President's report: advancing Liberty in 2010

Michael Pearce SC

This is my first President’s column in my second term as President. I was re-elected unopposed at our Annual General Meeting held on Monday 23 November 2009. Also elected to the executive were: Jamie Gardiner, Vice-President; Anne O’Rourke, Vice-President; Tim Warner, Treasurer; Jessie Taylor, Secretary; and Aggy Kapataniak, Assistant Secretary.

The following were elected to the committee: Rachel Ball, Julian Burnside AO QC, Hugh Crosthwaite, Dr Di Sisley, Marian Steele, Dr Larry Stillman, Evelyn Tadros, Brian Walters SC, Jonathan Wilkinson, Georgia King-Siem, Prof Spencer Zifcak.

At a committee meeting held immediately after the AGM, Judy Magassy was co-opted to the committee and the committee appointed Prof Spencer Zifcak and Georgia King-Siem as additional Vice-Presidents.

The role of the additional Vice-Presidents was raised in a question at the AGM. The official public spokespeople for Liberty are the President and the Vice-Presidents. Two Vice-Presidents are elected each year and, by amendment to the constitution introduced a couple of years ago, the committee has power to appoint an additional two.

This amendment was introduced because of increasing demand from the media for comment from Liberty. With up to four Vice-Presidents there is a wider spread of expertise in the public spokespeople as well as increased availability.

In addition to the power to appoint two further Vice-Presidents, the committee also has power to co-opt members to the committee. This power has also been regularly exercised in recent years as the committee identifies needs for expertise in particular areas.

Currently the committee sees a need to enhance its expertise in submission writing on criminal law. Any members with the requisite skills and the time and commitment to contribute to submission writing are invited to contact the Liberty office.

Before leaving the subject of the new executive and committee, it is appropriate to mark the retirement from office of Yue Yanlo as Treasurer and Ian Dunn, Lucie O’Brien and Peta Murphy as committee members. They have all made a significant contribution to Liberty and we thank them for that.

The AGM was held in conjunction with the 2009 Alan Missen Oration, delivered by Rev. Tim Costello on the subject of human rights and the churches. It promised a lot and delivered even more. After withstanding months of unrelenting anti-human rights propaganda from the Christian churches, it was both refreshing and a relief to hear a pro-human rights message soundly based in Christian doctrine and belief.

The message was also particularly timely as the decision on whether we will have a federal Human Rights Act is imminent. There are strong indications that the decision will be made largely by the Prime Minister, who wears his Christian faith on his sleeve.

There is naturally a real concern that the message from the anti-human rights forces within the churches will be accorded more respect than it deserves. The Prime Minister might do well to contemplate what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say on this subject.

Thanks are due to the Alan Missen Foundation for supporting the Oration and to the chairman of its trustees, Justice Alan Goldberg, who also spoke and introduced the guest speaker.

I would also like to record Liberty’s gratitude to the volunteer consultants who have assisted it through this year in a strategic review of the organisation. Vicki Davidson, of Quest Consulting, Michael Cohn, Bill Haebisch and Angela Tidmarsh have all generously donated their time to this project.

They have now delivered their report to the Liberty members of the working group who are currently considering its recommendations. Without wishing to pre-empt the outcome of that consideration, 2010 is likely to see some organisational revamp of Liberty to enable it to do what it already does better, and to do more of it. Watch this space.

Finally, on behalf of the new committee and executive, I should say thanks to our many members for their support, financial and other. One thing which has emerged from our strategic review is that we do tend to take our members for granted and fail to engage them sufficiently in activities.

To some extent this reflects our lack of resources but it is clearly something we need to work on. I am hopeful the strategic review will also yield positive results in this area as well. So watch this space too. Meanwhile, all the best over the holiday period and into the New Year.

Michael Pearce SC is president of Liberty Victoria.