Arnold Bloch Leibler turns 60 and look who came to the party

December 22, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Leading Melbourne law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler recently celebrated its 60th anniversary with a cocktail party at which Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a special guest along with a plethora of VIPs including Israel’s ambassador to Australia.


Mark Leibler, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Managing Partner Henry Lanzer

Mark Leibler, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Managing Partner Henry Lanzer

The firm has always been involved in dealing with communal matters as and when needed.  Senior partner Mark Leibler welcomed Tony Abbott:

“Friends, I was recently asked what I had planned for my 70th birthday next week. My answer was: “Just a simple family barbeque for a simple tax lawyer”. But when it came to Arnold Bloch Leibler’s 60th birthday, I guess I wanted to do things a little differently. Thank you all for coming, and sharing our celebration. It means a lot to us.

I extend a special welcome to: The Hon Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Lady Cowen; The Hon Kevin Andrews, Minister for Social Services; Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, Assistant Treasurer; The Hon Stuart Robert, Assistant Minister for Defence; Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social Services; The Hon Josh Frydenberg, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister; Senator the Hon Scott Ryan. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education; The Hon Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition; The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, Shadow Attorney-General; The Hon David Feeney, Shadow Minister for Justice; His Excellency Shmuel Ben Shmuel, Ambassador of Israel to Australia; James Larsen, Ambassador designate to Turkey; Senator Helen Kroger, Chief Government Whip in the Senate; The Hon Tony Smith, Member for Casey; Mr David Southwick, Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services; The Hon Ted Baillieu, Member for Hawthorn; Distinguished members of the Judiciary, the Bar and the Clergy.

At the outset, I want to acknowledge that we are here on Wurundjeri country. I pay my heartfelt respect to their peoples for deeply enriching Melbourne’s identity.

My friends, Arnold Bloch Leibler is part of Melbourne’s history. Indeed, we are part of Australia’s history. We have benefited from that history, and we hope we have contributed to it. We began in 1953 as a one-man firm in Ripponlea, when our founder, the brilliant Arnold Bloch, introduced some of our key values: to respect each client; to understand them as individuals with differing personalities; to deliver on our promises.

In my own time with the firm since 1966, three significant milestones stand out. The first was in 1985 when the then Victorian Premier John Cain opened our offices in Lonsdale Street. It was the beginning of a new era of growth and development for us. The second landmark was 10 years ago when Prime Minister John Howard, in a particularly memorable address on our 50th anniversary, did us proud.

But the past decade has taught us that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. During that time the international merger trends have significantly changed the volatile Australian legal landscape.

Which is what makes today’s 60th anniversary celebration, this third landmark event, especially meaningful. We have thrived and maintained intact our independence, our identity and our culture. Indeed, we have grown stronger, while remaining true to our origins. And we look to the future with confidence.

At the core of our achievement, is a distinctive corporate culture. It produces strong leaders, and it demands strong leaders to drive it. One of those leaders has been Henry Lanzer, our managing partner for the past 15 years. Thank you Henry, for your wise counsel, brilliant strategic mind, and unflappable style. And in thanking Henry, I want to thank our whole team, past and present.

What then, amidst all the change, remains enduringly special about Arnold Bloch Leibler? I think the answer lies in the way our firm’s story… has been Australia’s story. In due course, when the historians look back on the past 60 years, three features of that story will stand out. The way immigration changed us. The way prosperity changed us. And the way, as a nation, we began to change our attitudes towards the first Australians. Our firm’s story is bound up with each of those three features.

Arnold Bloch Leibler began among the survivors and the vulnerable. Our first clients were mostly Jewish Holocaust survivors — displaced persons, immigrants, and refugees. They found a haven here. And they were extraordinary people who helped educate us too. Australia was good to these early clients, and they were good for Australia. Many built larger businesses and created new enterprises. Our firm prospered, as they prospered. And we are proud that we have nurtured those early relationships across generations, and also across interstate borders. While our roots are in Melbourne, we enjoy a strong presence in Sydney.

Over the decades, we have built a reputation as the ‘go-to’ firm when the stakes are high in the board room, when reputations are threatened, and when seemingly intractable commercial problems demand creative solutions. Nor do I shy away from the reality that our clients include many of the rich and famous, and that we are invariably placed at the epicentre of the country’s most important commercial disputes, restructures and corporate mergers.

In short, as a law-firm, and as a business, we are a success story. For which we are grateful to all our stakeholders, but especially to our clients.

But we measure success in more than one way.

We are also the ‘go-to’ firm when bigotry threatens, when the disempowered need support, and when minorities are under attack. It is why we represented the African-Australian community in inner Melbourne when they suffered from police persecution. And I welcome some of the plaintiffs here this evening. It is why we developed our long-standing relationship with the Yorta Yorta peoples in their dignified struggles for land justice. I also welcome their leaders. There are so many more examples. Our pro-bono commitments are embedded in our firm’s DNA.

We have not forgotten how we began. We remember who we are. Here again, history is our teacher. My friend, Noel Pearson, whom I’m delighted to welcome here this evening, once paid us the highest compliment. During his all-too brief stay at our firm, he said that Arnold Bloch Leibler was where he learned we must never forget history’s lessons.

My friends, it is in that context that I want to address our honoured guest, Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Prime Minister, you have shown your understanding of history in many ways throughout your political life. It has been evident in your long-standing friendship for Israel and the Jewish community. On Israel especially, you have always been prepared to support what is right and correct, as distinct from what may be ‘politically correct’. I thank you for that commitment.

And, like me, you understand that Indigenous Australians are not only the country’s most disadvantaged citizens, but the most discriminated against. Which is why, like you Prime Minister, I am passionate about the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. You are rightly taking an approach which is methodical and structured — because we need a referendum that is supported by Indigenous Australians — and also replicates the broad based success of 1967. It will require the wisdom of Solomon — but as you have repeatedly pointed out, there is a new spirit in our land.

You often say that Indigenous recognition in our Constitution will complete it — indeed it will, and it will complete something in the heart and soul of our country and all its peoples as well. I know there will be challenges getting this right — but you have already demonstrated that when it comes to the national interest, you know how to provide the leadership.

For this reason, and for so many more, we thank you for accepting our invitation to celebrate this very special 60th anniversary with us.

In responding, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said:

“Thank you so much for making me and so many of my parliamentary colleagues welcome tonight. I looked at the guest list and there’s almost enough of my colleagues here to have a meeting of the ministry. And I kept looking down the guest list and there’s almost enough parliamentary colleagues here to have a meeting of the shadow ministry as well. And I particularly welcome Bill Shorten to this event tonight.

It is so good to see so many friends, supporters and I trust paying clients of the firm here to help celebrate the 60th birthday. I do hope that I am the only pro bono client of the firm here tonight because rents are high, lawyers demand high wages and partners have to live. So, I do hope that we have many people who are contributing supporters of the firm because I want to be around to celebrate the 70th birthday. I don’t want this to be the last big festival of Arnold Bloch Leibler!

Ladies and gentleman, it is a real honour to be here tonight and to help celebrate the 60th birthday of this fine firm. In celebrating Arnold Bloch Leibler, we really celebrate our country because this firm has grown and developed in tandem with the way our country has grown, changed and developed over the last 60 years. As many of you know, I tend to be of a conservative and traditional bent, and I love the Australia which gave us all birth. I love the Australia that has formed and shaped us. But there’s no doubt that our country is vastly more sophisticated, vastly more cosmopolitan and vastly economically stronger today than it was sixty years ago. And we can celebrate and love the great traditional strengths of our country — and at the same time celebrate and love the changes that we’ve seen over the last sixty years — which have helped to make us even stronger. And this firm has been at the heart of so many of those changes because as it has grown, its influence has grown, its client list has grown, its success at the law and its impact on our society has similarly grown. And the community that this firm has in part served has grown with our country over the last sixty years.

As Mark has just said, many of the firm’s early clients were refugees from Europe. They were survivors of the Holocaust and they found in this country a very hospitable reception. But haven’t those Jewish people coming to Australia abundantly repaid our hospitality? Haven’t the Jewish people who have come to this country in significant numbers in the 1930s, in the 1940s and subsequently done great things for our economy, for our cultural life, for our intellectual life, for our sophistication as a society?

It’s often said that apart from Israel, Australia is the only country on earth that has had a Jewish person as head of State, as Chief Justice and as Commander and Chief of the Army. Jewish people have made such a marvellous contribution to our country. Modern Australia is almost unimaginable without the contribution that you’ve made and I pay tribute to Jewish people in this country. And I say that, as far as I am concerned, as far as the Government that I lead is concerned, Australia will always be a firm friend of Israel. And the great thing about Israel is that it is a country where any Australian swiftly feels familiar. The sights, the sounds, the people are all things that we can readily warm to. Even the arguments that you constantly have in Israel are almost identical to the arguments that we constantly have here in this country.

So, this is a great occasion. It’s a great occasion for our country. It’s a great occasion for the firm. It’s also a great occasion for the law because Arnold Bloch Leibler is one of the really significant law firms in this country today. What started as a small Melbourne firm is a firm of national and even international significance. And I feel as a politician a degree of affinity with lawyers because lawyers are almost as unpopular as politicians in the wider community. And yet, just as members of Parliament are sometimes unpopular, we are indeed necessary, and lawyers are equally necessary. A man without a lawyer is a man without access to justice. The great things about this firm, as Mark has touched upon, has been its readiness over the years: to act for people who would not otherwise have high quality representation; to give a voice to those who would otherwise be voiceless; and, if I may say so being part of that marvellous Jewish tradition, to be conscious of what it is like to be a stranger, to be conscious of what it is like to be friendless and to extend the hand the welcome, the hand of support, to all who need it regardless of race, regardless of culture, regardless of the things that others might take far more seriously.

And yes, this firm — in particular Mark Leibler — has played a significant role in trying to build a better society. And it was good that Mark raised the issue of Constitutional recognition because this is a very important question, not just for the Aboriginal people of Australia, but for all of us. Successful though this country has been, united though we usually are, we will never be quite whole until we have finally acknowledged as first class Australians the Aboriginal people who were the first of us. And yes, it’s important to tackle the practical issues that so many Aboriginal people live with. It is also important — as I have said ‘til I’m blue in the face over the last few months — that every Indigenous youngster goes to school, that every Indigenous adult goes to work, that Indigenous people — no less than the rest of us — enjoy the ordinary tranquillity that should be the birth right, and that should be the expectation and the experience, of every Australian.

But symbols matter too. Symbols matter too. We need to feel in our hearts that we belong. For too long, too many Aboriginal people felt like strangers and outcasts in the only land they have ever known. It must change. It must change. And as far as I am concerned — as well as repealing the carbon tax and the mining tax, as well as getting the budget back under control, as well as stopping those boats, and as well as building the roads of the 21st century — I want to be remembered as a Prime Minister who made a difference for Aboriginal Australia . The best thing we could do for Aboriginal Australia right now is push on as quickly as we reasonably can with Constitutional recognition.

Mark, you have done a power of work in this area already. I think there is more work still to be done because this must be a unifying and a healing project, not one that divides us. It must be something that brings us together. It must be a unifying and a healing moment surpassing even that of the 1967 referendum, surpassing that of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology. But I do believe, as you suggested in your remarks, that we have it in our hearts to do this. I know the journey that our country has been on for the last few decades because, like most of you, I’ve been living it. I know how my heart is open to my Aboriginal brothers and sisters in a way that it might not have been thirty or forty years ago. We are a better people as well as a better country, and I hope we will be able to reflect the best angels of our nature in this very important change.

Thank you so much Mark, it’s lovely to be here and, as I said, I hope the firm continues to prosper and flourish. And I look forward to being able to attend your 70th birthday in just ten years time.”


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