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    Hazzard ahead

    Baird reshuffle sees Liberal Party bovver boy as the NSW attorney general ... Brad Hazzard is a battle hardened survivor of the Bearbit ... Greg Smith fell out with his Catholic right wing faction over mandatory sentencing ... Alex Mitchell reports from Macquarie Street ... Plus, the case of the kindly solicitor and the lonely widow 

    Hazzard: kind to widows

    Bradley Hazzard becomes the NSW Attorney General in the Baird government with a modest CV as a Manly solicitor.

    The Liberal MP for Wakehurst since 1991 is a warhorse from the party machine.

    He has held all the top positions in the Liberal hierarchy and served on the frontbench in more than a dozen shadow portfolios during the Kerry Chikarovski, John Brogden and Peter Debnam years.

    He finally broke into the cabinet in 2011 following Barry O'Farrell's sweeping victory against the 16-year-old tired, demoralised and unsavoury Labor administration.

    Appointed Leader of the House and Planning Minister, Hazzard became O'Farrell's must trusted minister.

    He got the job of cleaning-up the planning portfolio and its murky culture of favouritism, secrecy and deal-making.

    Hazzard himself had a brush with the Independent Commission Against Corruption during its formative years when Ian Temby was commissioner.

    Premier Nick Greiner was referred to ICAC to explain an arrangement whereby Terry Metherell, his former education minister turned Independent MP, was parachuted into a senior director's job at the Environment Protection Authority after giving up his safe Liberal seat of Davidson.

    Evidence was given that Hazzard attended the secret negotiations at Greiner's home to arrange Metherell's switch out of parliament and into the public service.

    There were no findings against Hazzard, but the final report declared him "a distinctly unsatisfactory witness". 

    Premier Greiner, however, lost his job as a result of ICAC's findings. 

    During his two decades in the Bearpit Hazzard has built a reputation as a booming injector, a "ham" theatrical performer during question time and, when in opposition, he was thrown out of the chamber on several occasions after displeasing the Speaker.

    Last October Hazzard referred himself to ICAC after it was revealed that his chief of staff, Kath McFarlane, had a pecuniary interest in the Coalpac mine, near Lithgow, which had applied for a major expansion of its operations.

    The matter is still to be cleared-up, but it's unlikely Hazzard himself will be in trouble.

    His educational qualifications are mixed. He obtained an arts degree (science) and began his working life as a science teacher (1974-77). He's a Dip Ed from Macquarie, an LLB at UNSW and an LLM at Sydney.

    His nominated interests are, "family activity, skiing, fishing, flying, horse riding, bushwalking, reading, travel, swimming, gardening, soccer".

    Hazzard's predecessor as attorney general was the doctrinaire right-winger Greg Smith SC, formerly deputy DPP.

    Smith fell out with his right-wing Catholic faction when he declined to approve mandatory sentencing and other measures to crack down on drunken violence in Kings Cross.

    When he was rolled in cabinet (by his erstwhile supporters) on sentencing laws many thought Smith would resign on a matter of principle. 

    However, he didn't budge on the ground that being in the government would help him secure the transfer of his seat of Epping to one of his politically ambitious sons.

    At least that's what was the speculation around the corridors of parliament - a place awash with lies, rumours and gossip.

    Whatever, Premier Mike Baird clearly thinks it's time to pension off the 66-year-old former president of the NSW Right to Life Association and promote Hazzard, who is expected to have fewer qualms about dishing out strong medicine to bikies and Kings Cross louts.

    His appointment may be short-term appointment. At 63 some of his colleagues are saying Brad may step down before the election on March 26 next year. 

    If he does go early, the AG-in-Waiting is Cronulla MP and barrister Mark Speakman SC. 

    From Alex Mitchell

    *   *   *

    IN 1992 allegations were raised in the NSW parliament about Brad Hazzard's relationship with a client, whose estate he inherited. 

    It was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald's legal affairs column by John Slee. 

    Slee mentioned that Hazzard had been in conflict with the then attorney general, Peter Collins, over the MP's application for funds to pay legal costs associated with his appearance at ICAC in the Metherell affair. 

    Slee pointed out that Hazzard hardly needed the government to stump-up his fees and went to some trouble to outline the MPs extensive real estate portfolio. 

    The column also raised the issue of lawyers becoming both the executors and beneficiaries of clients' estates. 

    "It will always look wrong for a solicitor to inherit all of a former client's large estate." 

    The Law Society president at the time, John Marsden, couldn't see anything wrong with Hazzard's good fortune as both executor and beneficiary of the estate of Mrs Kitty Lawson. 

    For the record here's John Slee's article in full ... 


    The Kindly Solicitor And The Lonely Widow

    Sydney Morning Herald

    Thursday July 2, 1992

    John Slee

    THE Liberal backbencher Mr Brad Hazzard, solicitor, has responded passionately to allegations raised in Parliament about his relationship with a client who made him executor and sole beneficiary under her will.

    On Tuesday he denied allegations by the Opposition that he had sent unsolicited cheques worth $5,000 to friends and neighbours of the deceased who had inquired about her will. And in an emotional statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Hazzard gave a detailed account of the close relationship he and his family enjoyed with the late Mrs Kitty Lawson.

    It remains to be seen whether this matter goes any further. The then Attorney-General, Mr Collins, has refused Opposition demands to pursue it and has advised the Opposition either to substantiate or drop its allegations. If the Opposition does have any evidence against Mr Hazzard, it should pass it on to the Law Society of NSW, Mr Collins has said.

    There is no reason to doubt Mr Hazzard's account of his warm relationship with Mrs Lawson. Indeed, for a man with a busy legal practice to attend to and a developing political career, Mr Hazzard appears to have been generous with his time and affection, especially in the years from the death of Mrs Lawson's husband in 1982 until her own in 1989.

    "When she turned to me for support," Mr Hazzard told Parliament, "I could not and did not refuse her. I helped her because she needed care, not for any expectations of benefit from her."

    Yet can Mr Hazzard really be surprised that questions are now being asked?

    Obviously, there is a powerful political undercurrent that has helped drive what Mr Hazzard has described as the "scurrilous accusations reflecting on my parliamentary and professional probity". If Mr Hazzard had not had a bit part in the Metherell drama, it is unlikely these allegations would have been made at this time.

    Not that the allegations are petty or, as Mr Hazzard has sought to make out, old hat. Even if they were raised more than a year ago, when Mr Hazzard was seeking preselection before the last election, they gained new force during the Metherell affair.

    This is partly because of Mr Hazzard's own actions. He was a determined applicant for special legal assistance and became engaged in a bitter fight with Mr Collins, who thrice refused his applications for funds to help pay for lawyers to represent him as a witness before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In the course of these fruitless applications, Mr Hazzard said he would be forced to borrow money to pay legal fees of $100,000 or more

    It was inevitable that the Opposition would seize on this. Here Mr Hazzard was crying poor when, barely three years earlier, he had inherited from Mrs Lawson cash and assets said by his accusers to be worth $1 million and by Mr Hazzard to be worth something less than that.

    Indeed, putting all controversy over Mrs Lawson's will aside, it must have always struck many people as extraordinary that Mr Hazzard ever thought he was entitled to special assistance for the ICAC hearing.

    He is, after all, a lawyer himself, with only a peripheral role in the Metherell affair. If he wanted another lawyer, or lawyers, to hold his hand at the ICAC inquiry, he surely could afford to pay without the taxpayers' help. Apart from his parliamentary salary and income from his legal practice, he has property which, according to the parliamentary pecuniary interest register, includes his home at Allambie Heights, eight adjoining lots in Manly, a property in Balgowlah Heights and a half share in two other Manly properties.

    On the propriety of Mr Hazzard's conduct as a solicitor, it is the Law Society to which, according to Mr Collins, his accusers should take their complaints - and presumably to which the public should look for guidance.

    The Law Society's position is simple. As far as the facts of this case have been made public, Mr Hazzard did the right thing: he referred Mrs Lawson to separate legal advice. If there is evidence of any wrongdoing the society will investigate. Yesterday, the president, Mr John Marsden, said no such evidence had been produced.

    Yet many people will say that regardless of the details of Mr Hazzard's case, it will always look wrong for a solicitor to inherit all of a former client's large estate.

    There is no simple solution to this problem of inevitable appearance of impropriety. It may be said, for example, that there should be a rule that no legal adviser should benefit under the will of a former client.

    That would be consistent with roughly analogous rules in other professions, such as the strict requirement that a doctor's relationship with a patient must never be other than professional.

    But there would obviously have to be exceptions - for example, for the solicitor who was legal adviser to his or her own parents and against whom therefore nothing could be said when the solicitor inherited their wealth. The reasonable exceptions would not stop there.

    Like many areas of professional ethics it really comes down to the lawyer's own perception of what is right, and peer pressure.

    In the present case, Mr Hazzard is living with his own moral choice.

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