Tributes to Commissioner Richard Tracey AM RFD QC

The Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC

Transcript of tributes to Commissioner Richard Tracey AM RFD QC at the 14 October 2019 hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Safety and Quality by Commissioners Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, and Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC.

COMMISSIONER PAGONE: I note the presence of a number of people in the hearing room today; in particular, the son of his Honour Richard Tracey, his partner, some members of the judiciary who I can see, the Chief Justice of the Family Court and other colleagues. I thank you for being here this morning. Commissioner Briggs.

COMMISSIONER BRIGGS: It is with a heavy heart that we mark the passing of the Honourable Richard Tracey, a fellow Royal Commissioner and the Chair of this Commission. Commissioner Tracey died in California on Friday where he was taking treatment for cancer, diagnosed only seven weeks earlier. Richard told a few of us that he had terminal cancer not long after the diagnosis. It came as a total shock but, in true Richard style, he chaired a Commissioners' meeting that morning and he spent much of the next month, in fact five or six weeks, working on our interim report while taking treatment in the United States. It gave us all hope that he would return fit and healthy in the new year. The news of his death was, therefore, a complete shock and absolutely shattering.

Few people ever have the privilege to be a Royal Commissioner but Richard was made for it. He was experienced. He was wise. He was admired. He knew the law like the back of his hand. He was prepared to take a punt if it meant getting a better outcome for older Australians.

He loved his country and he knew a lot about it. Many a time he would explain the history of the area we were visiting or the details of famous cases to me, past and present. I learnt a lot from him, even if I never quite mastered the courtly bow, despite his constant tutelage.

Richard was genuinely interested in people and their circumstances. He was such a nice man and everyone loved him. His kind words to our witnesses after their presentations gave them comfort and let them know that they had been heard.

His gentle guidance and direction to the Royal Commission staff always helped and made our collective lives so much easier. He was a thoughtful and considerate man. I loved working with him. It was a genuine partnership. You could say that we bonded over morning teas, simple sandwiches, great fish meals and Iced Vovo biscuits, which Richard lavishly shared with all the staff in the Royal Commission. We will all remember him very well.

It was Richard who labelled aspects of the aged care system cruel and unkind after two particularly gruelling days of evidence in Darwin, and it was Richard who encouraged me to drive our policy agenda beyond change at the margin to transformative change, given the degree of substandard care that was apparent to us.

Our interim report will be his interim report. One of his many legacies.

Everyone at this Royal Commission extends their condolences to Richard's wife, Hilary, and their children: Jack, who is here, Philip, Fiona and Rosie, their family and grandchildren. Our deepest sympathies go out to them.

Richard Tracey lived a full and rich life. He will be remembered for his work in the military, as a lawyer, as a Queen's Counsel, as a judge and as a Royal Commissioner. But he was also a great family man and a good friend. He was the kindest of men. He was a lovely man. May he rest in peace.

COMMISSIONER PAGONE: Thank you, Commissioner Briggs.

Well, it has been our sad duty to begin this session of the Commission by informing the public that the Honourable Richard Tracey passed away on Friday, Los Angeles time where, as you have heard, he had gone for medical treatment.

He was a remarkable man as everybody who knows him can testify. He was a man who enjoyed life including many or at least some wicked pleasures. He would enjoy a glass of red wine and I can say that he even enjoyed the occasional wicked cigar.

I have known him or known of him for the whole of my involvement in the law. It was his book on administrative law that I recall reading as a student and which I then used when I was a lecturer at Monash University.

Richard's career in the law has been, indeed Richard's career generally, has been remarkable. He was for a time an academic. He served in the Australian army and achieved the rank of Major-General. He was an appointed Queen's Counsel in 1991. He was Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force from 2007 until 2014. He was President of the Defence Force Disciplinary Appeals Tribunal from 2009 until 2018. He was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia from 2006 to 2018. And as you know, he was appointed chair of this Royal Commission on 6 December 2018.

He had, by any measure, a distinguished career as a lawyer, as a jurist and, I must say, from my experiences of him, he was a remarkable friend.

He had a selfless drive and energy which he blended with good humour and compassion. It is no small mark of the man's character that he worked solidly as a judge, despite at the time carrying an illness which might have crushed others until remission seemed to have lessened the danger.

His work on this Commission has also been solid, selfless and significant.

I will miss his wise counsel and his warm companionship and, like Commissioner Briggs, extend my deepest sympathy to his family. And for those purposes, I include as his family the whole of the members of the Commission. Mr Rozen.

MR ROZEN: Thank you, Commissioner Pagone.

Richard Tracey was a leader on the bar and of our Royal Commission, fundamentally decent human being whose passing is keenly felt by the Counsel Assisting and Solicitors Assisting teams and all staff at the Royal Commission. It is on their behalf that I am privileged to make these remarks.

We take the opportunity to express our condolences to Richard's wife and family and to his friends and colleagues so many of whom are present this morning.

Tragically it's only a little more than a year since many of us gathered in this building for the ceremonial to farewell the Honourable Justice Tracey. Speakers referred to his remarkable career and his distinguished service to the Federal Court of Australia. They also speak of his decency and compassion.

For those of us who have been fortunate to work with him, his humanity shone most brightly on our site visits and community forums, and with those to whom we refer to as the direct experience witnesses. Some of these witnesses have travelled long distances to give evidence at the Royal Commission.

Without fail, Richard engaged with these members of the public as they shared their often traumatic and distressing experiences with the Royal Commission. In so doing he displayed the role of a true leader. By his example he demonstrated to us all how we should treat the members of the public with whom we were dealing, that is with respect and kindness.

Richard was passionate about the work of this Royal Commission and the need for change in the Australian aged care system. We will miss him. We will continue our work in his absence but we remain very grateful for the time we had with him. May he rest in peace.

COMMISSIONER PAGONE: Thank you, Mr Rozen. The Commission will, in a moment, adjourn momentarily to enable those who wish to leave to do so. We thought, though, it might be appropriate to have a minute's silence which we will do in a moment but just before I do wish to thank, on behalf of everybody, and Commissioner Briggs as well, those who are present here. I have been looking through the room. I wasn't aware of everybody who was attending. I now see more of you. It's a remarkable feature of his life and his dedication that so many of you have come. I thank you all for being here. I know that there are people watching on the web cast and thank you very much. I hope that gives some comfort to the members of the family.

So we will have a minute of silence and then we will adjourn.

** silence

Published 14 October 2019.

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