Michael Kirby argues against the plebiscite


Respected jurist Michael Kirby has spoken out against the Turnbull government’s proposed marriage plebiscite. The former High Court judge has made several media appearances this week arguing that it is the role of government to make decisions.

Last night Kirby appeared on the ABC program ‘Lateline’ talking to host Emma Alberici. Kirby highlighted that there was no legal or constitutional reason for the government to address the issue via a plebiscite but also voiced his concern about the type of debate it would unleash and the affect it would have on vulnerable LGBT people.

“The constitution doesn’t provide for interposing this additional step in the law making process.” Kirby said.

“It’s a discriminatory step, it’s a step that is designed by those who propose it, in the hope of defeating and delaying equality for citizens. It’s unfair to people who are of a different sexual orientation or gender identity and it’s a bad precedent for our law making.

“We should be strengthening parliament not weakening it. It will be a very bad precedent if it goes ahead and I hope parliament will not endorse the plebiscite.”

Kirby said other countries like Ireland had no choice about having a public vote due to the way their constitution was written, but no similar requirement existing in Australia. The respected legal identity said the use of a plebiscite was alien to the Australian was of democracy.

“Alien to our traditions, unnecessary under our constitution, dangerous in the hostility it would cause to young LGBT people and a very bad precedent for the future.”

“Alien to our traditions, unnecessary under our constitution, dangerous to the hostility it would cause to young LGBT people and a very bad precedent for the future.” is how Kirby summarized the government’s policy.

Kirby said people’s private religious views should not be the reason that the government changes the way that decision are made. Kirby said he still hoped parliamentarians would reject the plebiscite on the grounds that it was a significant detour from established processes.

“I hope parliament in defense of its self and its own integrity under the constitution will ultimately say so.” Kirby said, arguing that politicians are elected to tackle the issues before the parliament.

“They have the role. They have the office. They have the power and they should exercise it one way or another.”

Kirby said whether the plebiscite delivered marriage equality or not, it remained a bad precedent for Australia’s democratic process.

“This is a bad way of going about it, this is not the Australia way. Why didn’t we do it in the other cases of human rights advancement? We didn’t have plebiscites in earlier cases, why is it being trotted out just for the gay population?” Kirby asked.

“As a citizen, not as a judge, not as a lawyer, but just as a citizen I object to this, and I think many people object to it. Not just gays, many straight people, many heterosexual people object to it and feel it is a very wrong things, and its a discriminatory thing.

“It hasn’t been done by the advocates of equality and freedom, those who have proposed the plebiscite have proposed it for the purpose of trying to delay or defeat this measure.”

Kirby told host Emma Alberici that when you got down to “tin tacks” much of the opposition to allowing same sex couples to wed came from a religious view of “God hates homosexuals, that they are an abomination, that they deserve to be treated differently.”

Over the last week the former High Court judge has been a prominent figure in the marriage equality debate making several radio appearances and speaking to many different newspapers. Kirby has lived with his partner Johan van Vloten for over 47 years.

Watch the interview on Lateline’s website.

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Lateline’s Biggest Ever Opinion Poll

Last night the ABC program presented it’s biggest ever opinion poll, over 84,000 people voted in the program’s weekly survey which asked about support for the marriage plebiscite.

On the show’s Facebook page 87% of respondents said they wanted parliament to deal with the issue, while on Twitter a massive 90% of people said they wanted parliament to act. The show said the most common reason for opposition to the plebiscite was it’s $160 million price tag.

Michael Kirby steps into new role at Curtin University

Yesterday it was announced that Michael Kirby would be the patron for Curtin University’s new Centre for Human Rights Education.

Appearing at the University Michael Kirby delivered a lecture on homophobia that focused on the pioneering work of Dr Alfred Kinsey, the attacks of queer journalists in Bangladesh, the Orlando massacre and how research can play an important role in battling homophobia.


Speaking to a packed lecture theatre that included The Greens Lynn MacLaren, board members from Pride WA and Rainbow Rights WA, alongside students, academics and members of the public, Kirby spoke about his admiration for Dr Alfred Kinsey and the different factors that lead to homophobia in Australian society.

Kirby said that great changes had occurred during his lifetime both in the fields of scientific research and the law in relation to societies understanding and acceptance of LGBTI people.

Among the factors leading to a homophobic outlook Kirby listed a conservative disposition – a fear of change, lacking an experience of being part of a minority group, religiosity and a belief that body parts were complimentary.

Following his address Kirby and the audience were introduced to some of the research projects currently being undertaken by the new centre. Among the research presented were projects looking into gay rights in Indonesia, gender identity in fiction writing, health among transgender people and people who identify as non-binary gender and sexuality.

OIP Staff


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