Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Address at Justice Michael Kirby farewell.

Download PDFDownload PDF


Justice Michael Kirby Farewell

High Court of Australia , Canberra

Monday 2 February 2009 , 12:02pm


[Acknowledgements ]

• First , may I acknowledge the traditional owners

of the land we meet on - and pay my respects to

their elders, both past and present.

[Other Acknowl edgements ]

• Thank you Your Honour [you will be introduced

by the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG]

• Distinguished guests , ladies and gentlemen

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


[Introduction ]

1. It is a privilege to be here today to pay tribute to

the Honourab le Justice Michael Kirby .

2. Today we farewell a man from this court who has

devoted his life to public service .

[Service to Australia ]

3. In addition to your distinguished service to the

High Court, y our Honour has served as Deputy

President of the Australian Conciliation and

Arbitration Commission, as the inaugural

President of the Australian Law Reform

Commission, as a Judge of both the New South

Wales Supreme Court and the Federal Court of

Australi a, and as President of the New South

Wales Court of Appeal .

[International Work ]

4. Internationally, y ou have been an ambassador

for Australia through your contributions to the

International Commission of Jurists, the OECD,

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


UNESCO, the International Labo ur

Organisation, the World Health Organisation

and the United N ations .

5. You have gained tremendous respect for yourself

and Australia on the international stage.

[Law In Context]

6. Indeed, y ou will be remembered for bringing a

global perspective to Australian domestic law .

7. As a close observer of civil society , you hav e also

sought to put the law in context and to examine

how the law operates in practice.

8. Take the time the High Court considered the

prohibition on prisoners voting in federal

elections. During argument, you inquired as to

the effect of the provisions on Paris Hilton had

she been an Australian citizen. After a patient

explanation from counsel of the application of

Commonwealth Electoral Act to the then

wayward celebrity you gravely remarked:

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


“I just wanted you to know I follow these


[Commitment to the Development of the Law ]

9. Your Honour will also be remembered f or your

dedication to the development of the law and

your contributions to law reform , especially

through your role as the first Chairperson of the

Australian Law Reform Commission .

10. For example, y our groundbreaking work on

bioethics and organ transplants tackled not only

the legal issues but also the moral and ethical

dimensions. And y ou identified early the need

for lawyers to engage with the difficult issues

thrown up by genetic resear ch . In 1997 you said:

“For a lawyer, like a theologian, it is somewhat

intimidating to stand staring at this new era of

genetics. The scientist and the technologist rush

ahead. The lawyer, the ethicist and the

theologian amble slowly along, their heads fu ll

of puzzlement at the problems which seem

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


insoluble. Yet to do nothing is to make a

decision. ”

11. This commitment to ensuring th e law remains

relevant to a changing community - a changing

world - will continue to resonate long after you

leave this building .

[Special Place in High Court History]

12. You will hold a special place in the history of this


13. You have been tagged the “Great Dissenter”, but

in reality you have played a vital part in the

development of many areas such as the freedom

of political co mmunication. A rig ht you

described as belonging

“as much to the obsessive, the emotional and the

inarticulate as it does to the logical, the cerebral

and the restrained.” 1

14. Unlike one or two politicians who fall into the

first category, you will be remem bered as the


Coleman v Power (2004) 209 CLR 1, 100 [260] (Kirby J).

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


“Great Communicator” . Your judgments

demonstrated your strong commitment to explain

the law. And your willingness to speak on a wide

range of topics has shown a commitment to

demystify and humanise the judiciary. In your

speech in 1995 on j udicial stress you were among

the first to tackle the then -taboo issue of

depression on the bench. You said:

“… a source of stress for many judicial officers

derives from role expectation and role -playing.

Judicial officers are expected, as Sir Ronald

Meg ary once put it, to be as wise as they are

paid to look.”

15. Above all, alongside your extensive achievements

and contributions to the law, to academia and to

the community, you will be remembered most for

servi ng justice with a bold heart, a brilliant mind

and respect for the fundamental rights of all

citizens .

Justice Kirby Farewell 2 February 2009


[Conclusion ]

16. I know that you once famously listed work as

your favourite form of recreation.

Well, I hope that your planned quiet old

retirement affords you the opportunity to identify

a less strenuo us hobby. 2

And to spend more time with your loved ones -

particularly your partner Johan. But I suspect

we are merely seeing the end of one tour of duty

before you embark on another.

17. You have for many years carried an enormous

workload with devotion and integrity . Y ou will

be greatly missed from the bench but welcomed

in whatever area you choose to follow.



Justice Michael Kirby in M Romei & Z Sheftalovich, ‘A reasonable person’, Lawyers Weekly Online , 23 April 2008, -reasonable -person_z170691.htm