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Mark Dreyfus: ‘a broad set of talents’

The passing of Labor’s carbon tax legislation in October was a ‘personal triumph’ for Old Boy Mark Dreyfus QC MP.

WORDS: MR DAVID ASHTON

When the federal government’s carbon tax passed the House of Representatives in October, an Old Boy from the Class of 1973 could claim part of the credit for the success of the controversial legislation.

An article in The Age in October described the passing of the legislation as a ‘personal triumph’ for Mark, as ‘he was at the forefront of Labor’s big sell on the legislation’. ‘But,’ The Age continued, ‘the man who many think should be a minister – a ready-made Attorney-General, for instance – remains one step behind’.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduces Mark Dreyfus (’73) to the US President, Barack Obama during Mr Obama’s Australian visit in November.

The newspaper attributed this to Mark coming from ‘a world without cameras’, unlike other Labor front-liners such as Greg Combet and Bill Shorten who were well known nationally before entering politics because of their union leadership roles. Prior to being elected as the MHR for the Victorian seat of Isaacs in 2007, Mark was a Queen’s Counsel: a role, said The Age, normally conducted ‘in the closeted confines of the courtroom’.

Earlier, Mark had become one of Victoria’s leading defamation lawyers. He also appeared for and advised federal, state and local governments, as well as appearing in several landmark High Court cases, notably the Stolen Generations litigation.

At Scotch, which he attended from 1968 to 1973, Mark was politically aware, and The Age referred to his ‘collision points’ – his exchanges of political views with teachers as well as with other boys.

He was an excellent student, becoming Dux of Humanities and along the way winning a number of subject prizes. A regular contributor to Satura, Mark was also the editor of The Scotch Collegian in his final year of 1973. The Age quoted Satura editor Michael Nicholson (’72) describing Mark as his ‘best writer, and ‘an eminently sensible and responsible person with a sense of direction and a broad set of talents ... he was an adult at an early age without being aloof, and had a great sense of humour.’

Mark told Great Scot he had had excellent teachers at Scotch who taught him clear thinking, excellent communication skills, and the value of service to our community. ‘I remember many staff, but particularly Gordon Owen who taught me English and English Literature (about whom I spoke in the House of Representatives on 19 June 2008*), Ron Bond (who taught me Greek History), Principal Colin Healey, and John Glasscock, who taught me Social Studies.’

Mark said during visits to Scotch since his school days he had been impressed by the continuing improvements to the buildings and facilities, and ‘continuation of the school’s ethos’.

What would his advice be to Scotch boys of today who may be considering a political career? ‘My advice would be: do it, but do something else first. I think that service to our community in any form, including politics, is an immensely worthwhile experience. Members who have experience in other fields bring an additional perspective to the Parliament.’

The Age article mentioned Mark’s lifelong love of bushwalking, kindled during his Scotch schooldays, but political duties now limit his leisure time. ‘I don’t bushwalk as much as I would like, but I found the time this Easter to walk up Mt Bogong on the Staircase Spur, and down Eskdale Spur. I am looking forward to walking in the Grampians this summer.’


*During a speech in Parliament supporting the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008, Mark Dreyfus mentioned Gordon Owen’s English classes at Scotch, in which Gordon graphically recounted his horrific experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

Updated: Monday 24 June 2013