She doesn’t appear to be chasing the limelight, but Rowena Orr QC is a star regardless for her solid work during the banking royal commission, that’s seen Justice Kenneth Hayne release 76 recommendations for changes to the financial industry.
During the inquiry, Orr took on the tough job of questioning everyone from the chairs and CEOs of our largest banks to the much smaller players in financial institutions who received the unenviable job of being placed in the witness box, often in an attempt to explain the behaviour and accountability of those more senior than them.
Orr also sensitively and gently interviewed many victims of some of the horrendous and greedy tactics used by financial institutions to sign up more customers and sell pointless and unnecessary products. Often these people had lost everything, or seen their loved ones taken advantage of in disturbing ways.
Orr was fearless and dogged in her questioning and took many by surprise. Always calm and measured, she was able to talk some of the most powerful business figures into a corner. They stumbled in their responses. One witness even had to have an ambulance called.
She earned the nickname “shock and Orr” for her work during the hearings. She was described as a “reluctant rockstar” and became known for her familiar phrase ‘let me show you a document’, during her questioning to banking executives — a line that often signalled that things were about to get very interesting.
Orr, who was handpicked by Hayne for the job, was tasked with assisting the Commissioner in uncovering evidence and reporting on misconduct in the banking and financial services industries in order for him to deliver his final recommendations. She was joined by a number of junior barristers, including Eloise Dias, as well as her fellow counsel, Michael Hodge QC.
Born in 1973, educated at the University of Queensland and Cambridge, and called to the bar in 2002, Orr has previously served as senior counsel for Victoria’s Royal Commission into family violence. Her final case prior to hearings beginning in the banking commission involved working with the team representing Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian-born woman fighting extradition to the US.
Orr has no profile beyond her work. There is just one job listed on her LinkedIn page, ‘Barrister at Victorian Bar’, and no photo provided. She stated simply to Hayne at the start of the inquiry back in March 2018 that the terms of reference were broad and the time to report was short but that, “We embrace the challenge involved in assisting you”. From there, Australians following the commission became well-acquainted, and in some ways even comforted, by the familiar presence of Orr.
The Morrison Government has promised to take action on Hayne’s recommendations and said that in same cases it would go further (many also say Hayne’s recommendations don’t go far enough, with ACTU President Michele O’Neil declaring the report is “wholly inadequate” and lets banking executives off the hook).
So what next for Orr?
There’s plenty of speculation that we’ll soon be saying ‘Justice Orr’, with her appointed to the Victorian Supreme Court of Federal Court.
But we’re just hoping she’s enjoying a very long-earned break somewhere, with no banking executives in sight.