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Lionel Murphy, High Court Justice, Whitlam’s Attorney-General, Dies, 64

High Court Justice Lionel Murphy died on October 21, 1986, following a short battle with cancer.

Murphy, a former Labor senator (1962-75), was Attorney-General in the Whitlam government (1972-75), until he was appointed to the High Court in February 1975. His appointment was controversial and resulted in the NSW government breaking the convention that Senate vacancies were filled by someone from the same political party.

In 1985, Murphy was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice. It was charged that he had sought to influence a court case against a Sydney solicitor, Morgan Ryan. The NSW Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and ordered a second trial, which acquitted Murphy in April 1986.

In May, the Hawke government legislated to establish a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to examine whether Murphy’s conduct constituted “misbehaviour” within the meaning of Section 72 of the Constitution. In July, after Murphy announced that was suffering from cancer, the government repealed the legislation, thus ending the inquiry and ensuring that all documents would remain secret for 30 years.

Murphy returned to the High Court in the last week to deliver his final decisions.

The video items below show how the media reported Murphy’s death. In Victoria, the news competed for attention with a challenge to the leadership of the Opposition Leader, Jeff Kennett. The third video is an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Lionel Bowen, who served as a minister with Lionel Murphy in the Whitlam government.

  • Watch Channel 7 News, Melbourne, 6pm (5m)
  • Watch ABC TV news Melbourne, 7pm (12m)
  • Watch Channel 7’s Mark Day interview Deputy Prime Minister Lionel Bowen about Murphy (3m)
  • Sept 03, 1985: Murphy Sentenced to 18 Months Jail
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Malcolm Farnsworth
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