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Neville Wran's 'Premier State': a state of corruption. A book review.

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Friday, 20 August 2021

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

- John 1:1-5

He was raised Lutheran, but his church in St Ives, some twenty kilometres north of downtown Sydney, is Anglican. He battled to do right, when some around him did not.


In the early 1980s, when the reek of corruption claims concerning NSW police, illegal gambling dens, organised crime, prostitution rings and political fixes sat heavy in the air, it seemed like NSW Labor Premier Neville Wran's hold on power would soon unravel.

This man could have ignored the noxious smells all around him. With a wink and a nod he could have delivered the judicial favours asked of him by other officers of the courts and for that, he would. in this life at least, been richly rewarded.

But that is not then man he was. Nor I suspect, the man he is.

His name is Clarence (Clarrie) Briese and he was once the NSW Chief Magistrate. Then and now, he was guided by his conscience and by his faith. He was then, and, it seems, remains now, at almost 91 years of age, a Christian.

For those of us attending university in the 1980s and studying arts, economics or law, mention today of the "Murphy Affair" certainly rings a few bells. Mostly muffled. Like many economics undergraduates at the time, my compass on the news pointed towards the floating of the Australian dollar (1983), on Australia II winning the America's Cup off Newport, Rhode Island (1983), on the inquest into the execution of anti-drug campaign Donald Mackay (1984) and on the introduction of the Fringe Benefits Tax (1986).

What seemed like accusations of conspiracies and the like didn't register so much with us finance majors. That said, I recall every now and then reading something about improper behaviour by a former Whitlam government Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, as well as hearing whispers about who knew what and when, including the role played by another former Whitlam minister, James ("Diamond Jim") McClelland. I recall very little else about what was to become the "Murphy Affair".


How timely, then, that during the latest Sydney Lockdown, when downtime is synonymous with the opportunity to denude one's bedside table of recently released purchases, I came across a paperback that not only reveals a very significant episode that took place between 1979 and 1986 in the "Premier State" (as Wran called it), but does so in a considered, detailed, analytical and bona fide manner, penned by a person right smack bang in the middle of this tumultuous judicial cyclone: Chief Magistrate, Clarrie Briese.

The thrust of the book reveals and expands on how High Court judge Lionel Murphy and NSW District Court judge John Foord approached (although it sounds more like bullying) Briese and his colleague NSW District Court judge Paul Flannery QC in the early 1980s with a view to perverting the course of justice in relation to criminal charges against Foord's friend and Murphy's "little mate", the Sydneysolicitor Morgan Ryan.

Murphy was investigated by two Senate Select Committeesinquiries (much to the discomfort of the Hawke government) before being convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice by the Supreme Court of New South Wales. The ink on that conviction was not dry before it was quashed on appeal, and a retrial ordered. Murphy was acquitted at the retrial, but then a third inquiry by a parliamentary commission was set in train. The brakes on that train were stepped on abruptly in 1986 when news broke that the Labor "icon" was suffering from terminal cancer.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Corruption in High Places by Clarrie Briese, Noble Books, March 2021 [anywhere from $15 (eBook from Booktopia) to $35 from Dymocks for paperback]

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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