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The Honourable Murray Gleeson AC

Statutory Interpretation

The late Justice Graham Hill and I were friends, and exact contemporaries, as undergraduates at Sydney University, where we studied Arts and Law. After graduating with first class honours and the University Medal, Graham Hill went on to post-graduate study in the United Kingdom. Upon his return to Australia, he practised for several years as a solicitor, and later went to the New South Wales Bar. He was appointed to the Federal Court of Australia, where he served with distinction until his untimely death. Apart from his work as a practitioner and a judge, he made a notable contribution to revenue law through his involvement, as a teacher, in post-graduate courses at Sydney University. His areas of particular expertise were income tax and stamp duties. He collaborated closely with the late Professor Ross Parsons.

The importance of the work of Ross Parsons and Graham Hill needs to be understood in a context that is now largely forgotten, partly in consequence of their success. In the mid-twentieth century, revenue law was treated as a practical subject, as it is, but there was not much interest in its jurisprudential foundations. It has, of course, always been statute-based, but the legal and accounting professions were concerned principally with the way the statutes were administered rather than the theories upon which they proceeded. Legal education virtually ignored the topic, probably because few people saw it as more than an exposition of black letter rules, regulations, and administrative practice. In our undergraduate course, Graham Hill and I received only two lectures on income tax: one on the difference between capital and income; the other on s 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936. What Ross Parsons, Graham Hill and some others did was to foster an appreciation, by the University and the professions, of revenue law as a legitimate and challenging subject of legal education. They analysed and expounded it as a social science. Because they did that so well, and so successfully, people have come to forget why it was

© The Honourable Murray Gleeson AC, Chief Justice of New South Wales 1988-1998, Chief Justice of Australia 1998-2008


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