Kirby: I honour you

Former High Court Judge, the Hon Michael Kirby tells Tri-State conference delegates he is confident Australian aged care advocates will meet reform challenges

Above: Hon Michael Kirby addresses the 20th Annual Tri-State Conference yesterday

By Yasmin Noone

Australia’s longest serving judge, the Hon Michael Kirby, honoured the ‘wisdom, knowledge and compassion’ of delegates at the 20th Annual Tri-State Conference in Albury yesterday, expressing confidence that they would meet the future challenges and have the ‘right answers’.

He also urged aged care advocates to speak with one strong voice when campaigning for sustainable sector reform; but to be mindful to continue to acknowledge individual voices and negotiate differences. 

Mr Kirby’s address to the 350-plus audience was an apt opening to the conference themed, ‘Our People, Our Future’. 

In his speech, the human rights advocate drew on his own family’s personal views and experience of aged care, his opinion about the need for reform and his interpretation of Australia’s social justice track record. 

Mr Kirby said that he asked his elderly father what he should say about aged care in his presentation. 

“[My father] is sharp as a tack and always extremely critical of his children, which is very good,” Mr Kirby said.

“I said to him, ‘What will I say?’ He said, ‘Tell them to stick together. And tell them that I am only up to page 377 of the 507 pages of the Productivity Commission’s (PC) report

“…Stick together but don’t forget that we live in a democracy and we all have different perspectives…Our words shouldn’t be stifled — we should all have our say.”

On the basis of his father’s advice, Mr Kirby then instructed the audience to, “Not only review the PC and Intergenerational Report…but hear every voice that exists in aged care and ensure that every voice is given a response”.

He stressed the importance of a rights-based approach to aged care and the process of democracy in Australia.

Mr Kirby compared current discrimination against older sexual minorities to previous challenges in Australia’s past, where immigrants, communists and Aborigines had all been the subject of political and social prejudice.

While we have moved on from those days, he said, more ground has to be made to advance the rights of older, sexual minorities.

“In my day, gay people were the subject of criminal laws,” Mr Kirby said. “This was the failure of the country when we were growing up…That has to change. It’s like being prejudiced against someone because they are left-handed.

“Well that’s truly something we all have to get over and if we don’t then we are going to cause a great pain to that cohort of our society.”

Mr Kirby called for aged care needs to be addressed in a variety of settings and in a manner that responds to individual needs.

“We are going to face an issue in the future of our country – you don’t need a 500 page times two report to tell you that. 

“We are growing older and getting more healthy and living longer…we are going to be the voters and more older people are going to be citizens who will be looking for various forms of aged care. They are changing the aged care sector.” 

In 1946, he said, only eight per cent of the Australian population lived alone while last year the statistic was up to 27 per cent. “More than a quarter of our population is living alone and that is a very different pattern to 1946.”

Therefore, he said, the government must examine the aged care alternative funding options in order to address the changing composition of the older population. Such options include either increasing taxes, increasing the working age to 70 years, increasing immigration or decreasing government benefits.

“We need a mix of responses and some particularly urgent answers to the challenges [and recommendations] of the Intergenerational Report and the PC report.

“We just need good leadership from our political leaders.

“They’ll need your help and will need to draw on the wisdom and knowledge and compassion of the people in this audience. 

“I pay my respects to you and… I honour you.

“You’ve got big challenges ahead but you’ll be on top of it and you’ll get to the right answers.”

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG speaks at the Tri-State Conference in Albury, 27/02/11

Tags: aged-care, gay, homosexuality, hon-michael-kirby, intergenerational-report, productivity-commission, social-justice, tri-state-conference,

2 thoughts on “Kirby: I honour you

  1. You seem like a compassionate man, Mr Kirby. Why then do you remain a committed Anglican when this Church has failed to compensate its child abuse victims, and in fact has the reputation of being the most Scrooge-like when it comes to owning up to their fiduciary duty?

  2. “[My father] is sharp as a tack and always extremely critical of his children, which is very good,” Mr Kirby said.

    Which possibly goes some way to explain why you turned out the way you did Michael!

    It seems strange that a committed Christian or should I say ‘committed’, made a career as a High Court Judge when Christians are exhorted not to judge …. lest they be judged etc.

    I read a forward by Michael Kirby in a book entitled ‘Sin City’ where he states that he often felt unhappy with some of the legal decisions he had to make but could not go against the laws of the Commonwealth. He had a crisis of conscience as it were and no doubt damned many souls to a living hell in prison, instead of taking a stand and perhaps setting a precedent in legal process.

    If this is an example of one of Australia’s ‘finest’ then please Stop the world because I really do want to get off!!

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