Get your Roxon
Friday, March 9, 2012
Justinian in Bill Gummow, High Court, Nicola Roxon, Polly Peck, Robert McClelland, Roger Wilkins

Nicola Roxon has her nose in all corners of the AG's department ... Contrast with dear Robert McClelland could not be more stark ... A majority of women on the High Court is a distinct possibility ... Polly Peck files from Canberra 

The first hint that life was changing for the quiet souls at the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department was when they had to bin all the Christmas cards that had been signed by their man up on the hill, Robert McClelland.

New cards were rapidly prepared for the incoming attorney, Nicola Roxon.

That was the first of many changes. 

AGD secretary Roger Wilkins, who could survive a nuclear winter, was quick to sniff the wind - specially given his contract is up next year.

His Christmas speech to staff omitted reference to McClelland, but made the point of praising his junior minister, Brendan O'Connor - a close confidant of Gillard, who this week was elevated to Cabinet.

Wilkin's omission surprised many, given the warm regard in which the dear old duffer was held departmentally. 

He wasn't a heavy hitter in Cabinet and was a rather hands-off minister. 

So for the civil servants it came a shock to discover that Nicola Roxon is an altogether different kettle of fish.

She is everywhere, with her fingers in all areas of the department and policy development, as well as being a fierce advocate in Cabinet.

Roxon: a scrapperNicola has a view on pretty much everything and is not afraid to let it all hang out. Ministers have been known to complain that they were delayed getting out of Cabinet because Roxon was on a roll.

Like her beloved Western Bulldogs, she is a bit of a scrapper and likes to go in hard, as Kevin Rudd discovered during the recent leadership frolic.

Whether it was getting right under Philip Ruddock's skin when she was shadow AG or battling Big Tobacco, she is up for a fight.

What does this mean for the legal profession?

Certainly, there's an expectation she'll be more assertive in prosecuting the national legal profession project and beating-up on recalcitrant states.

Most will be watching the person she selects for Cabinet's consideration to fill Bill Gummow's forthcoming vacancy on the High Court.

Speculation has already started with the names of the usual suspects being trotted out: Federal Court chief justice Pat Keane and NSW Court of Appeal president James Allsop. 

I think the only problem with those names is that they belong to people of the wrong gender.

When Bobby French was plucked out of the Federal Court's boondocks to replace Smiler Gleeson, the former associate of Mary Gaudron privately queried whether there were any alternate candidates of the female persuasion.

Now there is a unique opportunity for the first female attorney general to make an appointment that will give the High Court a majority from the sisterhood. 

McLure: pea for appointmentWith that in mind I surveyed the form guide and my pea for the post is Carmel McClure, president of the WA Court of Appeal.

That is not to say that Victorian Court of Appeal judge Pamela Tate is not also a strong possibility.

She was appointed solicitor geneneral of Victoria by Roxon's factional ally Rob (F@#$%&*) Hulls. 

The Victorian legal profession might be chuffed at the breakthrough, given it has been overlooked in the last couple of High Court appointments. 

Of course, such base politics simply doesn't come into it when these matters are under consideration. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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