I thought what I would do today is, rather than simply giving you some biographical information - which anybody can say who they are, where they came from - I would like to let you know who I am by reference to some of what I believe in.
It’s not going to be a political speech.
It’s about some of the guiding philosophies that drive me and why it is that I decided to put my hand up for politics.
Firstly, I would like to say that simply being a member of an organisation like Probus, you are doing good for yourself and you are doing good for the community.
Now I will explain why that is.
There is lots of research to suggest that one of the major afflictions that we have in our modern community is the fact that people suffer from a condition called social isolation.
Social isolation is the most dangerous thing, it’s more dangerous than smoking. A study was done in the United States which suggested that of the 10, top 10 reasons for somebody to die before their time, that a life time of smoking was the number 2 predictor of an early death, whereas social isolation – loneliness, was the greatest predicter of an early death.
This is backed up by a lot of work that has been done around something called the social determinants of health, in the health space.
They talk about whether you are more or less likely to suffer from particular diseases, but I can reassure you simply by being a member of a service or a social club like Probus, Probus or Rotary or the local parents and friends organisation with the school, a bowls club, no matter what organisation you join, you are doing good for your physical and mental health and you’re doing good for the community.
There is a reason why I refer to that because I think that whole sense of community is something which drives me, and I think it should drive many people in our community, because we need to turn our back on this sense of individualism, that is “I’m ok Jack” and forget about everybody else. So again, it was really important to hear this morning your welfare officer talking about the welfare of your members.
The same thing occurs in my Rotary club and it’s a sense of people looking after each other.
We used to do that instinctively in our communities, in our neighbourhoods, but it’s something which we can lose – there is a danger, there is a risk that we might lose some of that sense of community cohesion.
So, I would invite you to think about the importance of being a good neighbour, being a good member of the community and sometimes it’s the small things that matter.
A little bit about me.
I was born at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital in 1960 and my son Peter was born on the last day that the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital was operating in Launceston in 1996.
So, he was born in a delivery suite at the QV and he and my wife Ann we transferred to the new maternity unit at the LGH after he was born. So that provides a lovely bookend to a part of Launceston’s history.
The history of Launceston and my family history are pretty much bound up together. I was having a brief conversation earlier about the fact that I am very proud of the fact that one branch of my family arrived here in the 1830s and that’s my present surname, the Harts. William Hart the elder was a very very industrious gentleman who was, not an ironmonger, he was a tin-monger.
This was in the days where anything that you used in your farm or in your business was more likely to be made out of tin, so your buckets, everything that you used it was tin. So, your hardware store was more likely your tin-monger or your ironmonger. So William the elder and his family came out here in the early 1830s and William, his eldest son became extraordinarily wealthy.
He unfortunately is not a direct ancestor of mine, he’s a great, great, great uncle but his next youngest brother, John was my direct ancestor. John was relatively wealthy.
He and his brother had Hart’s Hardware but of course William was fabulously wealthy when it came to what he did with the Beaconsfield gold mine, the Launceston Gas Company, organisations that became banks or building societies in northern Tasmania and when he died, I think in 1901 or 1902 he was a pound millionaire.
A pound millionaire: you really have to think about the sort of wealth that that brings.
The family, that is those very wealthy industrious people of the 19th century benefited Launceston through giving significant amounts of money to charitable causes.
You have got the John Hart Conservatory in City Park and if you look at some of the churches around Launceston they have been benefited by the Hart family. One of the interesting insights is the fact that in the early days of colonial Tasmania the question of one’s religion or religious affiliation was very much flexible.
The church that you attended depended upon which district you were at, so when my branch of the family were at Deloraine they became of a particular branch of the Christian faith, being previously Baptists so you went to the local church and you followed the particular tenets of the local church.
You would have different branches of the family following different churches. Incidentally John Hart was, sorry William Hart, was a Baptist.
He was abstemious of alcohol, but he had a very good wine cellar and in his will he directed that his trustees were not to allow his second wife access to his wine cellar! (Laughter)
I am not sure why that was the case but as a lawyer you refer to people trying to rule their family from the grave, but I think restricting access to a wine cellar is a bit rude.
So, you have this sense of the people in Launceston in the late 19th century. Think about their vision for northern Tasmania, for Launceston. You look at the things that were developed in Launceston like the Albert Hall, the parks and gardens. Whether it’s the Cataract Gorge and the like. Its not a question of politics but think of the vision of those people at that time, for what they were actually producing in Launceston.
The fact that we had electric light in Launceston at a very early stage.
The fact that we had very strong social institutions like the Launceston Benevolent Society and others that were developed here in Launceston that remain mainstays today, are really, really important. This question of vision about the community is something I think is really really important.
But I think it goes beyond that because there’s a certain level of politics which existed then which I would like to see recreated, if at all possible, and I will explain why.
When I was a lawyer, I started in a small legal practice which was called Hill Gunton Patmore at the time.
It was a small legal practice which was established by three younger legal practitioners and when I joined the firm there were probably less than a dozen employees.
Now when I retired as a director of my legal firm, the legal firm that became Rae and Partners, we employed 80 or more people between Launceston and Devonport. One of the incidents and changes that occurred over the period between the mid 1980s and 2016 was the fact that most of the workforce, a significant portion of the workforce of that legal firm became primarily a female workforce and most notably the lawyers that we employed and the lawyers that we continued to employ in that legal firm, the people that we recruited and the people that stayed with us were primarily young female, highly intelligent, hardworking professional women.
Now legal practices have traditionally been female work places in the sense that support staff within legal practices have been legal secretaries, law clerks but the shift towards female legal practitioners has been significant and profound.
In our case I think it drove a very significant change in culture of our legal practice.
When I speak about culture I speak about how we regard ourselves, how we deal with people and how we teach people to behave, how we bring people into the organisation and what we expect of them.
In my view the culture we were able to inculcate into our employees and the fact that we recruited female legal practitioners was really important because what we drove was a culture which involved flexible working environments, finding solutions to problems which even when you were dealing with dispute resolution meant actually sitting down and listening to people and finding solutions and despite the fact that I was primarily involved in the last 10-15 years with litigation, it involved solving disputes through alternative dispute resolution, through teamwork, through sharing problems, through actually communicating with people.
I will explore that a little bit because it explains why it is that I am now in politics and why I do things in a particular way as a politician.
I think it’s been a really, really important change as to how good businesses can become better businesses and how you as consumers can look at how a good business operates.
In legal practice and in any other business you don’t have a business unless you’ve got customers. You have got people coming in – your customers. Traditionally legal practices have been very expensive, they have been organisations shrouded in mystery.
You went to see a lawyer, you told the lawyer what the problem was, and the lawyer then told you what you had to do to resolve the issue.
Sometimes people didn’t necessarily feel that they had been heard or their issue had been understood.
There was a lack of empathy about the particular situation that was facing. So, in other words lawyers tried to put themselves up on a pedestal.
So, they weren’t very happy if somebody disagreed with them, they would be accused of being arrogant, some of which was perfectly true. A lot of my legal friends take pride in the fact that they have a particular personality that tends towards arrogance, but I don’t think it actually assists in somebody’s problem being solved.
We decided that what we wanted to do is we wanted to use our employees as the best way for us to market and attract more customers. We thought that what we needed to do is we needed to have a happy workforce, we needed to have people that were valued, we needed to have people that were well paid, we needed to have people that were prepared to do hard work and we needed to have happy customers.
There is a common theme around all of that, that means you have to have a culture that supports people.
For example, if you have somebody that is a young mother and they need to work school friendly hours from our perspective now in 2019 – if somebody wants to work school friendly hours, family friendly hours – we would say “yes, of course work school friendly hours”.
15 – 20 years ago it was absolutely revolutionary when we decided that if our employees wanted to work those hours we would say “yes, of course and what days would you like to work and how many hours would you like to work, and we will work around you”.
What we saw immediately was that if we offered our employees flexibility we actually got more work out of somebody who was working shorter hours because they were happy that they were not cheating their employer, they were not doing anything wrong if they went home to look after their kids or if they were a young female lawyer that had children if they had to work from home, that was fine.
We weren’t going to question their choices if they were going to work from home.
Believe it or not one of the senior lawyers at another legal firm had a situation where their secretary came to them and said Mr such and such, I’m pregnant and was told by this person, oh you can go and work for Rae and Partners.
Now that in my mind was just the most extraordinary thing for somebody to be told. The fact that they actually understood that flexibility in the workplace was important, but they weren’t going to offer that. Now of course nowadays, as I said, we look at it now from 2019 and we understand that that flexibility is important.
It was only last year we were talking in parliament about the availability of flexibility for domestic violence leave so that people could take time off work if they had been the subject of a domestic violence allegation. It’s to the credit of the government that they put the legislation forward and we supported the legislation.
Can you imagine if you are a victim of family violence, the first thing you want to be able to do is actually make sure your family is safe, that you can make arrangements to move if necessary, that you can go and see a doctor or go and see whoever is necessary a lawyer or someone else and if necessary you can get time off work to do that?
Now again this comes back to the question of culture and a culture of flexibility, a culture of looking after your neighbour, a culture of being conscious about the effect on the other person is really important.
That is not new.
It’s actually how we used to do things but we used to do it in an informal way and people would know that good employers were those that actually erred on the side of looking after their employees and they got very good reputations in the community for being a happy workplace and a happy workplace meant that you were actually more likely to go there.
You can think of many places. Icons like Patons and Baldwins – think of how many women were employed at that place when it was working – 1000s of women.
Think about those families that were being sustained by the money that was being brought in by those working women. Think about the people that have worked as nurses. Think about the people that have worked in many professions.
I think that a view of the world which is more inclusive of the role of females in the workplace is really important.
We can have conversations about feminism, and feminism sometimes gets a bad rap from particular points of the political spectrum, but I think it’s really important if you want to run a good business, or if you want to run a good organisation whatever that organisation is, to be open to the fact that flexibility, empathy, understanding for how somebody is actually dealing with their family, their children, what their pressures are, that sort of thing is really important.
If you give somebody the opportunity to work for you on a flexible manner you will be rewarded many times over.
Now in our case, in the case of our legal practice one of the things that we needed to change when we decided to adopt this way of working was the fact that we needed to change from legal practice where one person did one job and they had a file and that was their file and they looked after everything on that file to a more sharing teamwork environment where little things were done by a whole lot people on a file.
That’s something quite revolutionary in a legal practice because previously if you gave a lawyer a piece of work that lawyer would then go away and work on that file and nobody else worked on that file. Of course, one of the problems with that was if that lawyer got very busy, your file sometimes didn’t get any attention. So, you would ring up your lawyer, “can you tell me what’s happening with my file.”
He or she would say I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get to the file, I’ve been terribly busy. Of course, a lawyer will often say that they have been busy but they don’t think about the consequences of telling somebody that they have been busy, because what they are really saying when they have been busy is that they have had other work to do which is more important than your work.
I think that is disgraceful.
Why would you tell somebody that your work is not important?
Now the way we solved this issue was by saying look somebody else might be working on your file, so whether it’s a clerk or another lawyer, somebody else will be doing some work and they will be working on that file and then giving the file back to me or my assistant or whoever and then I will then be able to either ring you, send a letter or do something and actually make sure that something is being done on the file.
So, what I would tell my young lawyers was, don’t leave a file on the side of the desk or in the filing cabinet, please make sure something is happening with, please.
You don’t want to send a message that nothing has been done because you have been busy or your work has not been important enough.
That concept of being able to share means that you actually take responsibility for what you have done or not done. So, if you don’t know what to do, believe it or not people go through law school and they can be very good legal academics, they can write an essay but sometimes they don’t know how to make a decision. Many years ago Bill Zeeman a very senior, well respected judge here in Launceston told a group of young lawyers, he said the worst thing that can happen in legal practice is somebody not making a decision.
So, failure to make a decision is an absolutely chronic sin. It’s something that shouldn’t be forgiven.
You should always make a decision. If you have investigated the facts, if you have looked at the law, you should make a decision.
Even if there are two equally good decisions that might be taken. If you don’t know how to make the decision, send it to somebody else, ask them to look at it and review what you propose to do.
I think Bill Zeeman’s right because in most cases if you look at the circumstances, if you have a good understanding of the facts involved in a dispute or a particular legal situation, then you can make a decision, a rational decision based upon that.
Then you have to communicate that and hold fast to it. If you have made the wrong decision, its very rare that you actually do make the wrong decision, because the other person on the other side is probably still struggling to make their own decision.
So if you have made a decision, hold to that decision and push the matter. You are more likely to be successful.
Getting back to my theme, what we saw was, is that our young female legal practitioners were much better at making decisions because they weren’t striving for perfection.
We often had very intelligent, ego driven young male lawyers who would fail to reach a decision because they were afraid of being wrong.
So, we said look you’re wrong, don’t stress about making the wrong decision, because if you fail to make a decision, that’s worse, right. Your client again, doesn’t want to be told “sorry I can’t make a decision about your matter”. The client wants to know – here’s my recommendation, my recommendation is based upon this and these are the reasons why.
If you are able to set out the reasons why you have made this recommendation it really doesn’t matter if you’ve got it wrong because its often not tested as to whether or not you’re wrong. In many cases in life and in the law, its having confidence in your position that’s the most important thing. If you want to argue for a particular, argue with passion, back yourself up on the facts and a reasonably arguable case and people will forgive you even if you have come to the wrong conclusion in the end. So being honest and being passionate about your position is really important.
In a way that comes back to my political philosophy.
We in Tasmania and I think most of the Australian public don’t like things at the extremes. We don’t like people who are far right or far left.
We like people who want to give people a fair go, we like people who are prepared to hear people’s problems and try and solve their problems.
In many cases I have had people come to my office and they are saying thank you very much for listening to me.
That’s even when I have said look I’m sorry I don’t think I can do anything for you. Again, that comes back to the cardinal rule, never tell somebody a lie, never tell anybody you can do something for them when you know you can’t do it.
Right. If you say right well the best I can do for you is to write to this and I don’t know whether there is going to be a positive response, then so be it.
People don’t want to receive something which is misleading. Sometimes people come to me and I say sorry this is a really really bad case.
I had somebody come to me the other day who had a dispute with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He was really passionate, he was really passionate.
He had prepared a dossier of all the things that went wrong with his case. There were so many things that went wrong with his case, so many things.
He was serving on a particular vessel in far eastern strategic reserve which was in the Malaya emergency and the person from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs effectively told this person that he was a liar, that he wasn’t serving on that vessel and the vessel hadn’t been in far east, so it hadn’t been in Asia.
This really affected this particular veteran. He was really traumatised by it.
He sent his medals which included a particular class for having served in this particular theatre of war, sent his medals back. He was really aggrieved by what had happened before the Tribunal.
But it got worse.
He appealed that decision and went to an organisation called the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and whoever was sitting on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal made a mistake.
They hadn’t read the matter properly and when they came to writing the decision they made reference to the fact that this was a war widow’s claim. So, this fellow was in fact dead.
An appalling error.
Now the guy had been upset beforehand but of course he is now being told that was dead.
When I tell you that this fellow has a psychological condition already and he’s been told that he’s a lair, he’s sent back his medals and he’s been told that he’s dead. He has just gone off his rocker.
He is so upset. Everything was fixed. The right decision was ultimately made but this fellow wants blood, he comes in to see me. He wants compensation from the Department. He wants compensation from the Tribunal and he wants people to be sacked.
Of course, there is a principle that if judges and tribunals if they make decisions, if they are wrong you appeal them. There are only very limited circumstances in which a judge or tribunal can be the subject of disciplinary proceedings and usually has to be multiple, multiple errors pointing to absolute incompetence or drunkenness or some other issue.
So I had to tell the fellow whose got a psych condition, he’s really got every reason to be upset, I had to tell him sorry you will not get compensation, but what I will do is I will write to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and I will set out in detail all the things that you complain about. Now that, I am not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but that’s the right thing to do, that’s an honest thing to do and I had to tell him that he did not have a case, right.
He was upset and as you would think he said I’m not going to let it lie, but he has to accept that he has not got a claim for compensation against the Department of Veterans’ Affairs or against the Tribunal.
What happened shouldn’t have happened, but it doesn’t give him the right to claim compensation. So, we talk about things like fairness and equity.
We talk about things, whether or not we have got the right gender representation in parliament, whether we are doing things the right way.
Essentially what I have been talking to you today about is about basic human dignity, fairness, respect, looking after your community, being a good member of our community.
It counts for things, its counts for a lot.
It keeps people well physically and mentally, it keeps you well physically and mentally.
It’s really important that we recognise that even the newest member to our community, whether it’s somebody that’s moved from Queensland or somebody that’s moved from overseas, deserves to be welcomed into our community, deserves respect and our assistance.
Now we did so many good things after the second world war when we had people migrating here from Europe and elsewhere.
We are such a welcoming community because our community has been enriched by migration.
There are some wonderful new communities here in Launceston – there’s the Bhutanese community, the Hazara community, there are other communities.
It’s wonderful to see what has been done in Launceston with mothers’ groups that assist some of these communities, people teaching some of these new communities how to drive and things like that.
I think that reflects the Launceston and northern Tasmania that I know and love.
I think I will leave it there.
I am happy to answer any questions but in summary I would like to think that each of us plays a role in making Launceston and northern Tasmania a strong healthy community.
That’s not just idle conversation. If you look at all the community groups that there are in Launceston, they all play a very important role in maintaining the health of our community.
You do that by being members of Probus, well done and thank you for having me speak to you today.