Judicial independence expert Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh knew her time in Queensland wasn’t going to be boring when Chief Justice Tim Carmody was controversially sworn into office within a week of her moving to The University of Queensland from New South Wales in 2014.
Just 51 weeks later, Justice Carmody resigned as Chief Justice of Queensland after a tumultuous year that saw “the most public and comprehensive deterioration in relations between judges and government that Australia had ever seen”, Dr Ananian-Welsh said.
Then-Premier of Queensland Campbell Newman later admitted Justice Carmody’s appointment was the decision he most regretted from his career in politics.
While most of us would struggle to find the time to take a shower and get some sleep while caring for a newborn, Dr Ananian-Welsh used her time on maternity leave to co-author a book on the affair, which is being launched at a sold-out event at the Avid Reader bookstore tomorrow night.
“All the controversies I had been looking at over the years came together: judicial independence, the bikie laws, it was a perfect storm,” she said.
The Tim Carmody Affair, written with her former UNSW colleagues Gabrielle Appleby and Andrew Lynch, is an engaging and accessible book presenting the full story and highlighting the issues that remain unresolved.
“I was talking with Andrew and Gabrielle about writing something on the Carmody crisis and at first we were looking at writing something quite academic,” Dr Ananian-Welsh said.
“But as the saga progressed, taking one amazing turn after the next, we decided what was really needed was a book putting it all together and telling the story for the public.
“The affair raised issues that affect everyone but we could only watch it being played out in the pages of The Courier-Mail and national newspapers. A lot of the story was being left out, because you can’t fill the newspaper with all the relevant legal background,” she said.
Dr Ananian-Welsh said the Justice Carmody story was far from over, but the authors needed to draw a line in the sand and release the book.
“When Carmody resigned on ‘negotiated terms’, one of those terms was that he be appointed as a judge on the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). Another was that he receive ‘favourable treatment’ when the QCAT presidency came up in October 2016,” she said.
“There was only one QCAT judge so a new position needed to be created. In order for that to happen, the permission of the Chief Justice was required in conjunction with a request from the QCAT president.
“Last July, Tim Carmody was both acting QCAT president and Chief Justice so he wrote a letter as QCAT president seeking his own appointment to QCAT, followed by a letter as Chief Justice approving the appointment.
“It was a scenario that no one would have ever foreseen.”
One of the impacts of her book has been its likely influence in Justice Carmody’s decision to withdraw his interest in the QCAT presidency this month.
“It would have appeared as though he gained the appointment for reasons other than merit, and that’s not a good thing,” Dr Ananian-Welsh said.
Justice Carmody and the Queensland Government are currently fighting an order from the Information Commissioner that an explosive recorded conversation between Justice Carmody and a judicial colleague be released to the public.
Dr Ananian-Welsh has returned to lecturing at UQ and says the Justice Carmody affair remains a hot topic in her classes.
This year she released another book, Judicial Independence in Australia: Contemporary Challenges, Future Directions, in which leading law academics considered threats posed to judicial independence today. Many of these issues – such as how judges are appointed – played out in the Justice Carmody affair.
“Writing the Carmody book was very different to my usual academic work on constitutional law,” she said.
“It was really fun to write something accessible, with such an interesting story and with such good co-authors.
“And who knows? The way things are going, there could well be a sequel.”
Media: Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, 0404 818 411; Danielle Koopman, 0402 968 131.