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social sciences

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Kirby, Michael (b. 1939)  
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Kirby would later state that "a point had been reached when it became appropriate to be more explicit in the acknowledgment of someone who had contributed so much to my life." He noted with regret that when he had taken leave of the New South Wales Court of Appeal and when he was appointed to the High Court, van Vloten had "had to make do with a reference to 'family and loved ones'" in his acknowledgments.

Kirby's homosexuality became an issue, however, in 2002, when Senator Bill Heffernan alleged that Kirby "had used commonwealth cars to 'trawl for rough trade'" with male prostitutes. In support of his charges, Heffernan offered what he claimed was the driver's log.

Sponsor Message.

The purported record included not only travel for Kirby but also for parliament member Laurie Brereton, who, it turned out, had been away on vacation with his family at the time.

Brereton said of the clumsy fabrication, "Inspector Clouseau could have worked out that this was a very funny job sheet for an Easter Saturday. . . . The document is false. It raises a number of very important issues."

Because of the false accusations against Kirby, Heffernan was forced to resign from his cabinet post as parliamentary secretary and was censured by the Senate but was not removed from office.

From the Senate floor, Heffernan said, "I want to extend to Michael Kirby my sincere apology and deep regret for the allegations I made in this place. I withdraw them unreservedly. . . . I know that with the widespread media coverage of my speech, his personal standing has been harmed. I do not expect him to accept my apology, but nonetheless I give it because I recognize the personal hurt that must have been suffered."

Despite the manifest inadequacy of the apology--sincere or not--from a person who acknowledged the "personal hurt" certainly felt by the victim of the mendacious attack, Kirby accepted it, graciously offering to extend "my hand in a spirit of reconciliation."

At the same time, however, he took the occasion to decry , saying, "Out of this sorry episode, Australians should emerge with a heightened respect for the dignity of all minorities."

Kirby stated in a 1999 speech that "working for human rights of disadvantaged people or people suffering from discrimination is a moral obligation."

Unlike U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Kirby is a firm believer in looking to international law for wisdom and guidance on such issues. In 2005 he stated, "For years, I have expressed the view that international law, especially that relating to human rights, may assist, as a contextual element, in the interpretation of the Constitution, the construction of ambiguous legislation, and the filling of gaps in the common law."

Kirby's diverse interests led him to become the first president of the Arts Law Centre of Australia in 1983. He later noted that the foundation of the organization coincided with the onset of the AIDS pandemic, which, he said, "took its toll on people in the arts, as in all other fields of life. It became important to provide legal advice on wills and estate planning for young people who would ordinarily not have thought of such things." He expressed the hope that "whatever [future crises] will be, the Arts Law Centre of Australia will be ready to respond with expert advice and empathetic care."

Kirby's advocacy has gone far beyond Australia. He has served as a member of the World Health Organization's Global Committee on AIDS (1988-1992) and of United Nations panels on HIV/AIDS (2001-2002, 2004 to present) and as United Nations Special Representative in Cambodia (1993-1996). He was a member of the Ethics Committee of the Human Genome Organization (1995-2005) and of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO (1995-2005). As part of his work with the latter, he chaired the group that wrote the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights.

He has also served as the President of the Court of Appeal of the Solomon Islands (1995-1996) and was long a member of the Executive Committee of the International Commission of Jurists, eventually becoming president of the organization (1995-1998).

For his accomplishments Kirby was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1983 and received Australia's highest civil award as a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1991. In the same year he won the Australian Human Rights Medal. His work for equality was also recognized in 1999 when he was named Laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education.

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