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On the Couch
27 July, 2007  
Michael Kirby

Justice Michael Kirby is savaged like no other High Court judge. Yet on he glides, pouring out his well-written, well-reasoned judgments at about twice the output of his colleagues on High. He’s the only member of that otherwise stitched-up ultimate appellate tribunal who dares share with us his fantasies, foibles and fears


imageHigh Court Justice Michael Kirby is rarely out of the news. Most recently he attracted the attention of The Australian after he wrote to attorney general Ruddock requesting the law be changed so that his partner of 38 years, Johan van Vloten, be entitled to receive a reversionary pension. Ruddock replied that the suggestion of equal pension rights for same sex partners was “inappropriate” at this stage.

More recently Media Watch picked up on The Australian’s version of discrimination when it singled out Justice Kirby and van Vloten for special coupling in a recent list detailing High Court judges’ travel expenses. Spouse or partner travel was not given in the article for any other High Court judge, despite the fact that information was provided in the original documentation from the High Court. So just what puerile, nudge-nudge point was being made by the paper’s legal editor? asked Media Watch.

Anyway, a man with a Who’s Who entry that runs for an entire column cannot be concerned with such trifles. He’s got more degrees, honours, garlands, gongs and baubles than everyone else in the country put together. He’s been on the High Court since 1996 and there’ll be a big hole in his life, let alone the lives of commentators and scribblers, when he “retires” in March 2009.

In March this year, Kirby supported pop star Anthony Callea’s decision to come out, saying: “In terms of influencing popular culture and understanding of the reality of human sexual diversity, I would trade 10 judges for one popular singer.”

Two months later, Kirby himself performed a rap of Yeats’s poetry alongside hip-hop impresario Elf Tranzporter at the launch of Victorian Arts Law Week in Melbourne. Justinian is more than a little excited to have on our couch the man who graciously accepted an apology from that nasty Bill Heffernan.

Describe yourself in three words.
Focussed – energetic – kind.

What are you currently reading?
Edmund White “My Lives” (2005) and Anna Politkovskaya “A Russian Diary” (2007).

What’s your favourite film?
East of Eden” (1954 – Elia Kazan).

Who or what do you fantasise about?
A dinner party with Janet Albrechtsen.

What stimulants do you recommend?
A subscription to “Fox & Friends”.

Describe your underwear.
Belt and braces variety.

What is your greatest fear?
Retirement (coming up in March 2009).

What words or phrases do you overuse?
It follows”, “Thus” and “Accordingly”.

Who would you most like to meet?
Bishop John Shelby Spong.

Who do you envy and why?
The beautiful people, like Paris Hilton. For obvious reasons.

What regrets do you have?
imageNot enough fun when I was young.

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
My unmatchable work ethic.

What’s your most glamorous feature?
Still to be discovered.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
Passionfruit.

What human quality do you must distrust?
Heartless complacency.

What would you change about Australia?
Bill of rights, for starters.

Which of these characters do you find more aesthetically pleasing – Tin Tin or Mr Magoo?
Magoo because I am gradually getting like him.

Who or what do you consider overrated?
Food and expensive restaurants. Like Peter Costello, I prefer fish and chips on the beach.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Drink two full glasses of Sydney water.

How would you like to die?
Never think of it. Too much still to do.

What would your epitaph say?
A loving man.”