Michael Kirby has thoughts on NSW’s gay convictions apology

Michael Kirby (front) and NSW Parliament House (back)
Images: Sasha Hadden (front), J Bar/Wikimedia Commons (back)

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has reflected on New South Wales’ apology for historical gay sex convictions and called for a national Human Rights Act in a major speech.

Last week, NSW Premier Chris Minns apologised on behalf of the state for laws that “criminalised, persecuted and harmed people based on their sexuality and gender”.

The apology on Thursday was 40 years after NSW decriminalised homosexuality in 1984.

Just a day later, Michael Kirby gave a keynote speech at the Free + Equal human rights conference at Vivid in Sydney.

The gay former judge began by saying that growing up in Australia, he believed that everyone was born “free and equal in dignity and rights”.

“But at a certain point, not too far into my life journey, I discovered my sexual orientation,” he recalled.

“I found that we were not free and equal, and that dignity was not what we had, and not what I had. It was fear, it was terror, it was shame.

“It was something I had to keep very deeply in myself and never mention it. Never talk about it to my mum, never talk about it to my father. Never talk to my siblings or my grandmother.

“This was something I was programmed to be unable to do from a very early age. And I didn’t like it.

“The media made me very terrified that it would spill out to the shame of my family.

“That was the deal. If you kept quiet about it, if you pretended, they would leave you alone.”

NSW apology exposes need for Human Rights Act

The NSW Premier’s apology last week, Michel Kirby explained, was “an apology about a functional weakness of our democratic system.”

“The functional weakness [is] the answer to those who say you can leave all this to Parliament,” he said.

“Parliament always fixes up injustices because if they don’t, they’ll lose their seats in the next election. That was the theory. That’s what we’re told.

“Well, why did we have the apology yesterday? We had the apology because Parliament doesn’t fix all things up.”

Michael Kirby said while parliaments are good at addressing the “problems of majorities”, creating a Bill of Rights or a national Human Rights Act is an important step for Australia to achieve “human rights for all”.

“Sometimes, you need some deep principles as tools to ensure that the parliamentary system is helped, and the parliamentarians have knowledge of the basic core principles that unite us as human beings,” he said.

He said every child in Australia should be taught that they are “born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

Hundreds of advocates call for Human Rights Act

Michael Kirby’s speech came after a parliamentary report out last month recommended Australia establish a national Human Rights Act.

On Friday, more than 700 Australian human rights advocates, including dozens of eminent experts, urged the Federal Government to follow through on the recommendations.

Michael Kirby is among them. He says a national Human Rights Act will make Australia “more just, equitable and inclusive.”

“An equal society is a safe society and upholds the Australian dream,” he said.

“Australia has changed significantly over the last 25 years in terms of our population, our economy, our culture and the impact of technology.

“However, the laws, policies and practices which make up Australia’s human rights framework have not kept pace.

“This means our country is not protecting and promoting human rights as well as we could.”

Read more:

Michael Kirby married partner Johan on their 50th anniversary

Michael Kirby shares his mum’s amazing reaction to his coming out

Religion bill ‘a weapon against non-believers,’ Michael Kirby says

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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