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Dr. DAVID NEAL - LEGAL AID, RULE OF LAW CHAMPION

David Neal, a final year student at Parade College in 1968, has won the President’s Award for 2017 from the Law Council of Australia. Fiona McLeod SC, the President of the Council, presented the award to him earlier this month in Canberra.

An old College contemporary of David's (and now Old Paradians' Association committeeman) Phil Carter, reports the following, commencing with the Council's press release of December 2, which states:

“David Neal has made outstanding contributions to the Law Council, the Victorian Bar and to law reform in this country. He has been influential in the development and improvement of law and the administration of justice,” Ms McLeod (Law Council President) said.

“He has made a prodigious contribution to the national profession in his very active and substantial service on significant legal policy and access to justice committees.

“David has been a driving force for the Law Council’s influential Legal Aid Matters campaign.

“David’s achievements and his contributions as a scholar, researcher, teacher, public servant, and practising barrister are contrasted by his quiet modesty and patient concern for his fellow citizens.

“The President’s Award is a very special award to acknowledge and celebrate exceptional achievement in our profession. David Neal is an outstanding example to all Australian lawyers.”

Garry Nervo (Peer Year 1967) was a year ahead of me at Parade and repeated Matriculation in 1968, when the school shifted from East Melbourne to Bundoora. He wrote recently to advise that Dr. David Neal was to receive an award from the Law Council of Australia. David and I had started at Flowerdale in 1961 in Grade 5, and I saw the opportunity to catch up with David - what he had been up to for the last 50 years - and write something for the wider Parade audience as well. So this, as they say in the classics, is HIS story:

David came to Parade from St. Bede’s in North Balwyn, and pretty soon thought he was in heaven at Flowerdale with the beautiful surroundings, TWO sporting ovals, the “undercroft” (where you could play ALL lunchtime and not get wet!), and the chance to develop musically in various ways. “Br. Willis used to take cricket training and made us play straight and catch those hard cork balls he threw at us.”. Brian Fitzgerald was the music teacher then and took the choir for Grade 5. Brian was keen to illustrate the importance of a strong diaphragm in voice production, and one day invited a few boys to punch him hard in the stomach. David remembers wondering if he could survive a blow from the Grade’s “strongman” – Martin Kyne, and he did! Mr Ken Morton was our teacher that year. Flowerdale at that time, had single classes in Grades 4 to 6, then double classes in Forms 1 & 2.

Important teachers were:

Br. Vin Monagle

“A memorable part of the Flowerdale years was Forms 1 and 2, under Br. Vin Monagle. Vin took the Under 14’s for footy training with the able assistance of Martin Kyne’s dad Phonse, then coach of Collingwood. Vin would have his Collingwood jumper on and loved to show off his penetrating stab kicks! Br. Vin also directed the choir that year, when our choir sang “The Nun’s Chorus” at the Melbourne Town Hall. It was something really special, with our schoolmate, Terry O’Connell, singing the solo part and getting an encore. Br. Vin taught us Latin and, while no scholar of Latin himself, was able to introduce various tricks to us so that we could memorise what we needed to. One such trick was ‘O, bam, bo, I took eram for ero’, which represented the conjugation of a particular verb with the correct endings.”

Mr John Mulcahy

“John taught us French in Form 1. He walked into our first French lesson and spoke only French for a while. We got the message that to keep up we just had to learn it, and quickly! John had travelled to Europe, spent time in France, and his pronunciation was perfect.”

Br. Frank McCarthy

“Br. Frank taught me in East Melbourne. I remember waiting for someone in the Brothers’ residence one day, and Br. Frank was on the phone for 15 minutes or so. He spoke fluent French only during that time, and I was very impressed. I think that he took the Matric English Literature class that year and Moll Flanders was on the syllabus and he took them to see the film. He was a brilliant scholar.”

Br. D. G. Kilmartin

“Br. Kilmartin, while he was getting on in years at the time, taught Leaving Latin. I thought his knowledge of the classics and poetry – much of which he could recite by heart - was outstanding.”

In David’s final year at Parade, he Matriculated with First Class Honours in Social Studies, and Second Class Honours in Australian History, French and Latin. So, in all the subjects in which honours were awarded, he obtained them. English Expression at that time was marked as PASS or FAIL only. These were results of a very high order indeed, and David was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship. David studied Law at the University of Melbourne until 1973. He then tutored in Legal Studies at La Trobe University, and became a lecturer there in 1976. In 1978 he commenced a Doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States. He returned to a teaching position at the Law Faculty of the University of NSW, where he remained for six years. While preparing to head to ANU, with the aim of turning his PhD thesis into a book (The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales), David’s mother sent him a job ad describing a position on the Law Reform Commission in Melbourne. Victorian Attorney-General at the time was Jim Kennan, who was doing very exciting work in the area of Law Reform. David was very interested in that opportunity, and took a position on the Commission. Naturally, his mother was happy indeed to be able to see her grandchildren on a more regular basis! Kennan later asked David to run the Legislation Branch in the Attorney-General’s Department, as such important changes were afoot. David loved that work, but he did see that as a “temporary” step, with an eye on returning to a University career. This was around the time of the Pyramid collapse, the new Corporations Law came into effect, and there were major reforms to the law on sexual assault and on sentencing.

David: “Very interesting work. Then, I was the Victorian representative on the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. That role continued until the Kennett Government came in in 1992 and I was sacked by Jan Wade because she thought I was too close to the previous Government. I was a public servant, and not a member of the Ministerial staff, and more than qualified for the position I held. So I sued her for discrimination, and was successful.”

At that time David decided to go to the barin 1993 and became a senior counsel in 2005. While building his practice as a barrister, he was elected to the Victorian Bar Council, and remained on it for around ten years working on Legal Aid and criminal law policy. In 2007 he continued that work with the lawyers’ national body, the Law Council of Australia. He continues a busy practice as a barrister.

On the Legal Resources Book

In the early 1970’s David worked at the Fitzroy Legal Service, and produced the then “Legal Resources Book” with two other co-authors. He remembers putting each of those books into envelopes (for posting) with his familyat his home in Ivanhoe. That document is regularly updated andstill in use today, and has sold many thousands of copies over the years. It now appears as the “Law Handbook”, and there is a version for every State & Territory, as well being available online.

David: “We have heard some good stories about it too. One bloke ran a hotel and kept a copy behind the bar to settle any arguments or debates that came up! It was a really important project, in that it covered lots of areas of the law that affected common people.”

On Legal Aid

“People think that Legal Aid is freely available whereas it is not. While 14% of the Australian population is living below the poverty line, the Legal Aid means test enables only 8% to claim, so 6% are missing out. They are too rich it would seem, and that is a really bad state of affairs. At last week’s dinner (where the award was presented) I quoted these statistics to the Attorney Generaland the Shadow Attorney-General, saying, we really need to do better than this.”

In my own time, so “pro bono”, I am involved in lots of other stuff. For example, last year the Law Council ran a campaign called “Legal Aid Matters”. There were a lot of events, a lot of media coverage, and we spent a huge amount of time knocking on doors at Parliament House in Canberra.”

On Social Justice

“The Christian Brothers and their focus on the education of working-class kids, is something that always struck a chord with me. But it’s really hard for me to know howmuch of that came from school or family. I must say that my Dad and his brothers went to Parade, and my Mum’s brothers went to Parade also! So that family influence was very strong. Two of the people involved at the Fitzroy Legal Service when I was there had been priests, and others were associated with the YCW. I think it is fair to say that there is a solid connection between Catholicism and the social justice that I was interested in.”

On Family

“My Dad’s father was a GP and the family lived in Preston. Dad’s two brothers were also doctors and his sister was a nun. My mother’s father was a public servant and a VFL umpire and their family lived in Ivanhoe. He and my Grandmother would take me to the Lakeside Oval to see South Melbourne play and we often had access to the rooms. I met lots of footballers including Fred Goldsmith, Bobby Skilton, Ron Clegg (Captain at that time) and Kenny Boyd.”

David’s brother Anthony has an office on the same floor and is a QC. When I mentioned how well David had done in his Matriculation year, he was quick to point out how well his younger brother had done in 1970. Anthony scored FOUR First Class Honours in that year, and was the Humanities Dux. This small example may serve to illustrate something of David’s modest nature, as stated in the above press release.

When I caught up with David recently to hear his latest news over lunch, it seemed that he was pretty much the same bloke he had been at Parade in the sixties. It was a real pleasure and certainly a privilege to talk to David again, and to bring this story to you!