fall from grace was predicted in these columns and, albeit for different reasons, by Clive Palmer. Newman thumbed his nose at the Queensland judiciary by legislating idiotic VLAD laws the High Court can’t wait to throw out... it’s classic Newman, sans senate.
His appointment of Paul “Daphnis” de Jersey to State Governor is another instance of Newman’s determination to ignore advice... de Jersey will not be able to hide from his chequered record. It will plague him and Newman’s Government all the way to the next election.
Tim Carmody, who will replace de Jersey as Chief Justice, has no record to speak of. And that’s the problem.
Carmody, who you wouldn’t hire to get you off a parking ticket, is clearly a compliant sop to support of Newman’s unconstitutional legislation.
This is piece is arduously long, but if you appreciate political intrigue, then how Tim Carmody got the job, and why the judiciary now wants Newman’s head, may well be worth the read:
Within 24 hours of the announcement that Chief Magistrate Tim Carmody was to become the State’s eighteenth Chief Justice, the worst fears of those in Government who had opposed the appointment were beginning to materialise.
Meanwhile, those in Government who had been prepared to go along with Campbell Newman’s “captain’s pick” were already beginning to understand the full gravity of the mistake that had been made.
Within those 24 hours, Carmody chose to flout a long-standing convention that judges do not submit themselves to media interviews; if they have something to say to the public, it is done by a prepared media release. The reasons for this convention must have immediately become apparent to Carmody, if they were not already self-evident, when Patrick Condren on Radio 4BC asked whether he had the backing of the other Supreme Court Judges.
Carmody had to admit that not a single serving member of the Supreme Court had made contact, either to congratulate him or to show their support.
Carmody fared even worse on ABC radio, blurting out that: “I’ve often said and I’m sure nobody will argue that I may not be the smartest lawyer in the room, and if you were in a room with me and I was the smartest lawyer it would be a good time to leave it. ... There are plenty of them (good lawyers) already on the Supreme Court, and I don’t aspire to compete with them for intellectual rigour.”
To some, this may seem like a gracious piece of self-deprecation. For many others, it can only bring to mind Winston Churchill’s famous put-down of his political rival, Clement Atlee: “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. Indeed, he has a lot to be modest about.”
Queenslanders are entitled to wonder how this happened. How does a man who, by his own admission, does not enjoy the support of a single one of his Supreme Court colleagues and who confesses that, if he were the smartest lawyer in a room, “it would be a good time to leave it” and who frankly concedes that he does not even “aspire” to compete with the “intellectual rigour” of those whom he leapfrogged in order to be installed in the top position. How does such a man become Queensland’s Chief Justice ?
Truth is always stranger than fiction, and the true story of Carmody’s meteoric rise from the lowest tier of the judiciary to the State’s pre-eminent judicial office would be rejected as implausible if it appeared in a novel.
The central figure is a Svengali-like character who, through scheming and manipulation, managed to secure an appointment for his friend despite the fact that, just days earlier, he had been firmly ruled out of contention. This person’s name is Ryan Haddrick, a barrister of less than four years’ standing, with a long and somewhat chequered career as a political activist.
After a stint working under John-Paul Langbroek as (then) Leader of the State Opposition in Queensland, Haddrick became media officer for Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald (as Federal Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) between 2004 and 2006, and then a ministerial staffer for Liberal Julie Bishop (as Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training) in 2006. In 2004, he was caught out by Media Watch (which described him as a “serial offender”) for writing letters to newspapers without disclosing that he was on the public payroll as a political adviser to a Federal minister.
Then, with the advent of the Newman State Government in 2012 and the appointment of Jarrod Bleijie as Attorney-General, Haddrick was given a temporary position as Bleijie’s Chief of Staff. He lasted all of four weeks.
Haddrick’s snout was not, however, long out of the public trough. Tim Carmody, as head of the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, chose him to be one of four “counsel assisting”. Despite the fact that Haddrick then had only two years’ experience as a barrister, he was put on at the same daily rate ($2,000 per day) as barristers with far greater attainments under their belts: Kathryn McMillan, a senior counsel with 25 years’ experience; Michael Copley, also a senior counsel, with 24 years’ experience; and Aaron Simpson, a respected junior barrister with 13 years’ experience.
Carmody was doubtless aware that Haddrick is not one to let professional proprieties stand in the way of loyalty to his mates. He was, and remains, a member of John Jerrard Chambers, a small group of barristers named in honour of a very distinguished former Court of Appeal Judge, albeit one with perceived Left-leaning tendencies.
In record time, three members of that group have received judicial appointments: Carmody, Stuart Shearer, and Aaron Simpson. (It is no doubt coincidental that Simpson was also the husband of a former press secretary to Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie.) It rapidly became the standing joke amongst Queensland barristers that the surest path to professional advancement was an association with Ryan Haddrick.
Meanwhile, the possibility that Chief Justice Paul de Jersey might retire to accept appointment as State Governor had been widely mooted within the profession. de Jersey, himself, made little effort to conceal the fact that such an appointment would not be entirely unwelcome to him. Well before that impending appointment was officially announced, Haddrick made it his business to launch a campaign for Carmody to become de Jersey’s successor.
Haddrick knew that he faced an up-hill battle, given the level of Carmody’s standing and reputation within the legal profession, and the number of senior judges and silks with far better claims to the vacancy. But he had one big advantage. Most of those qualified for the chief justiceship would have considered it quite beneath their dignity to promote themselves for such an appointment (or to allow anyone to do so on their behalf) trusting that their individual merits would receive due consideration in the appropriate quarters. Carmody, apparently, felt no such qualms.
So the campaign began, at least with Carmody’s tacit approval, if not his active involvement. Haddrick called in every favour, and drew on every contact, which he had acquired throughout his long years as a political operative.
Initially, however, the campaign got little traction. It must have been galling that other names, with far better credentials, were regularly being touted in the Press.
The Haddrick/Carmody campaign then had a stroke of luck when Court of Appeal President Margaret McMurdo disparagingly accused the Newman Government of unconscious gender bias. Previous politically-charged public comments by McMurdo had been politely ignored; but this time, ex-Solicitor-General Walter Sofronoff, followed swiftly by former corruption-buster Tony Fitzgerald, joined in the resulting controversy.
Haddrick knew that, if there was anybody more loathed and detested within the inner circles of the Newman Government than McMurdo, it was surely Sofronoff; though Fitzgerald topped even Sofronoff as the Newman Government’s “public enemy number one”.
All that was needed was for Carmody to leap to the Attorney-General’s defence. This was asking a lot, as constitutional convention since time immemorial required serving judges to refrain from commenting on issues of current political controversy. But where the angels (in the form of better-qualified aspirants for the top judicial vacancy) feared to tread, Carmody was willing to rush in. On cue, he released a statement, expressing his unqualified confidence in and support for Jarrod Bleijie.
This, it is fair to say, did not have quite the intended effect. Bleijie, as a trained lawyer, was not unconscious of the inappropriateness of Carmody’s contribution to the political debate, and may even have been embarrassed to have been the unwitting beneficiary of it. But somebody else, somebody considerably more powerful, did take note, and was duly grateful to receive Carmody’s support for his Government and his attorney-general.
That, of course, was Premier Campbell Newman.
Even so, other obstacles continued to block the Haddrick/Carmody campaign. Bleijie, very properly, embarked on a series of consultations with senior judicial figures and the wider legal profession. And it is fair to guess that the auguries were not looking good for Carmody’s prospects: Barely a single person amongst those who were consulted had a good word to say for Carmody as a potential Chief Justice. The most that the Attorney-General could secure in his favour were promises of a kind of “armed neutrality”: Despite the strength of their misgivings, organisations like the Law Society and the Bar Association expressed themselves as being willing to work with whomever the Government appointed. This was a start, but it was not enough to get Carmody over the line.
Then Haddrick recalled the earlier controversy sparked by Justice Margaret McMurdo, and fuelled by Sofronoff and Fitzgerald, which had sewn seeds of doubt as to Bleijie’s reliability in keeping confidences. Could not the whole consultation process be derailed, by giving those who were being consulted the impression that anything they said which was adverse to Carmody would immediately be leaked to Carmody ?
The ingenuity of this strategy lay in its simplicity. It was not hard to guess what people like Bar Association President Peter Davis QC and Law Society President Ian Brown were saying to Bleijie, since it was (presumably) the same thing that lawyers throughout the State were saying: Carmody would not feature on anyone’s list of top 100 prospective appointees as Chief Justice. So it was a simple matter for Haddrick to pretend that confidences had been broken, and that he knew precisely what had been said behind closed doors, and then to spread this misinformation through his chain of political contacts and proxies.
Perhaps some of Haddrick’s guess-work was a little wide of the mark. This would explain Davis’s complaint that, when news started filtering back to him “from various sources” regarding his confidential discussions with the Attorney-General, “some of the information was a distortion of what had been said”. But most of what Haddrick was putting about was sufficiently plausible that even Davis was convinced it “could only have come from a participant in the meeting”.
In addition, Haddrick started to draw on his (perceived) closeness to Bleijie by making threats, ostensibly with Bleijie’s backing, of the consequences if Carmody were not supported.
Through an intermediary, he reminded the Bar Council that there were two more Supreme Court appointments, three District Court appointments, and about five Magistrates to be appointed before the next election; and he implied that, unless the Bar supported Carmody, those positions might go to solicitors rather than barristers. He also hinted that the Bar Association’s statutory power to issue practising certificates might be revoked.
The manner in which Haddrick made these threats says a great deal about his Machiavellian guile. The intermediary through whom he chose to convey them was Mark Plunkett, perhaps the most anti-LNP member of the Bar Council, and the veteran of a case in which he was personally a litigant, suing Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Most Bar Council members would have batted away such threats as risible; if anyone was going to believe that an LNP Government could be contemplating such blatant skulduggery, it was Plunkett. And Haddrick was wily enough to communicate in writing (in the form of a text message), knowing that Plunkett would attach added weight to a threat if Haddrick was willing to leave an (electronic) “paper trail”.
The result was that, solely through Haddrick’s efforts, Carmody jumped from being a rank outsider in a Melbourne Cup field, to being odds-on favourite. And that is when some of the wiser heads in Government started to take notice.
As the Queen’s Birthday long weekend approached, it was starting to look dangerously as if Carmody’s appointment was a fait accompli.
Over that weekend, however, the Haddrick/Carmody campaign suffered a severe reversal. Though initially slow to act, the wiser heads now began to work in earnest to prevent what they saw as a catastrophic mistake. It is understood that each of the three lawyers in cabinet; the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, Minister for Science, IT, Innovation and the Arts, Ian Walker and even Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, actively lobbied the Premier to appoint someone (indeed, anyone) other than Carmody. They were reportedly joined by the Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg, a former Opposition Justice Spokesman, as well as a former Opposition Leader.
These wiser heads were backed by a number of senior lawyers with strong LNP connections. They are believed to have included Solicitor-General Peter Dunning QC, former Bar Association President Roger Traves QC, former Bundaberg Hospital Inquiry Commissioner Tony Morris QC, and leading commercial barristers Douglas Quayle and John Miles, as well as one or more serving members of the judiciary.
By Sunday night of the long weekend, this lobbying had achieved its purpose. The Premier had reluctantly agreed to go with the preferred nominee of his cabinet colleagues, a lawyer of outstanding ability and repute. The Haddrick/Carmody campaign had been defeated. Or so it appeared.
But Haddrick is not one to give up so easily. He knew that the only thing which could reverse the decision was an outburst, against Carmody, from the likes of Sofronoff or Fitzgerald. And the most obvious way to bring about such an outburst was to inform his Press contacts that the appointment of Carmody would be announced later that week. Hence, on Monday morning, the story of Carmody’s imminent appointment, as leaked to the media by Haddrick, was duly presented on the front page of the Courier-Mail, and subsequently by other media outlets.
The reaction which this provoked was far better than even Haddrick himself could have hoped for. Walter Sofronoff came out swinging.
If Sofronoff’s contribution had been deliberately calculated to influence the Newman Government in favour of Carmody, it could not have achieved that objective more spectacularly.
Had Sofronoff confined himself merely to questioning Carmody’s intellectual stature, his professional standing, and his credentials for the top job, the Premier may not have liked it, but it would only have served to confirm what he had already heard from Cabinet colleagues and others in a position to know.
But when Sofronoff objected to Carmody on the grounds of his being too closely aligned with the Newman Government, it was like a red rag to a bull.
To make matters worse, by the time Sofronoff’s “opinion piece” was published, the wiser heads were no longer able to exert much influence. Both Nicholls and Bleijie were absent from Brisbane on official duties in the State’s North. Springborg was back at his desk, dealing with the relentless duties of the Government’s most onerous ministerial portfolio. The elite group of pro-LNP lawyers who had been active in lobbying the Premier against the Carmody appointment had returned to their day jobs. Walker mounted a rearguard action to prevent what he still saw as a looming catastrophe, but, without the support of Nicholls and Bleijie, he lacked the clout to change the course of events.
Two days after Carmody’s appointment was officially announced, Walker was still smarting at his impotence. He released a curious press statement, curious, not least because it came from a minister other than the Attorney-General, arguing that “Chief Justice Carmody should be given a fair go to get on with the job that he’s been appointed to do, and the war of words has got to stop.”
But when pressed specifically as to whether he personally had confidence in Carmody, Walker could do no more than repeat the contents of his prepared statement. His failure to express personal confidence when directly invited to do so, spoke far more eloquently than the anodyne text of his prepared media release, and did little to curb the “war of words”.
Yet the final blow did not fall until the very day before Carmody’s appointment was announced. As if Sofronoff’s contribution had not been enough, Tony Fitzgerald, along with recently-retired Supreme Court Judge Richard Chesterman, came out in opposition to Carmody.
Fitzgerald’s remarks were especially counter-productive, expressing confidence that “no-one who played a significant role in the Inquiry which I conducted would support the current attempts to return Queensland to its dark past,” and a sincere hope that, “anyone who actually contributed doesn’t allow his ambition to subvert his personal integrity”.
By now, Haddrick must have been chortling with unconcealed glee. All his chickens had come home to roost. Indeed, they brought another (and unexpected) chicken with them, in the form of Richard Chesterman. The prospects of a Carmody appointment, which had been dashed just 72 hours earlier, were now looking a near-certainty.
How could Campbell Newman fail to appoint Carmody, when Carmody was being goaded, and by no less a person than Fitzgerald himself, into either accepting such an appointment, or refusing it on the basis that even to offer him such a job was evidence of ongoing “attempts to return Queensland to its dark past”?
And so it happened. Newman has since admitted that the final decision was not made until the day before Carmody’s appointment was announced. If the timing of Haddrick’s brilliant strategic manoeuvre had been less perfect, things might well have turned out very differently indeed.
So, let nobody be in any doubt as to how Queensland has come to have a Chief Justice who proudly proclaims that he is not the smartest lawyer in the room, who fervently denies any aspiration to compete with the intellectual rigour of his judicial colleagues, and who frankly concedes that he does not enjoy the support of a single one of them.
Walter Sofronoff and Tony Fitzgerald, along with Richard Chesterman, are undoubtedly entitled to some of the credit.
But, by now, they must all realise that they were only ever the pawns of the arch manipulator, Ryan Haddrick.