After 17 years in Federal Parliament, on the 1st of July, I returned as a Partner of Turner Freeman Lawyers. The transition has been seamless – more like returning home. I first commenced practice at Turner Freeman in 1982 and I have retained my association throughout my political career.

Robert returns to Turner Freeman

Shortly after commencing as a Solicitor I recall a conversation with founding Partner and my legal mentor, the late Roy Turner, when he asked me what I understood by the “Rule of Law”. I gave what I thought was a fair summary of the principles of Magna Carta and the fact that irrespective of office, nobody is above the law.

Mr Turner (as we all called him) accepted my historical account but in further testing me asked; “Isn’t it’s modern application really about making sure that those with economic or political power don’t always win?” He was right – that is the ethos that he instilled in all young lawyers and it remains very much ingrained in the heart and soul of Turner Freeman today.

Whether it is defending a worker who has been injured at work or assisting a Trade Union to secure fair and reasonable conditions of employment for their members, Turner Freeman has never been one to shrink from the fight. Where necessary, it has called upon the resources of the entire firm to address an injustice. This was most profoundly demonstrated when Turner Freeman challenged the proposed Corporate offshore restructuring by James Hardie which would have deprived victims of asbestos exposure and their families of compensation.

That, in a nutshell, is why I have returned to Turner Freeman. They have a tradition of helping ordinary Australian’s to even up the score.

When it is necessary to take up the fight they will. But with over 60 years experience also comes wisdom and judgment. Consistent with my philosophy, if a matter can be resolved by robust practical negotiation it should be. Turner Freeman’s reputation as a tough litigator can actually assist that process because other parties know the consequences if they are not prepared to negotiate in good faith.

The modern legal profession’s preparedness to explore a range of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options is a relatively recent but welcome objective. The unfortunate reality is that even with the assistance of a firm such as Turner Freeman the prospects of an adverse costs order can make litigation too much of a risk for the average household. Having the ability to creatively explore options to resolve disputes away from the winner takes all scenario can be liberating and gives greater prospects of preserving ongoing relationships.

This feature of ADR can be particularly important where personal relations are involved such as in the case of employment relationships and even the rapidly emerging area of independent contracting.

I am particularly excited that I will be the team leader of a new service that has been established by Turner Freeman “Workplace Dispute Resolution Services”. The Service will be available to employers, unions and employees to assist in resolving disputes that can often occur in a competitive and sometimes tense environment.

My focus will very much be on promoting pro-active measures that can prevent disputation arising in the first place and, where a dispute does arise, nipping it in the bud before it creates stress and tension – adversely impacting on worker moral and business productivity. The National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC) has published a number of excellent tools that focus on dispute resolution in the public sector. As Attorney General I found these principles to be particularly valuable and I amended the Commonwealth Model Litigant Principles to specifically have regard to a number of NADAC’s important recommendations. Those same principles are readily transferable to the private sector.

In that context, and returning to my opening theme of the Rule of Law, I think the ability of citizens, non-government organisations and business to protect their rights in the face of potentially unreasonable or capricious government action is fundamental in an effectively functioning democracy.

Turner Freeman’s Public Law and Government Advisory Service will be invaluable in assisting clients to deal with all levels of Government, Government Agencies and Statutory Authorities. Again prevention of problems should usually be the first port of call. Initial steps should focus on obtaining reasons for proposed decisions and seeking to influence the outcome. Poor decision- making is often the product of poor consultation. My experience as a Cabinet Minister and Parliamentary Committee Chair has equipped me to assist citizens and organisations to ensure that their voice is heard by decision makers.

While the Government has put in place a number of mechanisms to encourage dispute resolution, it may nonetheless be necessary to seek formal review under State or Commonwealth legislation. There is relatively little expert advice available to assist in the consideration of various options for seeking redress and I am looking forward to doing what I can to assist people and organisations to protect their interests. I see my role as evening up the balance of power even against big bureaucracy.

I really appreciate how I have been once again embraced as part of the Turner Freeman team. There is a comfortable feel about old traditions and values but also a real enthusiasm about making a contribution to the valuable work being undertaken by a still growing and highly respected legal firm.