Life On The Job

Famous or Historic People

Susan Mary Kiefel AC (17 January 1954 - ) Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia



Susan Mary Kiefel was born on 17 January 1954 in Cairns, Queensland, to Alf Kiefel, manager in an insurance company, and his wife, Patricia Mary (née Walsh). (Source: Supreme Court Library Queensland)

Susan Mary Kiefel AC is a Justice of the High Court of Australia, the highest court in the Australian court hierarchy. She will become the Chief Justice of Australia on 30 January 2017; she is the first woman to have been appointed to that role.

Kiefel has served on the High Court since 2007, having previously been a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland and the Federal Court of Australia.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Young Susan Kiefel


She attended Geebung State Primary School and Sandgate District High School to year 10 (1969).  (Source: Supreme Court Library Queensland)

According to authors Deborah Whitehall and Helen Gregory, Kiefel had an idyllic childhood in Cairns before her family moved south to Brisbane, where she attended Sandgate High School.

She loved sport, music and the theatre and even considered journalism as a future career. But dreaming of financial independence, she left after completing Year 10 [at 15] -- a move she later described as a mistake.  (Source: The Australian)

In 1971, she completed secretarial training at Kangaroo Point Technical College on a scholarship. (Source: Wikipedia)

She worked as a secretary at a building society, for an architect and at an exploration company before her time with the Brisbane law firm Messrs Fitzgerald, Moynihan and Mack stirred her interest in the law. Kiefel soon decided she would rather write memos than take them.

In 1973, Kiefel joined solicitors Cannan and Peterson (which became Sly & Weigall Cannan & Peterson and is now Norton Rose Fulbright) as a legal clerk. While continuing to work, she completed her education at night [secondary school and began legal studies], she enrolled in the Barristers Admission Board course and passed her course with honours [in three years].  (Source: Wikipedia)

Fin Review

 After completing her studies (with honours), she came to the Bar in 1975 [aged 21].  (Source: The Australian)

She has a Masters of Laws degree from Cambridge University.  (Source: High Court)

In 1984, while on sabbatical leave, she completed a Master of Laws (LLM) at the University of Cambridge, where she was awarded the C.J. Hamson Prize in Comparative Law and the Jennings Prize. In 2008, she was elected to an Honorary Fellowship of Wolfson College, Cambridge.

Kiefel was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Queensland (2009) and Griffith University (2009). (Source: Supreme Court Library Queensland)

Kiefel was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from Adelaide University (Source: Adelaide University - PDF)


Within 12 years [after coming to the Bar] had become the first woman in Queensland to be appointed a Queen's Counsel. She became known for her dogged approach, particularly in commercial cases, before the Labor state government appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1993.

She was on that court for only a year before the Keating government lured her to the Federal Court in 1994. (Source: The Australian)

"You don't start out in the law as a secretary and end up making it to the top without a lot of drive and ambition.

Tony Fitzgerald (the former judge and royal commissioner) inspired her to do law and she has always been focused.

At the launch of the Australian Academy of Law [2007], where she is a foundation fellow, Kiefel outlined her views on the role of a judge.

She said it was "the responsibility of judges to demand skill and competence in the preparation of cases and adherence by lawyers to the duty to the court".

She gave a hint of her belief system in an address at a girls-only All Hallows School in 2001.

 "You can usually do whatever you determine to do," she said. "The constraints or limits placed on a person's life and career usually come from themselves. I hope that you will focus on the possibilities open to you and not dwell on the problems that others tell you about too much."

"In Susan's view, the essential qualities were to be quite courageous and strong, a quiet confidence arising from knowing what you are doing and doing it well, which was far preferable to irritating overconfidence."

They said she was annoyed in the 1980s when people frequently asked her what it was like to be a women barrister.

"Such a question focused on the perceptions of sex discrimination within the profession rather than on the intellectual calibre of its female members. However, she did note that many people continued to believe that women were different in their thought processes and that many solicitors, including women, had briefed men because they thought their clients wanted them to -- a myth which she believed could be dispelled."

(Source: The Australian)


Kiefel met her husband -- Dr Michael Albrecht, an academic who specialises in public health issues -- when she went to Cambridge UK to study in 1984. She joined the rowing team and he was the coach. She doesn't have any children. Kiefel has many interests outside the law including reading -- she is a fan of the poetry of Judith Wright -- cooking, fly fishing, playing her cello and the arts. (Source: The Australian)


Summary of Susan Kiefel's Career

1954:Born in Cairns and educated at Sandgate State High School in Brisbane.

1971: After leaving school at 15, she begins working as a law firm receptionist at barristers Fitzgerald, Moynihan and Mack.

1973: Joins Cannan and Peterson solicitors as a legal clerk. Completes her senior examination and then her bar board course with honours.

1975: Comes to the Bar.

1984: Studying at Wolfson College, Cambridge, obtains a Master of Laws and is awarded the C.J. Hamson prize in Comparative Law.

1987: Appointed Queen's Counsel. [She was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1975 and was the first woman in Queensland to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, in 1987. (Source: High Court)]

1993: Appointed to the Queensland Supreme Court.

1994: Appointed to the Federal Court of Australia, becoming the first woman. Also a Supreme Court judge of Norfolk Island.

2003: Appointed to the Australian Law Reform Commission as a part-time member and reappointed in 2006 for three years.

2007: Replaces Justice Ian Callinan as High Court judge. [Kiefel is the third female High Court Justice and the forty sixth overall.  (Source: Wikipedia)]

2016: Appointed Chief Justice of Australia (Source: The Australian)

ABC News May 2018
(Source: ABC News 11 May 2018)



  • Justice Kiefel was appointed a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2011.
    [On 13 June 2011, she was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the law and to the judiciary, to law reform and to legal education in the areas of ethics, justice and governance.  (Source: Wikipedia)]

  • She was elected a titular member of the International Academy of Comparative Law in June 2013.

  • She was elected an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn in November 2014. (Source: High Court)

with Governor General
Getting her Campanion of the Order of Australia from Governor General Quentin Bryce


Did You Know?

ABC News

The High Court is, as the name would suggest, the highest court in Australia.

The seven justices on the court are responsible for deciding if laws adhere to the constitution, which means they essentially define the limits of Commonwealth power.

The High Court also hears appeals from the other federal, state and territory courts on every aspect of Australian law: criminal, company, copyright, whether the state can take your land for an airport expansion, [reference to the film "The Castle"] etc.

As such, the court gets the final say on the interpretation of all laws in Australia. Once it makes a judgement, that's that, it can't be appealed against.
(Source: ABC News)

YouTube: Samuel Griffith Society: Keynote Address at Conference 3 - 5th August 2018
The Honourable Susan Kiefel AC - Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia
(URL: - Video28 mins)



High Court - Susan Mary Kiefel AC

High Court


ABC News 29 November 2016

ABC News

The Conversation 29 November 2016

The Conversation

Courier Mail 29 November 2016

Courier Mail

Sydney Morning Herald 30 November 2016


Mercury 29 November 2016

The Australian 14 August 2007 - Appointment to High Court

The Australian
Women's Agenda 29 November 2016

Women's Agenda

Supreme Court Library Queensland

International Bar Association 8 - 13 October 2017 Video


Art Gallery - NSW - Archibald Prize 2018

Archibald Prize
Financial Review 16 August 2018

Financial Review
Did You Know?

The Film : "The Castle" & the High Court

Working Dog Productions created an iconic Australian film "The Castle" in 1997 involving the High Court.

Many of the 'phrases generated from the film permeate everyday conversation. Asking someone “How’s the serenity?” or to “Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’” or to say that something is headed “straight to the pool room” is not uncommon within Australian culture today.'
(Source: Australian Films Overseas)

This film is so iconic that a stamp has been minted for it in 2008 along with other famous Australian films: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; The Castle; Muriel's Wedding;
Lantana; and, Gallipoli:

(Source: Collectable Stamp Gallery)

Look at the following clips to see how this film and the High Court of Australia intersect! Is there another issue you think worthy of an Australia film?

the castle
(Source: ABC News)

YouTube: The Castle Movie Highlights (URL: )


YouTube: The Castle High Court Hearing (some swearing)
(URL: )




Judgements (adopted from "Deciding What to Do: Instructional Manual to Accompany Nous, Chapter Four, p.68 by Matthew Lipman)

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking 


1. Judgments can be many different sorts of things.Judgement

For example, a judgment can be a decision:
E.g. Our cat looked very sick, so we decided to take her to the vet.

It can be an agreement:
E.g. My friend Joe said "Templeton is a rat," and I agreed with him.

It can be a determination:
E.g. According to medical reports, it has been determined that there have been three cases of chicken pox in our town so far this year.

It can be a logical conclusion:
E.g. Since the movie was well-acted, well-directed, well-photographed and the script was well-written, I concluded it was a good film.

It can be a settlement:
E.g. The court arrived at the following settlement That the defendant was guilty and should pay the plaintiff $ 50,000.00.

It can be a predicate:
E.g. It is my judgment that my jeans are light blue in colour.

It can be a thought or action produced by deliberately following a rule:
E.g. When the light turned green, it authorized us to cross the street.

It can be a thought or action deliberartely produced despite the lack of a rule:
E.g. Picasso painted a peasant hat on the head of the boy in the portrait.

2. With a partner, how many examples of judgments can you come up with that are examples of the eight forms given above?

How many examples of what seem to be judgments can you come up with that do not belong to any of the above eiqht types ?

3. Share your examples with another pair. Justify your examples and compile your 16 examples. Were there any changes to the placement of examples in the categories of judgement?

4. As a class, compile all the examples into the categories and justify your decisions.



Making Ethical Decisions (adopted from Ethical Inquiry Manual to Accompany LISA, Chapter 11, Episode 28, page 410 by Matthew Lipman)

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

Critical and Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and Creative Thinking

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding


1. Making a decision is only one way of dealing with a problem.

There may be other ways that are more suitable. lt may be that you are over-reacting to a situation-trying to make a decision before the need for a decision has arisen.

lt may be that the decision needs to be made, but you are not the right person to make it. lt may be that there are ways of circumventing the problem so that the need for resolving it can be at least temporarily averted.

lt may be that the problem needs to be re-formulated before a decision is made.  

Which of these alternatives would you select, given the following situations:

  Decision should be postponed Decision should be made by someone else Problem should be circumvented Problem should be reformulated You need to make a decision and NOW
1. You haven't made up your mind about starting smoking, but now some of your classmates offer you a cigarette.          
2. Your family thinks that, the next time there's a school dance, you should go with your sister (or brother) instead of finding a date.          
3. The mess in your room has now spilled out into the hallway, and your parents are beginning to hint that you should do something about it.          
4. You find someone's wallet, with money in it, in your locker, which you always keep locked.          
5. The school paper has been closed down because it printed some questionable words, and you think someone ought to protest.          
6. You didn't pass this year and you think maybe you ought to drop out of school, because you don't feel you belong with your old classmates and you don't feel you belong with your new ones.          

2. With a partner, discuss your decisions giving reasons for them. Did your partner have similar decisions? Why? Why not?


Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians? How?

High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical and Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and Creative Thinking

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and Social Capability

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

1. As a group of three or four students, you are to read the following articles:

The Conversation 18 September 2014

The Conversation
The Conversation 10 August 2016

The Conversation
The Conversation 21 May 2015

The conversation


ABC News 5 March 2015

ABC News
Indigenous Constitutional Recognition Explained - The Issues, Risks and Options (10 pages - PDF)

Prof Anne Twomey

2. Individually write down the issues presented. List them as pros and cons. 

3. Discuss as a group. Would you change your list? Why? Why not?

4. How should the Constitution address this issue? Treaty? Preamble? Something else? What do you think? As a group, discuss.

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