Some Liberal powerbrokers are delicate little flowers and it appears that Perth QC Ron Birmingham fits into that category. The latest update on this little tale from June 6 is at the bottom of this piece.
JOBS FOR THE LIBERAL BOYS OUT WEST
There are some who lament the passing of the Court Liberal government in Western Australia a great deal more than others. Mr Ron Birmingham QC must be one such person. Under the Court government, Mr Birmingham was appointed to the part time position of Chairman of the Lands Valuation Appeals Tribunal; a nice little earner if ever there was one.
For his trouble, Mr Birmingham earned $96,850 in 2000/01 alone. The previous year he racked up $75,438 worth of taxpayers income. Mr Birmingham was also appointed by the Liberal Government to the Centenary of Federation Celebrations Committee which brought him in a further $20,000 in 2001. That takes his payment for government appointed part time positions for 2001 to $116,850. Excellent money by any measure; if you can get it!
Birmingham was the Senior Vice President of the Western Australian Liberal Party when appointed in 1997 by the Court government, replacing an appointee of the Labor government.
Political activists from within the Liberal Party and colleagues at the bar are very surprised to learn of the size of Birmingham’s income from his government appointments because he is renowned for telling people that being involved in the Liberal Party has cost him hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in lost income. How, has always been a source of puzzlement, even without knowing of these nice earners.
If Birmingham was earning the equivalent in legal fees per hour in those years for the balance of his working day, he would be earning very serious money by Western Australian lawyers’ standards.
Mr Birmingham’s term on the Lands Valuation Appeals Tribunal expires on 31 January 2003. Word from inside the Labor government is that he would be unwise to take out a mortgage on the basis of his appointment being renewed. No doubt Labor will very sensibly have a Labor mate or office bearer lined up.
Now we’re not for a moment suggesting Birmers didn’t do a great job, we just think it is interesting when Party office bearers land handy taxpayer-funded sinecures.
The reaction to that sealed section
Crikey subscribers will by now recall that Mr Birmingham had been appointed by the Western Australian Liberal Government to the part time positions of Chairman of the Lands Valuation Appeals Tribunal and Chairman of the Centenary of Federation Celebrations Committee for which in 2001 alone, he earned the considerable sum of $117,000. Crikey did not question that the amount paid was earned. That was not the point.
Someone at WA Bar Chambers thought this piece of enlightenment of sufficient interest to have copies of the Crikey article displayed on the notice board of the Bar Chambers’ Common Room. Copies also found their way into the pigeon holes of Mr Birmingham’s fellow barristers.
Mr Birmingham on the other hand thought the distribution of this worthy Crikey report to be a most reprehensible act and promptly complained most forcibly to the Chairman of the Chambers, Mr Neil McKerracher QC. Mr Chairman in turn immediately circulated a most stern memo to all members of the Bar. He wrote in the following terms.
URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL
W.A. BAR CHAMBERS LIMITED
Memo to: members
From: Neil McKerracher
Subject: Internal Communications
In recent days, written material concerning one of our members of Chambers (and professional activities of that member) has been circulated on an anonymous basis to selected locations and pigeon holes within Chambers. It appears to have been copied from an external document. (Alas, no plug for Crikey!)
It is not necessarily the case that such material was circulated by a member of Chambers. However, if it has been, those members of the Board with whom I have been able to discuss the matter this morning regard the conduct as unbecoming of Chambers and its members. This anonymous but widespread circulation of this material has been treated extremely seriously by the member concerned and, because of that fact in particular, has the capacity to bring Chambers into disrepute. (Can you believe this!)
While no member of Chambers has ever been immune from criticism or comment, the widespread anonymous dissemination of written material of this nature is regarded by the Board as being singularly inappropriate and, in a nutshell, a bit pathetic. (Like this memo is not!)
Regrettably, from the perspective of Chambers, it is likely that the member who is referred to in the document will take the matter forward in a manner which may cause it to become public. If the person responsible for the dissemination of the material wishes to make his or herself known to the member concerned or to myself, I can only offer the suggestion that doing so may possibly have the effect of defusing the matter to some degree. (Get a life Neil!)
Signed Neil McKerracher QC
Having read this memo, Crikey readers can be excused for believing Mr McKerracher was a Head Master in a previous life. He was not but he is a former Chairman of the Scotch College Council. Crikey understands McKerracher is a pretty good bloke so we can only guess why he put out this nonsense.
However the matter did not end there. Mr Birmingham considered the matter to be of such profound importance that he rang the Chief Justice to tell him of the dastardly deed. What the Chief Justice was to do, Crikey has yet to learn.
Mr Birmingham, unlike Mr McKerracher is not waiting for the guilty soul to hand himself or herself in. He wants the police called in. Mr Birmingham retrieved the Crikey reports still in his colleges’ pigeon holes and is threatening to have all the available known and suspected evidence tested for finger prints and DNA. Crikey takes it, this will require the cooperation of all occupants of WA Bar Chambers.
Crikey thought our original report was an interesting little piece worthy of reporting in the interests of open and transparent government, however we had no idea we would set off a man hunt and that the Chief Justice would be drawn into the crisis.
In the event that the culprit confesses and throws him or herself upon the mercy of Mr Birmingham and the Board of WA Bar Chambers Limited, we promise to report the result immediately it comes to hand. Alternatively, if there is any breaking news on the finger printing and DNA testing, we will rush that into an exclusive email.
In the meantime, Crikey thinks some lawyers seem to be very precious these days and take themselves much too seriously.
Latest instalment – another complaint
June 6 update
The distribution of Crikey’s little piece on Ron Birmingham QC continues to make waves at WA Bar Chambers. The Chairman of the Board, Mr Neil McKerracher QC has again written to his colleagues condemning the further circulation within Chambers of Crikey articles.
Apparently one or more of Mr McKerracher’s fellow barristers have circulated further copies of the Birmingham story together with another Crikey article in which there was a passing reference to the Birmingham government appointments. The following memo is McKerracher’s latest response.
W.A. BAR CHAMBERS LIMITED
Memo to: Members
From: Neil McKerracher
Subject: Circulation of material concerning members
Date: 24 May 2002
Members of these Chambers are entitled to expect that they will be free of persistent, clandestine, anonymous attacks upon their character by other members or even the circulation of inane drivel concerning them. The recent publication of what is now a series of notes in relation to one member is unacceptable and unprofessional . It is known to cause distress to the member concerned.
It appears that the publication of the notes is being made by a member or members of Chambers. The repetition after the last request shows contempt not only for the member but also for the Board and other members who are sick of it. The Board is of the view that the conduct is “inconsistent with the proper relations between members” and is a breach of clause 4(f) of the Licence Agreement. Secondly, even if it were done as a prank, it involved an improper use of common property. Thirdly, the latest dissemination of material came after my memorandum warning against such conduct, and is in substance an anonymous rebuff of the Board.
If the perpetrator(s) believed that it was none of the Board’s business, he or she should have responded to me directly. The Board invites the member to reveal his or her identity, to make an apology and to undertake to refrain from similar conduct in the future, failing which the Board will have no alternative but to take more direct steps to ensure the licence agreements are complied with.
CRIKEY: It is difficult to believe that a senior and busy Queen’s Counsel has the time and inclination to write this extraordinary memo.
As a result of McKerracher’s excitable and strident memos, this issue is now beginning to grip the interest of the whole Bar Chamber. The barristers who had not seen the original Crikey article are as a result of McKerracher’s memo, curious to see the article which has caused the fuss.
There is a rumour that the Crikey article has even found its way onto the Supreme Court Judges’ notice board, however that is not verified.
If Birmingham is sensitive about his government appointments while Senior Vice President of the Liberal Party or of the amount of his remuneration, surely he would have been wise to let matters pass. Equally, Mr McKerracher’s aggressive responses have only served to draw attention to the Crikey story.
If Crikey was Mr Birmingham’s spin doctor he would be advising him that this is a case of less is best. Had Birmingham accepted the original circulation at Bar Chambers of Crikey’s story in good grace, surely the issue would by now be well dead. However, apparently it is not and as promised we will keep readers posted.
While on the matter of lawyers, Western Australian Law Society President, Clare Thompson was reported in yesterday’s “West Australian” making another of her profound statements.”
Western Australian Attorney General, Jim McGinty, announced that he will not legislate to strip barristers of immunity from negligence claims despite a package of legislation intended to modernise the profession. Barristers are accountable for their courtroom arguments in a number of countries including the United kingdom and America.
In opposing such legislation for Western Australian barristers, Ms Thompson said “barristers could still be sued if they were negligent by turning up late for court or for not filing papers correctly. It’s a case of recognising the really important things a barrister needs to do relate to preparation.” Crikey always thought the very big bucks that Allan Myers and Tom Hughes charge for a day in court had something to do with their skills on their feet. Now we know they just prepare better.
Ms Thompson went on to say that it was inappropriate that barristers should be held accountable for split second decisions in the court room to which the Australian Medical Association Council chairman, Dr Michael Sedgley neatly responded; “if they think they don’t have to think on their feet, they should try being an obstetrician.”