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Wednesday, 20 March 2002
Page: 1097


Senator BRANDIS (3:22 PM) —I think we need to draw back from the partisanship of this and recognise that these are issues of very peculiar sensitivity. When Senator Heffernan stood in this place on Tuesday evening last week and gave a speech that we all regret was ever given, he caused terrible harm. He caused terrible hurt to Justice Kirby and to Justice Kirby's loved ones and family. Senator Heffernan now regrets that. He caused harm to the reputation of the High Court, and many believe that he caused harm to this institution. But I believe that Senator Heffernan, though he acted wrongly, acted in good faith, in the sense that he believed in what he was saying. We now know that he was misled. Anybody who was in this chamber at half past three yesterday afternoon and heard Senator Heffernan's unreserved retraction and apology to Justice Kirby could not but have been moved and struck by the dignity with which Senator Heffernan humbled himself to do that. He ought to have done so, and he did so as a gentleman.

Shortly afterwards, Justice Kirby issued a statement. That statement was tabled in this place. It is in the press this morning. I do not think it has ever been read in this place. Let me read an extract from it. Justice Kirby said:

I accept Senator Heffernan's apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope that my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to.

Out of this sorry episode, Australians should emerge with a heightened respect for the dignity of all minorities. And a determination to be more careful in future to uphold our national institutions—the Parliament and the Judiciary.

That was a most gracious and magnanimous statement under the circumstances, and it should be accepted by all in this place, putting party conflict behind us, in the spirit in which it was intended, just as Justice Kirby graciously accepted Senator Heffernan's unreserved apology and retraction in the spirit in which it was intended.

I am sure that, if there is one man in Australia today who does not want to see this issue being drawn down into the mire of party political point scoring, it is Justice Kirby. In the cities and towns of this nation I believe the Australian people have had a surfeit of this in the last eight days. They have seen a most eminent and distinguished man, Justice Kirby, besmirched by false allegations. They have seen a very significant parliamentarian, Senator Heffernan, humbled, and they have seen him withdraw his allegations with dignity. We have seen the victim of those allegations respond with grace and forgiveness. Surely, that ought to be the end of it. It does the High Court no good, it does this chamber no good, it does Mr Justice Kirby no good for this to be now used by an opposition as an occasion for cheap party political point scoring. Let us heed what the Australian people plainly want and put this episode behind us and get on with the business of governing.