Thursday, 14 April 2011

Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principles Book Launch

Malcolm Turnbull launched Michael Kirby: Paradoxes and Principles by A J Brown at NSW Parliament House last week. He described The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG as a great public intellectual who was prepared to listen to the view of others.  He quipped that although he was often wrong he was never in doubt.

He further went on to describe the book as the best biography he had read since David Marr’s book on Sir Garfield Barwick, stating it was no hagiography. Malcolm reminisced on the time he met Michael Kirby in 1977 when he was a law reporter on The Bulletin.  He felt at that time the law was closed to public discussion and it was contemptible for anyone to make any criticism of a judge, as the law was a closed book. Michael became chairman of the Law Reform Commission and he popularized and publicised the law and was extraordinarily progressive, whilst paradoxically being extraordinarily conservative. This was exhibited when he took stance with Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. This stance, a totally unexpected view to many people, came from his family roots in Ulster.

Malcolm paid tribute to Michael Kirby’s 93 year old father Donald, who has often described his son as having the heart of a lion. He concluded by saying that Michael Kirby was a great thinker and communicator who constantly raised the level of public debate in Australia and that many Australians were unaware of his place in the world as a leading world speaker on human rights.

Michael Kirby began by saying he counted himself as a very good launcher of books but was disappointed that Malcolm didn’t mention the error on page 148. Michael illustrated this as an important omission as it always showed the listener that the launchee had very carefully read the book.

He mentioned that he was delighted that the new NSW Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell was able to be present at the launch. He noted that he had seen Barry use public transport to get to Macquarie Street the last time he saw him and that it set a great environmental example to the community.

He mentioned that leaders from both sides of politics had offered him judicial positions in the past. He felt we should zealously guard the right of politicians to appoint judges, as it always throws up mixed points of view.

Michael Kirby acknowledged the hard work that A.J. Brown had done in writing his biography but cheekily added that he felt that Brown was hard on him in some instances with some “cruel and serpent-like” words. He acknowledged that the biography had taken up 7 year’s of Brown’s life and he apologized to his family for this.

He assured the audience that it was a good read and certainly not boring and he reminisced that life can be dictated by chance. 

He hoped we would have an Australian Charter of Rights by 2015, the centenary of Anzac Day. It should contain chapters on respect for indigenous Australians, reference to issues of drug policy and also those on animal welfare.

Michael Kirby concluded that he was amazed at the large turn up to the launch and he was grateful it had been held in the NSW Parliament, the people’s house.


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