Michael Kirby is to retire from the High Court six weeks ahead of the date of his constitutional senility.
The attorney general Rob McClelland announced today (Wed, Nov. 10) that Kirbs had gone off to see the GG Quentin Bryce.
The judge told Quentin that he would resign from the court on “the evening of February 2, 2009”.
His visit to the GG took place just as the government announced that the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – Superannuation) Act 2008 received royal assent on December 4.
Among other things, the legislation amends the Judges’ Pensions Act, 1964. From January 1 death benefits will be available to same sex de facto partners of deceased federal judicial superannuants.
For Kirby this was a matter of principle, even though his partner Johan van Vloten would not be dependent on the judge’s pension.
“These changes are an important step forward in ensuring the future financial security of same-sex de facto couples and their children.”
Justinian was on the money when we published in July that Kirby was likely to lift off early – see Theodora’s Goings On.
Around this time the Judicial Conference of Australia was urging that the same-sex super legislation be passed.
The President of the Court of Appeal in Brisbane, Margaret McMurdo, wrote to Bruce Debelle, the chairman of the JCA, urging that everything possible be done …
“to ensure that federal judicial officers with long term same sex partners are treated fairly and that the Bill is passed by the legislature as soon as possible and certainly prior to Justice Kirby’s pending retirement.”
Shadow attorney general George (Soapy) Brandis looked uncomfortable as he straddled the barb wire fence on the issue.
He told a gay & lesbian radio program in Melbourne that he supports the legislation but he also supported it being delayed …
“because there are are many people in the community that do have a concern that legislation like this will erode the status of marriage.”
Last year Kirby lay on Justinian’s couch and subjected himself to searching analysis; e.g.:
Describe yourself in three words.
Focussed – energetic – kind.
What is your greatest fear?
Retirement (coming up in March 2009).
Who or what do you fantasise about?
A dinner party with Janet Albrechtsen.
In March 2002 Kirby was attacked in the senate by Bill Heffernan, who made false allegations that the judge used Commonwealth cars to trawl for male prostitutes.
The original attack by Heffernan was done with the knowledge and tacit support of the then prime minister. The subsequent unworthy attack was fanned by the legal affairs section of The Oz.
In 2003 Kirby underwent heart surgery.
Kirby’s prolific rate of dissent ultimately wore him down and his distaste for some of the characters on the court didn’t make life any easier.
On top of that he kept up a crushing pace with speeches and public appearances.
He lists “work” as his recreation in Who’s Who.
What’s next? Justinian has suggested before that Michael Kirby takes his incomparable schtick on the club circuit.
There’s a much wider enthusiastic market for this judge than the traditional corroborees of legal worthies.