President’s speech (6 December 2023)

The following speech was delivered to the Society’s Council on 6 December 2023 by Richard Perrignon, on his election as President of the Society:

“Congratulations to all members of the Society’s Executive on their election today. It is my privilege to pay tribute to our outgoing President, Michael McAuley, and outgoing Secretary, Anthony Herro.

Michael McAuley was elected President in 2012. He has served as the Society’s President for eleven years, and as a member of its Council for many years before that. Throughout his presidency, he has constantly and selflessly given of his professional and family time to the affairs of the Society. 

He has led the Society through good times, and difficult times. Throughout the pandemic years, he successfully steered our activities by striking a delicate balance between the significant restrictions necessarily imposed by government, and our continued performance of the duties entrusted to us by our Constitution, particularly the annual Red Mass. During his long presidency, the external environment in which we live darkened. He had to deal with the consequences of significant challenges to the reputation of the Church, and a marked diminution in society’s adherence to Christian beliefs. These things have inevitably made it harder for societies like ours to function. 

Nevertheless, with the benefit of his leadership, the Society has enjoyed a peaceful and productive era, remaining faithful to its purpose of providing opportunities to members of acquiring a deeper knowledge of the principles of Christian ethics and morality. 

He achieved this by being sensitive to the needs and aspirations of members. He took care to deploy each member of Council in a way which recognised and made the most efficient use of their talents, making them feel both valued and fulfilled. He steered the Society prudently in the face of political change in NSW, without favouring one side of politics over another, respecting the broad spectrum of views within our membership. He bore adversity with courage, always tempered by a deep thoughtfulness and his characteristic smile. These are the marks of a real leader.

I pay particular tribute to his authorship of the St Thomas More Letters. As you know, they confront the issues which face society today, and explain the Christian attitude to them, aided by a comprehensive knowledge of history and secular philosophy on the one hand, and of Christian morality on the other. Entirely of his own innovation, they have become extremely popular. Each edition is eagerly awaited. People tell me they take time out of their work to read each letter as it arrives, obviously inspired by the learning, faith and common sense which they exude. They have become an important work of the Society. In effect, they are the modern incarnation of the Society’s official publication, Utopia.

I am very grateful to Michael for agreeing to remain on Council as our immediate past president, and to continue his valuable work in producing the St Thomas More Letters. I thank and congratulate him for all that he has done for the Society, and continues to do.

Anthony Herro was elected Secretary in 2008. For fifteen years, he too has given generously of his professional and family time to meet the needs of the Society. He also served as a member of Council for years before that. He now retires from Council in order to pay more attention to his family and his burgeoning practice. 

Anthony’s charitable works are well known. For years, he has supported the School of St Jude in Tanzania, even arranging talks in Australia by its charismatic principal, and inspiring others to donate to this worthy cause. The school is but one of his many charitable works, some of which are known to me, but most of which are known only to him. 

Among them has been his extraordinary support for this Society. For fifteen years, he has provided the Society with an address, a meeting place for its Council, access to the facilities of his various clubs for its events, and unlimited administrative support by his charming and efficient staff, not to mention his own valuable time. It is fair to say that, without his generosity and tireless efforts, the Society would not have been able to function in the way that it has, or to serve its members as it has. As a Society, we owe Anthony a great debt.

He has graciously agreed to continue providing facilities to us, even after his retirement from Council. That is surely a true mark of his selflessness. On behalf of the entire Council, I thank and congratulate him for his extraordinary contributions to the Society, which continue.”

[Richard Perrignon has practised as a barrister-at-law for 35 years. Before that, he was a Judge’s Associate in the NSW Industrial Commission, a solicitor at Freehills and a Senior Associate at Allen Allen & Hemsley (now, Allens Linklaters). He sits as a Member of the Personal Injury Commission in its Workers Compensation Division, and as a Senior Member of NCAT in its Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division. As counsel, he has appeared in industrial disputes before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission and Fair Work Australia, and in actions involving workers compensation, anti-discrimination law, administrative (government) law, police ‘hurt on duty’ claims, estates, customs and excise, and in commercial causes. In criminal trials and appeals, he has appeared as defence counsel and as prosecutor for both the NSW and Commonwealth Directors of Public Prosecutions. He is currently on the counsel panel for the Commonwealth DPP. Since 2013 he has also practised as a nationally accredited Mediator. He conducts mediations both privately, and in NCAT and the Personal Injury Commission. He has served on the Council of the St Thomas More Society since 2000, and as its President from 2009 to 2013. He is the Director of Music at St John’s College within the University of Sydney, and has conducted the music at the annual Red Mass for over twenty years. As an academic, he has lectured in law at the Australian Catholic University and the University of Notre Dame for many years. In 2023, he was appointed a Teaching Fellow at the University of NSW.]