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The Right Honourable Sir Harry Gibbs - obituary

By David Flint - posted Friday, 1 July 2005


The Right Honourable Sir Harry Gibbs, GCMG, AC, KBE died on Saturday, June 25, 2005. He was intimately involved with the foundation of Australians For Constitutional Monarchy, and with the defence of our constitutional system against proposals to change its fundamental nature. Both in offering sound counsel, and in his intellectual arguments, Sir Harry remained loyal all his life to the Crown, and to the constitutional system which remains at the very basis of our nation.

In the company of Justice Lloyd Waddy, ACM’s first National Convenor, Justice Michael Kirby, Neville Bonner AO, Dame Leonie Kramer, the Hon Barry O'Keefe, Sir John Atwill, Dr Margaret Olley, The Hon Helen Sham-Ho MLC and others, Sir Harry was a signatory of the ACM charter and was a member of its Foundation Council.

Sir Harry played a leading role in the referendum campaign, speaking with that degree of authority which could only come from his well documented contribution to the law and its development.

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Born in 1917, Sir Harry was educated at the Ipswich Grammar School and later attended Emmanuel College at The University of Queensland. He graduated a Bachelor of Arts with honours in 1937 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1939.

That year he was admitted to the Queensland bar, but his legal career was interrupted by World War II and he served in the Australian Military Forces from 1942 to 1945 and in the Australian Imperial Force in Papua New Guinea, attaining the rank of Major. His interest in the legal system of Papua New Guinea became the basis for a Master of Laws Degree, awarded in 1946.

In the years following the war, Sir Harry built up a formidable reputation as an advocate and lawyer, and was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1957, while also lecturing in law at the University of Queensland. He was later appointed, successively, a Judge of the Queensland Supreme Court (1961-67); a Judge of the Federal Court of Bankruptcy (1967-70); a Justice of the High Court of Australia (1970-81); and Chief Justice of Australia (1981-87).

The University of Queensland awarded Sir Harry an honorary doctorate in 1980.

One of the organisations which benefited greatly from Sir Harry’s participation was the Samuel Griffith Society. At a presentation in recent years to honour him, which had to be arranged without his knowledge because he would have forbidden it, it was noted that when John Stone and Ray Evans founded the Society in 1992, Sir Harry agreed to accept the role of President. At the launch of the Society in 1992, he set the tone of his long and effective presidency when he presented a most substantial paper entitled Re-Writing the Constitution.

It was thus in the Samuel Griffith Society, as well as the ACM, that Sir Harry was able to present his views on the defence of the constitutional system which we have had the good fortune to inherit.

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"Upholding the Australian Constitution, the record of the Proceedings of the Society", is replete with further contributions from Sir Harry - and not only in his succinct reports at the end of each conference. Most importantly, we find there a collection of papers, each examining a particular constitutional issue.

These begin with his address in launching Volume 1 of the series, in which he spoke on the proposed review of the Constitution. Then over the years, we find a number of most substantial papers, which demonstrate the breadth of interest Sir Harry had in constitutional issues. (These are listed in the record of the presentation referred to above.)

In addition, it was Sir Harry’s custom to issue a message on Australia Day each year, always on some subject of relevance to the time.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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