Daryl Williams interview, 20 August 2014, 26 August 2014 and 1 September 2014

Dublin Core


Daryl Williams interview, 20 August 2014, 26 August 2014 and 1 September 2014




Williams was born in East Fremantle, Western Australia, and was educated at the University of Western Australia and Wadham College, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar in 1965.
In 1968, Williams started work as a barrister. In 1971, he became counsel for the Asian Development Bank. However, four years later, he returned to practising law on his own. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1982, and became a Member of the Order of Australia in 1989. Williams continued to practise law until his election to Parliament in 1993.
Williams was briefly a member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry in 1994, serving as Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader of the Opposition on Constitutional Reform.
In 1996, when the Liberals won office, he was appointed to the Cabinet as Attorney-General. He served in this capacity until 2003. Williams was also Minister for Justice for a period in 1996–97. He had also attended the 1998 Constitutional Convention as a parliamentary delegate.
After the Liberal ministerial shakeup of 2003, Williams was appointed Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. In April 2004, he announced he would not be contesting the 2004 election. He stood down from the ministry in July 2004.


Williams, Daryl


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Daryl Williams


Perth, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 11 minutes, 5 seconds
Interview 2: 57 minutes and 52 seconds
Interview 3: 49 minutes, 19 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 58 minutes, 16 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis
00:41 Daryl Robert Williams. Born 21 August 1942. Educated at Richmond State School, East Fremantle. (1948-1954). Learnt the piano from the age of 5-20. Walked to school often barefoot. Many waterside workers lived in the area and there were few children at school on the day of the Lumpers’ Picnic. Enjoyed school and sport. Very keen at mental arithmetic. Class size in Year 7 was 47 pupils. Head boy in final year at school. Enjoyed making speeches on Parents’ Night that he learned by heart. Sat for a scholarship to Perth Modern School in his final year. Was third in the State. Attended Presbyterian Sunday School 5-14. Became church organist aged 14. Travel to Perth Mod. The school had a high reputation. Boys and girls attended separate classes. The girls’ skirt lengths were inspected each morning.
07:41 The Leaving Certificate was 7 subjects. Also did one term of French and Geography until 3rd Year. Other subjects were English, German, History, Maths A, Maths B, Physics and Chemistry. Impressed by Robert Menzies and began to think about working in Government. The students were very competitive. No P&C Association. Parents invited to school only for the annual Sports Day. School captain in last year. Still friends with the other prefects. One of two students in Perth to gain 7 distinctions in 7 subjects in Leaving Certificate. Three possibilities to study at UWA – mathematics, law or medicine. Felt law would be a better route to getting into government.
15:11 Attended an orientation day. Addressed in Winthrop Hall by Professor Mervyn Austin (partly in Latin). Gained a scholarship to St Georges College. Consulted Warden Josh Reynolds (lectured in History Department). Awarded FW Simpson prize for best leaving certificate that year and also an Exhibition. Rooms in college allocated on basis of seniority. Communal bathrooms. Junior common room, tutors’ common room, impressive dining hall and chapel. Attendance at Matins and evening service not compulsory. Played organ for Matins once a week. Two resident tutors but none in law. Visiting tutor came once a week. First tutor was Alan James Barblett. Formal dinners with gowns. 1st year students initiated by 2nd years. Ponding.
25:51 Raids on other colleges – particularly on Sir Thomas More next door. St Catherine’s college for women was already established (1928). Inter college sports. Cross country run through Kings Park. Played hockey every Saturday at university and also interstate. Met future wife on inter Varsity debating trip to Brisbane. No trips in 2nd or 4th year.
28:42 Law School in prefab building adjacent to Fairway. Two lecture rooms, library and common room for Blackstone Society. Teaching not very satisfactory. Full-time lecturers supplemented by part-time legal practitioners. Frank Beasley’s last year was 1963. Eric Edwards taught evidence and criminal law. Ernest Kingston Braybrook taught torts. Ian McCall taught family law and international law. David Alan taught legal history and equity. Dai Davies taught contract and mercantile law. The part timers included Francis Burt, John Toohey, and John Wickham (Conflict). The part-timers were quite distinguished. The full time teachers deluged the students with suggested reading material. Tutorials were only before exams. Frank Beasley taught Constitutional Law.
34:27 20 units needed to complete the degree: 4 in first year and 2 arts subjects. First year more history of law. Second year to fourth year all law subjects. 5 subjects in 2nd and 3rd year and 6 subjects in final year. Designed to give a broad legal education. Second highest intake in 1960. Some people failed first year. There was no Honours year. You had to be invited to do Honours and had to do a test. DW chose contract. Oral examinations. Law Library. Lectures not recorded. There were lecture notes prepared by students in previous years. Students used notes by Malcolm McCusker and David Malcolm (both of whom graduated in the early sixties.)
44:20 Social life. Female law students. Sports Council and Guild Council. Students went to Steve’s Hotel and the Captain Stirling Hotel. Blackstone Society annual dinner. Lots of women in the Arts faculty. Students socialised at the Refectory in the Hackett Hall building.
49:19 Relationship with other Faculties. Rivalry between law and engineering. Sporting rivalry and raids. Fred Chaney kidnapped and welded to a railway line. Annual tug of war. Elected Secretary of Hockey Club. Became President of Sports Council. The President of the Sports Council was an ex officio member of the Guild Council. Became President of the Guild in 1964. The Guild ran the Guild facilities.
54:44 Being Guild President was a very responsible job. In 1964, commenced Articles, was finishing Arts degree (history and politics), was Guild President. Lived back at home in 1964. While Guild President asked by Vice Chancellor not to mention charges against German lecturer during PROSH.
59:13 Ethics taught as part of Barrister’s Board course. Law Reform Commission established in 1975. Law reform took place through the political process. Not many law reform movements in the early 1960s. It was a stable time. After the Vietnam War things changed. Law students were expected to be dressed neatly and they wore gowns to lectures.
1:02:14 Graduated in 1964. Did Articles for Downing and Downing. Found work experience taught him a lot especially in drafting documents. Supervised by Frank Downing QC. Separate Bar established in 1963 – only 3-4 members. No computers. Very old fashioned photo copier. Recommended to Downing & Downing by a previous Guild President. Applied and was accepted.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis
00:30 Graduated in April 1964. Applied for Rhodes Scholarship. Candidates had to attend a dinner at Government House and a selection committee chaired by the Governor (at that time Major-General Kendrew ). Left for Oxford in August 1965 for the start of term in September. Did a post-graduate Bachelor of Civil Law degree. Did a preliminary examination after two terms. The course started in the second year. Tutored by Peter Carter. Also some lectures and seminars taken by Professor Rupert Cross and Professor Herbert Hart. The examination involved 3 compulsory subjects and 3 optional subjects. 5 out of the 19 students in the year failed. Different teaching method to UWA - read essays to the tutor and the teaching was generally one on one. The course was an intense study of limited subjects.
06:57 Lived in at Wadham College in the first year. Not as formal as St George’s. Dined in hall – ate gammon steak every week. Second year lived in a flat in town which broadened his horizons. Used college and Bodleian law library. Played some hockey in invitation matches against places such as Rugby School. Didn’t do any rowing but viewed a couple of races and did have a try at punting. Future wife, Judith, came to Oxford to work as a research associate at the Institute of Experimental Psychology in his second year. Only two examinations – the preliminary exam and the final exam at the end of the 3rd term of the second year. There were also oral examinations.
13:30 Left Oxford in about July 1967. Got straight back into doing Articles. Accepted back to Downing & Downing. Had done 18-19 months out of 24 months of required Articles. Was 5 days short of the required time so could not be called to the Bar by the Full Court in the December 1967 sittings. The next sittings were in February 1968. Admitted in Feb 1968. Married Judith in December 1967. Invited to become a junior partner in Downing & Downing on admission. Did court work, conveying, commercial and advisory work. Now there is more specialisation. The degree from Oxford taught him about legal method and analysis.
17:34 During his third year as a partner he was recruited by David Malcolm to take up a position as Counsel for the Asian Development Bank in Manila. Downing & Downing very disappointed. Left in April 1971 and started work on 1 May. Lived in ex pat villages – secured by guards. Judith was not able to work in Manila. About 35 nationalities worked at the ADB. Japan and the US were the biggest contributors. The bank loaned money to developing countries for major infrastructure projects or to create projects. Moved from being a lawyer to an operations officer for the 3rd and 4th years at the Bank
24:55 Left after 4 years but kept in touch with friends they had made in Canada, Switzerland, Finland, the US and Malaysia. Manila was full of people and vehicles. Guards and fire arms was the norm. Travelled on missions every 3-4 weeks for the bank and saw a lot of Asia.
30:09 Decided not to return to Downing & Downing and go up to the Bar [1975]. Took about 18 months to be established. The independent Bar was initially at 525 Hay Street. Later it moved to Law Chambers – this building no longer exists. In November 1992, the Bar moved to Allendale Square. Did not specialise but tended to concentrate on commercial law - contract, town planning and taxation. Had no interest in criminal, family or industrial law.
34:09 Asked to be an examiner in practice & procedure for UWA Law School. Tutored in Trusts and developed a set of tutorial subjects. Lectured in part of the taxation course – stamp duty, Commonwealth Estate Duty, Commonwealth Gift Duty and Estate Probate Duty. All these duties apart from stamp duty were abolished in the late 70s. The staff and the course structure was had changed since the early 60s.
36:43 January 1982, appointed Queen’s Counsel after 7 years at the Bar (aged 39). Queen’s Counsel appointed by the Chief Justice. Expected to be independent and learned enough in the law to take on difficult cases some needing more than one Counsel. Malcolm McCusker appointed on the same day. Difficult cases included representing West Coast Telecasters in a hearing before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (1984) to get a third television licence in WA. Another was the Wittenoom Asbestos test case in 1988 which went for 13 months - Heys & Barrow v CSR Limited.
40:54 President of the Law Society of Western Australia in 1984. Elected to the Law Society in about 1980, chaired various committees and was Vice President in about 1983. The President is expected to be spokesperson on every legal issue. They negotiated the purchase of a floor of a building at 68 St Georges Terrace. The premises had been in the old Supreme Court building (now the Sir Francis Burt Law Education Centre and Museum). They subsequently moved several times. The Law Society contributes submissions on legal subjects to government and was a constituent member of the Law Council of Australia and participated in doing the same thing at a Commonwealth level. It ran an education programme for lawyers and social events for members. In the mid-80s, a rift developed between the full-time staff at the Faculty of Law at UWA and the Part-time teachers who were legal practitioners. The part-time staff thought the teaching should focus more on the practice of law rather than the philosophy of a particular subject.
49:49 Was President of the Law Council from 1986-1987 and had previously represented the Law Society on these meetings of Law Societies and Bar Associations of the various States and Territories. Persuaded the executive to meet in Perth on one occasion. From then on, they decided that members must travel to interstate meetings by business class! Unlike the case in Qld, NSW and Vic, solicitors practising in Tas, SA, WA and the NT could represent their client at court. Three of the Bar Associations gave notice that they intended to leave the Law Council. Negotiated to keep them in. Changed Constitution to ensure that a barrister from one of the Bar Associations was always on the Law Council.

Interview 3

00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis
00:46 Invited to become Director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in 1987. He had been an early board member and was involved in setting up the organisation which at that time was called the Western Australian Institute for Child Health. It is now called ‘Telethon Kids Institute’. Professor Fiona Stanley was the inaugural director. It started off very small and has grown considerably. Extensive research is carried out into childhood diseases. Drafted the Constitution for the Friends of the Institute. Remained as a director when he was elected to Parliament but resigned in March 1996 when he was appointed Attorney-General.
05:46 In the 1970s was active in the Liberal Party and stood for pre-selection for a State seat but was unsuccessful. Later stood in an unwinnable seat and managed to increase the percentage of the vote for the Liberal Party. Did not feel it was appropriate to be active in a political party while being involved in legal politics. Later approached by Peter Shack who was going to retire from the seat of Tangney. D Williams agreed to stand and won the seat. John Hewson, then leader of the Opposition, appointed him as Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader in Constitutional Reform before he had even sat in Parliament. When Alexander Downer replaced John Hewson he did not confirm his appointment. John Howard replaced Alexander Downer in 1995 and won office on 11 March 1996. John Howard appointed D Williams as Attorney General and Minister for Justice in the First Howard Ministry. Made a member of Cabinet in October 1997 retaining the position of Attorney General but losing the position of Minister for Justice. Remained in Cabinet until July 2004. For his last 10 months in Cabinet he ceased to be Attorney-General and became Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.
10:47 Alexander Downer had appointed Amanda Vanstone as Shadow Attorney General but she became Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs under John Howard. The legal profession regard the Attorney-General as being their minister and the courts regard the Attorney-General as being their promoter and protector. Mr Williams does not think the Attorney-General, being a politician, should speak for the judiciary as he is not independent of Government. The Attorney-General has a wide portfolio – he recommends Court appointments to Cabinet. The Federal Magistrate’s Court or Circuit Court was established in this time. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal also falls under this portfolio. The Attorney General is responsible for censorship and co-ordinates the states to ensure there is a uniform system. The Attorney-General is also responsible for the Australian Government Solicitor. In his time it was agreed that government departments could brief private firms to ensure competition.
16:59 National security became a very significant matter and the department grew in response to threats such as 9/11 (September 11 and the Bali Bombings (2002). Some major legislation was drafted. There is a National Security Committee of Cabinet but the opposition is regularly briefed on matters.
21:21 D Williams sought to reform the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission by changing its name and seeking to make Commissioners responsible across the board instead of just in their particular areas. This was not supported in the community. He sees the forming of the Federal Magistrate’s Court as being an important initiative.
23:57 The Attorney-General’s Department has a large staff and he found the quality of his staff to be excellent. The department was located in Barton and Comm cars were used to get to and from Parliament. At first, he stayed with family but it soon became necessary to rent a flat in Kingston. He would leave Canberra for Perth on Thursday or Friday.
29:32 Returning to Perth on the weekend, he would visit his parents and try to play hockey or tennis but had to leave for Canberra again on Sunday. He was the only person in Cabinet from WA although other Ministers came from WA. There was very little lobbying of him by the WA State Liberal Party. The travel to and from Canberra could be arduous. There was very little time to read Cabinet papers in time for the meeting on Monday so John Howard changed the meeting to Tuesday. Members were entitled to have their spouse visit up to about 9 times during the year. Parliament sits late into the evening especially on Monday and Tuesday. Qantas introduced a direct Canberra-Perth flight on Thursday night.
38:34 Members stayed in touch with their respective States and the country as a whole via a news clip service that put together portfolio collections. He visited his electorate office on a Friday or Saturday to sign mail and keep in touch with the staff. He thinks the government system works well as long as there are people with good will. He feels minor party representation make government difficult.
41:27 In about 1996/97 the Republican movement was active. Cabinet decided to hold a Constitutional Convention to discuss the idea of Australia becoming a republic. Unfortunately the Republican side could not agree on a method of electing a President.
44:00 The Attorney-General has to approve positions to be taken in important litigation which enabled him to keep abreast of what was happening in the law. There was also an intensive legislative programme. However, there was no time to read law reports and study law which made it quite challenging. When he returned to work as a QC in 2003, the way that law was practised had changed significantly in 11 years. There was much more focus on technology. There were also a lot more lawyers practising in WA. The type of legal work has widened – i.e. environmental law and planning law.
47:35 He met fellow UWA law graduates when he was practising. There was a 50th reunion of the graduates of 1964 on 31 May 2004. He maintains closer contacts with the people he was at St George’s college with. He hopes to continue to practice law for several more years.



Williams, Daryl, “Daryl Williams interview, 20 August 2014, 26 August 2014 and 1 September 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024, https://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/77.