First Australians, law and the High Court

Friday, 11 June 2010
Justice The Hon. Michael Kirby AC, CMG

My remarks today, like Caesar's Gaul, will be divided into three parts. The first part will be a tribute to Bill Wentworth, because I don't think you should come along to give a named lecture and just ignore the person in whose name the lecture is given. You'd be amazed at how many people do that, but the whole point of the lecture is for us to remember, and take inspiration from, the life of Bill Wentworth and similar spirits.

Second, I propose to say a few words about the time that I spent in the High Court of Australia when issues of Aboriginal law came before the Court on a number of occasions, just across the paddock here in the great building of the High Court where I was proud to serve as a Judge in the final national Court of this nation.

And thirdly, I propose to say a few words on the issues of the Northern Territory intervention and the case, very little reported in the media, that came before the High Court just as I was about to leave office in February 2009. The case was Wurridjal v The Commonwealth, indeed the very last case in which I delivered a decision as a Justice of the High Court at 2.15pm on the last day of my sitting. It's something that hasn't really been noticed much in the media or in the community generally. But it will, I hope, be of interest and of use to be reminded of it. There's not much point in having these great decisions, of constitutional moment decided in the High Court, if no one knows about them. The media of our country are altogether too concerned about infotainment, and not sufficiently concerned about matters of justice, of principle, of constitutionality and of law. And I propose in my remarks to try in this lecture to correct that default.