Remarks at the State Funeral for Sir Laurence Street AC, KCMG, KStJ, QC

05 Jul 2018
Sydney Opera House
Prime Minister


As Prime Minister, I offer the thanks of the Government and our nation for the life of Laurence Street; a life of service to Australia, beginning as a young man in the Royal Australian Navy in wartime and for so many years in the law, most indelibly as Chief Justice of this state.

As a barrister he was as eloquent as he was erudite, as formidable as he was fashionable. Laurence had movie star good looks, coupled with a charisma, charm and intellect, a humility, a humanity that swept all before him. His lineage as the third of his line to be Chief Justice did not appear to burden him. He wasn't lofty or snobbish. His nickname Lorenzo the Magnificent was well earned.

But he enjoyed ceremony without pomp or at least without pomposity. All of us can remember the admissions days of the Banco Court when a baby would start crying through their mother or father's admission. And as the parent or grandparent failed to quiet the unhappy child and started to leave, Laurence would bid them ‘stay, it's a family occasion’. Of course, regulars started to wonder why there was always a crying baby.

Laurence was a great friend and mentor to me in my youth when I was a young law student and writer of a law column in the Bulletin. It was a sign of his forgiving nature that he wrote a reference for me when I applied for the Rhodes Scholarship. Later as a young lawyer I could always count on him for advice and encouragement, even when my colourful advocacy in those staider times provoked some professional disapprobation.

But above all, looking back over those 40 years, I'm struck by how in the midst of his heavy duties as Chief Justice he was so generous with his counsel and his time to me and so many others.

As he’d helped get me there, I sent him occasional letters from Oxford about my studies and he always replied, and at length. One from the 13th of March 1980 was three closely-typed foolscap pages.

It contained news of several mutual friends of my and Lucy's generation; advice on what I needed to do on returning; the dates and cost, including the late fee of the trust accounts and legal ethics exams were all set out; an extensive discussion of the various sets of chambers - which he urged me not to repeat to anyone else for fear of creating any unhappiness in the Bar - the right time to apply to acquire a room as well as discussion on current political matters ranging from Neville Wran's federal ambitions - or lack of them - to news of, as Laurence wrote, ‘renewed stirrings between the National and Liberal Partners in Queensland’, something unthinkable in current times. And a discussion on one of his early victories as a barrister in 1955 in an economic duress case, Sundell v Yannoulatos, in which he encouraged me to refer to the unreported judgment of the first instance judge which he said was more discursive than the reported decision of the Appeals Court and had a much longer list of cases and discussion on them.

But of course the most important import of this letter to me was to wish me and Lucy, who he described as my new bride, the best for our wedding which was set for the 22nd of March and given we were getting married in England, to lament he would not be able to join us.

And then with a droll and gallant precision, hastened to add, out of an abundance of caution given Lucy was twenty one, "I don't use the word new in contradistinction to any other adjective but rather as an abbreviation for newly acquired".

Nearly 40 years on, Lucy and I thank Laurence as we all do for his magnificent Australian life and doing so with love, console his equally magnificent family who are, among so many achievements, his greatest.