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New deputy secretary of justice – a tradition of public service

  • May 7th, 2012

Frank McLaughlin is to become a Deputy Secretary of Justice.


Who's he, and so what?


Frank is a partner in Chapman Tripp, and one of the best lawyers I've had the privilege to work with (and because he is younger than me, to help train).


Partners in the top three law firms (of which Chapman Tripp is one) may have been earning as much as $1m per year. So why would Frank leave for an agency that has not carried much intellectual clout since the reform years of the 1960s and 1970s?


Justice should be one of the control departments, like Treasury, setting standards for analytical rigour that discipline other agencies – burning out wishful thinking and lack of principle and developments dangerous to the rule of law. Instead it has promoted many developments that have made our law more uncertain. 

Sadly, our separation of powers sees judges and lawyers without leadership, without inspiration and without influence sufficient to defend our legal inheritance. The monstrous discretions throughout the Financial Markets Conduct Bill are a case in point. 


I believe Frank is becoming a public servant to serve the public. He will head up the Ministry’s policy division and be a member of its senior management team. 


Some top professionals reach Frank's stage and take to yachts, or new wives, or holidays in Tuscany, or art investment. Others become directors. Frank is heading in a more ascetic direction. I hope he finds it as absorbing and worthwhile as I found Parliament.


In the US it is common for top people to move between business, academia, senior bureacracy, politics and regulatory agencies. The moves fertilise each sector with the wide experience ofr outside appointees. The regulatory limb of that practise has been facilitated by the spoils system of appointments, under which thousands of positions are open to change after each administration change.


I do not favour the spoils system, but I think New Zealand has been the poorer for having so little cross-fertilisation. Academia in particular suffers here from being seen as a berth for too many people with limited alternatives.


That is not Frank's problem. He was on Chapman Tripp's board. As the senior lawyer for many of its significant clients, including Meridian, NZX, AMP Capital, Treasury, MED, Fonterra and Telecom/Chorus he's put in huge hours for many years.


He's always had an interest in complex reform processes though they are rarely remunerative for firms. He was a Labour Party activist when I first knew him, having been NZUSA President after his student days. Part of his value in reform projects has been because of his intuitive appreciation of the public sector perspective, and his knowledge of Government processes. Frank’s work has included:


·         taking over from me the Dairy Board's instructions in the establishment of Fonterra  and advising on various of its international joint ventures;

·         acting for NZX on its transformation from a statutory body to a company;

·         advising the Kingdom of Tonga on a wide range of law reform, policy and legal matters;

·         advising Telecom on the Government’s ultra-fast broadband scheme;

·         acting for Treasury on the restructuring and sale of AMI Insurance.


He was a member of the Financial Markets Authority Establishment Board in 2010. I've wondered whether his absence from the FMA was because of his principled criticisms of the awful Financial Advisor regime. Frank oversaw the secretariat to the Webb Task Force on the reform of financial intermediaries which generated the momentum for the Financial Advisor law, but cannot be held responsible for it.



  • philob
  • May 12th, 2012
  • 5:04 pm

Glad to see there is now some public-spirited intellectual grunt at the Justice dept.
I liked the Treasury position on the AMI troubles.
For a financial advisor regime, all we needed was a blacklist.

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