The Case of John Dyson Heydon

If I open my mouth at work
In relation to safety
I can go to Jail
For meeting with my mates
To talk about our work place
It’s a national disgrace

– Jim Sharp

It comes as no surprise that a leading judge of the High Court is a sexual predator using his power against women his junior in the legal profession. There have been plenty of reports stating that sexual harassment is rife in the legal profession worldwide. Modern legal firms with ultra rich partners dominate those beneath them with one in four (in one study) and one in three (in another) experiencing bullying harassment and sexual abuse.

It took a public service style inquiry to bring the judge down, processes that unions have fought for in the public service for decades. This is not the work of sage judges or high-paid law partners, it was public sector workers and their unions who demanded these processes.

John Dyson Heydon AC QC (born 1 March 1943) is a former Justice of the High Court of Australia. His father Sir Peter Heydon was a senior diplomat and public servant who had served as private secretary to Prime Minister Robert Menzies. Heydon was appointed by former governor general Peter John Hollingworth who covered up paedophilia by at least one priest under his control. On 22 June 2020, an independent inquiry conducted for the High Court found that John Dyson Heydon had sexually harassed six female associates.

How is this relevant to workers? In 2014 John Dyson Heydon slammed workers and their unions in the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption set up by Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to castrate the union movement. John Dyson Heydon was on the board that awarded Tony Abbott his Rhodes Scholarship.

In along legal career John Dyson Heydon was promoted to have influential opinions on a wide range of matters that affect workers. Here are some of those views in his own words.

On Keynesian economics and the GFC
The truth is that the modern world is in part created by the way language is used. Modern linguistic usage suggests that the present age is one of ‘emergencies’, ‘crises’, ‘dangers’ and ‘intense difficulties’, of ‘scourges’ and other problems. They relate to things as diverse as terrorism, water shortages, drug abuse, child abuse, poverty pandemics, obesity and global warming, as well as global financial affairs … The great maxim of governments seeking to widen their constitutional powers would be: ‘Never allow a crisis to go to waste.’ ”

On Religion and Chaplaincy
“In ordinary speech a ‘chaplain’ is the priest, clergyman or minister of a chapel; or a clergyman who conducts religious services in the private chapel of an institution or household. Those who are ‘school chaplains’ under the NSCP’s auspices fall outside these definitions. Their duties in schools are unconnected with any chapel. They conduct no religious services.” – Williams v the Commonwealth, 2012

On Refugees
John Dyson Heydon was the sole dissenter in Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, relating to the Gillard Government’s “Malaysian solution” for asylum-seekers coming out against refugee protections under international law and in favour of the Malaysian government.

The majority High Court judges found that the immigration minister could not make a valid decision about sending asylum seekers to Malaysia because that country is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and so it would be unable to recognise refugee status in accordance with international law.

Yet Heydon ruled in favour of the Malaysian government saying it would do the right thing by refugees:

“What matters is the achievement of results in fact, not the identification of formal structures conforming to the ideal standards of an Abbé Sieyès which may or may not achieve them.”

On Tobacco Companies
John Dyson Heydon wrote in favour of British American Tobacco in the challenge to the Australian government’s plain tobacco packaging legislation. He said that, in effect, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act tells the proprietors of tobacco companies:

“You have been controlling your intellectual property and your chattels with a view to making profits in your business; I want to stop you using the intellectual property in very large measure, and command you as to how you are to use what is left of your property, not with a view to making profits in your business, but with a view to damaging them by making the products you sell unattractive; I will therefore take over control of your intellectual property and chattels from you.”Pape v Commissioner of Taxation (2009)

On Unions
John Dyson Heydon found that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) acted in “wilful defiance of the law“. Dyson recommended that criminal charges of blackmail be considered against John Setka, the Secretary of CFMEU Victoria when it was a personal matter settled between Setka and his partner.

On the Labor Party
As Royal Commissioner, John Dyson Heydon recommended that fraud charges be considered against former Australian Workers Union officials for their use of a secret slush fund in the 1990s. One of the officials implicated was a former boyfriend of Julia Gillard, a former Labor prime minister. As a lawyer, Gillard had assisted the union by providing legal advice to establish the slush fund. No charges were laid against Gillard.

At the Royal Commission, John Dyson Heydon said this to Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, giving evidence before him:

If I can be frank about it, you have been criticised in the newspapers in the last few weeks and I think it’s generally believed that you have come here in the hope you will be able to rebut that criticism or a lot of it. I’m not very troubled about that, though I can understand that you are, and it’s legitimate for you to use this occasion to achieve your ends in that regard. What I’m concerned about more is your credibility as a witness … and perhaps your self-interest as a witness as well.”

On Judicial Bias
When asked to step down as Royal Commissioner John Dyson Heydon retorted:

“…the applicants have not articulated why, and there is no rational basis for concluding, that a fair-minded observer might, acting reasonably, apprehend any predisposition against the Labor Party or the unions in a speaker who merely agrees to give a legal speech at a [Liberal party] event with the characteristics last described. The mere fact that a person agrees to deliver a speech at a particular forum does not rationally establish that the person is sympathetic to, or endorses the views of, the organiser of that forum.

At a dinner given by the right-wing journal Quadrant John Dyson Heydon said this:

“Probity may be affected by conscious bias for or against a particular litigant or class of litigants. The law compels judges who have such a bias or may reasonably be thought to have such a bias to disqualify themselves, and in the practice it may be assumed that very few judges are consciously biased.”

On the Constitution
John Dyson Heydon had this to say about the Commonwealth’s hatred for just terms:

he believes that the Commonwealth has a “hatred” of the “just terms” provision in the constitution. He reached for Kipling’s “Recessional” (1897) and portentously wrote:

After a ‘great’ constitutional case, the tumult and shouting dies. The captains and the kings depart. Or at least the captains do; the Queen in parliament remains forever. Solicitors-general go. Solicitors-general come. This world is transitory. But some things never change. The flame of the Commonwealth’s hatred for that beneficial constitutional guarantee, s.51(xxxi) [acquisition of property on just terms] may flicker, but it will not die. That is why it is eternally important to ensure that that flame does not start a destructive blaze.”

This words could have been written by Rudyard Kipling.

Crisis of Legitimacy in the High Court
The ladder of the law has no top and no bottom’ said Bob Dylan in ‘Lonesome death of Hattie Carroll.’

It is ironic that Heydon with all the trappings of privilege and wealth should be brought undone by his sexism. How many workers lives has he destroyed by his conservative, monarchist views on the bench?

In one statement, a woman lawyer said Heydon sat next to her at a dinner and after that “the judge’s hands became very busy under the table, on my lap, feeling up the side of my leg“, she wrote. – Sydney Morning Herald 22 June 2020.

Will John Dyson Heydon go to jail for sexually harrassing six women?

Not if the High Court’s acquittal of pedophile Cardinal George Pell is any indication. One could be forgiven for thinking John Dyson Heydon stands convicted of being a ruling class twit and a ‘grub’.

How is it that democracy throws up individuals who have such warped views, and gives them power and privilege to make judgement on the lives of ordinary people?

Ian Curr
22 June 2020

Post Script: The case of John Dyson Heydon reminds me of the song:

Ian Curr
22 June 2020


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