In my youth, said his father, I took to the law
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Don’t look now but gangs of muscle-jawed lawyers long ago left the law, took to politics and have run the country for the past 14 years.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a former solicitor, is the new leader of the current legal gang-in-government.
Never mind that Australia has its first female Prime Minister. More ominously, Julia Gillard is the 12th lawyer to lead the nation. And, if Labor should lose the impending election, Tony Abbott will become our 13th lawyer-PM.
Almost half of Australia’s 27 Prime Ministers have been lawyers. John Howard, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam are lawyers. Earlier lawyers-in-the-lodge were Sir William McMahon, Harold Holt and Sir Robert Menzies.
Others who brought legal qualifications to the top job were Sir Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin, John Watson, William Hughes and Stanley Bruce.
Ms Gillard says her leadership will be more inclusive with cabinet colleagues consulted, respected, appreciated and understood. Don’t look now, but ten out of 28 players in her reshuffled ministerial team are also legal eagles: Simon Crean, Stephen Smith, Nicola Roxson, Lindsay Tanner, Peter Garrett, Robert McClelland, Tony Bourke, Brendan O’Connor and Senators Penny Wong and Joseph Ludwig. Interestingly, all of these (and Ms Gillard) were chosen by the former PM Kevin Rudd - a non-lawyer.
But wait, more lawyers (17 out of 33) lurk in the shadow ministry:
Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Eric Abetz, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne, Kevin Andrews, Greg Hunt, Sophie Mirabella, Philip Ruddock, Bronwyn Bishop, Steven Ciobo and Senators George Brandis, David Johnston, Michael Ronaldson, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Marise Payne and Mathias Cormann.
Lawyers have traditionally been the largest professional sub-group not only in the federal cabinet but also in the parliament. While our first Prime Minister in 1901 was a lawyer, so were 27 per cent of members and senators in the first parliament. The present parliament may well have its highest complement of lawyers since federation: 59 out of 150 members in the House of Representatives and 32 out of 76 senators. That’s a whopping 40 per cent of the whole legislature! No wonder lawyers rule in both the Gillard and Abbott teams, although the numbers look modest compared with the lawyer-laden Howard ministries.
So many lawyers in politics is a phenomenon going back a long way: there were 40 lawyers in the English Parliament of 1422, 60 in the House of Commons in 1593, 75 in the Lang Parliament of 1640 and so on.
Why the preponderance, if not dominance, of lawyers in politics? It may be that, when so much political debate is about laws and law-making, lawyers make natural politicians. As a direct result lawyers have frequently become political leaders. Several post-war opposition leaders, who never reached the Lodge were also lawyers: Dr H.V. Evatt, Andrew Peacock, Billy Sneddon, Simon Crean and Malcolm Turnbull.