Michael Kirby was introduced by Professor Margaret Otlowski, Dean of the Law School of University of Tasmania, and honoured for his 35 years of service to the judiciary and his stance on human rights.
Mr Kirby then addressed the importance of being a ‘joiner’ — to be involved and to have courage. He recalled some of his early experiences, including his legal defence of a group who went to the cinema at Walgett in New South Wales, in 1965. In those days Aboriginal persons were not allowed to go to the upstairs dress circle of the cinema, but four white students paired with them to take them up. His Honour was actually present at the time, along with two other young lawyers. The case paved the way for desegregation in Australia, for while the magistrate found the trespass proved, charges of assaulting police and offensive behaviour were thrown out and no conviction was recorded. The case resulted in clubs and cinemas abolishing discrimination against Aborigines.
Mr Kirby also spoke about the impediments of the law in preventing social justice, in particular financial interests that lead to conflict of interest, and the impediment of costs. He outlined potential new rules that would permit parties with an arguable case to have special permission to put their case before the court.
*The Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Fund will grant a bursary each year to a University of Tasmania student with a demonstrated commitment to social justice. More information about the Fund and about Sandy’s lasting contribution to social justice can be found at:
NOELLE RATTRAY is a Solicitor in Tasmania.