Of falsified records and the big picture
by Marcus Browning In backing Senator Bill Heffernan's scurrilous attack on High Court judge Michael Kirby, Prime Minister John Howard revealed himself to be party to an orchestrated attack on the judicial system with the aim of subverting its powers to become a tool of the Government's political agenda. That Howard, along with Attorney-General Daryl Williams, backed Heffernan is an indication of the extent the Government is willing to go in order to achieve its goals. In an article published in The Age newspaper, Dr Jenny Hocking, head of Monash University's Centre for Australian Studies, called Heffernan's attack "sinister and cowardly" because it masks a more profound agenda which Dr Hocking says he is running with Howard. "Let there be no misapprehension about the Prime Minister's parallel interest in this judicial fracas, different from Heffernan's, yet intersecting with it", said Dr Hocking. "While Heffernan's `obsession with homosexuality' has been widely remarked upon, this reflects only Heffernan's specific interest in Kirby. Howard's interest, however, is in the big picture, in reshaping the mechanism for the dismissal of judges and hence recasting the key constitutional means of effecting the separation of powers. "Kirby's particular case is merely the means through which this more profound shift is now being engineered." There is also some dissent in Liberal Party ranks over Heffernan's long- time homophobic obsession, an obsession now clearly tied to a conscious political campaign of character assassination. The heat was also turned on Williams for the part he has played, with former chief justice of the High Court Sir Anthony Mason questioning his inaction. "To my knowledge, Attorney-General Williams is the first attorney-general to assert that an attorney-general could not discharge that responsibility [to defend the courts] simply because he was a politician. "In effect, he's saying that political interests have to take predominance over defending the courts. "He could have made a statement emphasising that the judge was entitled to a presumption of innocence; he could have referred to the judge's very distinguished record, of his public reputation. He might also have referred to the curious way in which the allegations were presented to the Senate." Heffernan's "evidence" alleging that Kirby was in Darlinghurst soliciting prostitutes, has been shot to pieces. The Commonwealth car job sheet for the date in question in 1998 was supplied by a former driver of Howard's. It has two former MPs, Ian Sinclair and John Dawkins, and current MP Laurie Brereton, recorded as being in Sydney when they were all in fact out of town, as was Justice Kirby. Someone falsified the document. Greens Senator Bob Brown amended a Parliamentary censure of Heffernan — who as part of damage control was sacked as parliamentary secretary — to also include a censure of Howard "for not preventing Senator Heffernan's reckless and abusive actions in the Senate". For his part, Justice Kirby's response to an enforced apology from Heffernan said in part: "My family and I have suffered a wrong. But it is insignificant in comparison to the wrong done to Parliament, the High Court and the people. "I hope that my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to. Out of t his sorry episode, Australians should emerge with a heightened respect for the dignity of all minorities, and a determination to be more careful in the future to uphold our national institutions — the Parliament and the judiciary."