Dr Leibler I presume

December 18, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Mark Leibler, the senior partner of Melbourne law firm of Arnold Bloch Leibler has been awarded the University of Melbourne’s highest honour, the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, conferred  by the Deputy Chancellor, Ross McPherson.

Mark Leibler and Deputy Chancellor

Mark Leibler and Deputy Chancellor Ross McPherson


The honorary Doctor of Laws was presented to Mark Leibler late this afternoon, during the graduation ceremony for law graduates, at the university’s Wilson Hall.

Managing partner, Henry Lanzer, said the University of Melbourne reserves this high honour for eminent leaders distinguished by their leadership, significant commitment and service to the Australian and international community. The Doctor of Laws honoris causa is the highest honour the University can bestow upon an individual.

“The University of Melbourne is widely recognised as the most prestigious university in Australia, and is ranked among the top 50 universities in the world,” Henry said. “We are indeed proud of Mark and his outstanding work in support for Indigenous rights, service to the Jewish community and excellence in law, which have earned him this recognition.”

In the citation read at the conferring ceremony, the university said Mark has made an extraordinary contribution to society over many years.

“Mark Leibler is one of Australia’s leading tax lawyers and corporate strategists…over his career he has played a significant role in the area of social justice and public affairs,” the citation says. “For over two decades he has been a tireless supporter of Indigenous rights and empowering Indigenous communities.”

“In view of his eminent public service and his distinguished contribution to Indigenous Australia, most of it provided while pursuing an important legal careers, the University of Melbourne has pleasure in admitting Mark Matthew Leibler, to the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.”

In his acceptance speech Mark Leibler said:

“It seems only yesterday that I came here to receive my first law degree.

Only yesterday, that the then Dean Of Law, Sir Zelman Cowen, later to become Governor-General, taught me Constitutional Law.

In fact, I came up on this stage to receive my law degree nearly half a century ago. And it turned out to be one of the great gifts of my life.

As I am grateful again today, and delighted beyond measure, to receive yet another gift, this Honorary Doctor of Laws from my alma mater.

Thank you. It is a day to remember.

This great privilege gives me an opportunity, for a few minutes, to share with you something of the journey, indeed the adventure, which the law has enabled me to undertake.

And I hope that my remarks may help you understand why Gratitude, Memory, and Justice, are the adventure’s over-riding themes.

Now everyone’s told me that round about now, I have to tell a joke.
So here goes.
A tax lawyer, a constitutional lawyer, and an articled clerk, walk into a bar. Except it’s no joke. That’s what really happened.

In the early 1990s, my late friend, Ron Castan, a brilliant Melbourne barrister, and best remembered for his leading role in the landmark Mabo native title case, introduced me to a young law graduate.

His name was Noel Pearson, and although his law degree was from the University of Sydney, I forgave him, and asked him to work with us as an articled clerk at Arnold Bloch Leibler.

I am grateful that he agreed. And I believe all Australians should be grateful for the leadership Noel has given to his own people, and to the nation, in the decades that have followed.

The Mabo case, when the High Court recognized Indigenous Australia’s pre-existing land rights, was an historic turning point in our country’s history.

But it was also a turning point for me personally, and my life in the law.

The more I learned about land rights and the history of Indigenous Australia, the more I wanted to become involved in trying to change that history.

For the better.

We set up a public interest law group within our firm to work with the Yorta Yorta people and others.

We set out to argue the case for native title in the law courts and in the court of public opinion.

And in the year 2000 I joined the Board of Reconciliation Australia.

A decade later, with Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s encouragement, I accepted Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s invitation to serve as co-chair, with Professor Patrick Dodson, of the Expert Panel on the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Our report is long and detailed.

But there is one fundamental conclusion: Racism, discrimination, and prejudice against Indigenous Australians will continue to cast a shadow, as long as race-based provisions remain in our Constitution.

Changing our Constitution will not automatically abolish racism, but it will remove an unacceptable expression of it in our founding national document.

Whatever I have learned about indigenous affairs, I owe to Aboriginal leaders such as Galarrwuy, Patrick, Noel and Professor Marcia Langton, who holds the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at this university.

These truly great Australians have taught me some powerful lessons.

About empathy, humility, and the beginning of wisdom that tells you the starting point for understanding Indigenous Australia is, surprise, surprise, to ask Indigenous Australians.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At this point, some of you may be asking yourselves: I thought this guy said he was a tax lawyer. Where’s the connection with Aboriginal Australia?

It’s a fair question.

The connection is complex, and it reflects the fact that in a pluralist society such as Australia, each of us is made up of multiple identities, that interact and overlap with each other.

In my case, the most important identities derive from my family, my faith and tradition, and the law.

As I’ve tried to indicate, the law is an instrument for change. Whether in tax reform or human rights. Whether in corporate investment or the rights of shareholders. Whether in property development or the rights of those with disabilities.

And the law will always remain the pathway to change, even if you never join a law firm, or a company’s legal staff, or a legal aid office.

My idea of the law as an instrument for change and justice is not just derived from my experience as a lawyer, but owes much to my faith and my Jewish tradition.

The injunction in the Hebrew Bible: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue” was a clarion call three millennia ago, and underlies the foundations of the rule of law in our own society today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’ve spoken about the law, and my faith and tradition.

And I’ve called my journey an adventure.

But adventure stories have to begin somewhere.

And mine begins with the crucible of life: the family.

The one I have.

And the one I came from.

My family is here today: my wife, and three of our four children, their partners and our grandchildren.

They are the constants in my life, the bedrock of my identity as someone born into Melbourne’s Jewish community in a free and welcoming Australia.

This is a community which renewed itself with the arrival of Holocaust survivors and refugees after the Second World War.

One of our sons and his family live in Jerusalem, Israel, another democracy, which is at the heart of the Jewish people’s survival and continuity.

Israel, too, in its own way, is a community which grew and renewed itself with the arrival of Holocaust survivors and refugees from the Middle East.
I am proud that our son practices law in Israel, and that, with his family, contributes to a vital, innovative, and creative society.

Growing up in Melbourne, I knew from an early age, that the scourge of racism and Nazism had condemned many of my family to death, and that somehow my parents, and a few fortunate others, had managed to escape the gathering terror in Europe to find refuge in Australia.

So all my life I have known that racism is an evil which must be fought.

And all my life, I have been deeply aware that my family owes our freedom, our prosperity, and the very lives of our children and grandchildren to Australia.

To its democracy, and to its rule of law.
I am grateful for these magnificent gifts which, as a society, we must never take for granted. The refugee family in which I grew up never took democracy or the rule of law for granted. Nor do I today. Nor must you in the years to come. Nor must any of us. Thank you.


One Response to “Dr Leibler I presume”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    You can’t get better than that.
    The importance of knowing your roots, something being lost in todays society.

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