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The Hon Sir Francis Gerard Brennan AC KBE GBS QC

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP
Media Release

I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, The Hon Sir Francis Gerard Brennan AC KBE GBS QC.

Sir Gerard was one of Australia's greatest legal minds. A brilliant, compassionate man whose life devoted to the law made Australia a better, fairer and more decent nation.

Throughout his extraordinary career Sir Gerard served as inaugural President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, President of the Administrative Review Council, as a member of the Australian Law Reform Commission and President of both the Bar Association of Queensland and Australian Bar Association.

In 1976 Sir Gerard was appointed as a Judge of the Australian Industrial Court and the following year a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia. He served on both courts until 1981 when the Fraser Government elevated him to the High Court of Australia. He served on Australia's highest court for over 17 years, first as a Justice and then as Chief Justice from 1995 until his mandatory retirement in 1998.

Sir Gerard’s lead judgment on the Mabo case recognised for the first time under Australian law that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and their rights to their land according to their own laws and customs not only pre-dated, but survived, settlement and continue to this day.

Tomorrow's 30th anniversary of that landmark judgment overturning the shameful myth of 'terra nullius' is a reminder of his great work and enduring legacy.

Sir Gerard's life was shaped by his Catholic faith and he declared that "Egalitarianism, tolerance and the respect for conscience are the practical manifestations of faith, hope and charity".

In his later life Sir Gerard was a campaigner for social justice and was a prominent and passionate advocate for a national integrity commission.

I offer my deepest condolences to Sir Gerard's family and offer the thanks of a grateful nation for a life of dedication and service.