Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Glass, Mr Steven
I rise to pay tribute to the life of one of the most outstanding legal practitioners I had the privilege to work with, but, more importantly, one of the finest human beings I will ever know, who is mourned by both his own and the Gilbert + Tobin family and the many people whose lives were changed forever by his advocacy and passion for justice. Steven Glass was a brilliant commercial litigator, an almost constant tenant in the various top lawyer rankings. He was one of those partners at Gilbert + Tobin whom young lawyers specifically wanted to work for, the one the summer clerk interviewees said inspired them to apply to the firm. I never practised in the litigation team, but Steven and I developed a relationship that included his constant support for me as an MP.
The one matter I worked on closely with Steven was a project to deliver best practice training for the communications regulator in Thailand. There was a moment I still laugh about with our friend and the other supervising partner, Angus Henderson. We didn't realise that the regulator was going to be comprised of members who appeared to be from predominantly ex-military backgrounds. I had designed a workshop session to be delivered in Bangkok which required these very senior personnel to break into small groups. When this was explained to them, one individual looked at me and bluntly declared: 'We do not break into groups.' I froze. I looked at Steven. He stood up without hesitation and basically said, 'Right. Let's talk about being a regulator.' And he had everyone there mesmerised for the day. Like all great people, Steven was a teacher, and I still remember his lessons.
The fact is: Steven could have had a cruisy life, accumulating wealth on the back of his incredible legal prowess, acting for some of the most privileged and high-profile individuals and corporations. But this child of a refugee who survived the Holocaust was destined to achieve so much more.
As perfectly summarised in a beautiful obituary, 'Many of the causes Steven championed were legally complex and socially controversial.' At some point in Australia's political discourse over the first decade of the 21st century, something must have triggered Steven to take his advocacy to the next level. He would employ his legal genius to make the change he wanted to see in Australia and advance human rights, especially for asylum seekers. His achievements in this regard are too many to list, and merely doing so would not adequately capture the scale and detail of the work he must have ploughed into these cases and their profound implications.
I went back through my email exchanges with Steven since 2010. They were mostly about people or organisations recommended by Steven to contact me, vicarious connections ranging from Progressive Women in Law to the New Israel Fund, pro bono matters and the member for Cowan. So Steven possessed that other great trait of greatness: he connected people.
Steven only had his official farewell from Gilbert + Tobin in April last year. On the evening of Wednesday, 6 February, I received the terrible news from his great friend Peter Waters that Steven had died of a heart attack that morning. Peter's message was accompanied by a photo of Steven with a man who could be an amalgam of his many good and selfless works throughout his life, both of them with beaming smiles, Steven's arm around his shoulder. The message read: 'As this photo so well shows, he made this country a little less unjust, a little fairer, through his work with refugees.' Vale, Steven Glass.