Defending the kingdom | Issue 21

Defending the kingdom | Issue 21

Michael Kirby

For all of us over at the Law School, the Honourable Michael Kirby requires no introduction. He served as a Justice of Australia’s highest court from 1996 until 2009. Though he is well into his 70s, Michael is now chairing the UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry, investigating human rights abuses in North Korea. A couple of Tuesdays ago he gave a devastating account of the current situation. He later met with the LLB Hons students and SALDF.

Michael Kirby has been a personal hero of mine for a long time. Beyond frequenting my textbooks, he is also openly gay and a passionate advocate of animal welfare. And he is a really lovely person with a wicked sense of humour and an acute interest in Marxist philosophy.

While from a judiciary traditionally dominated by straight conservatives (mostly white, middle-class men), he is admired by us filthy left-wingers. You can imagine my excitement when I happened across him in the foyer of Richardson and was introduced to him by our Dean in the lift. Michael then sat next to me in the Law staffroom, as he listened to our Honours students speak about their theses, and then gave his own views on the animal rights movement.

He spoke of reading a book on the meat industry in Australia and New Zealand, then never eating meat again. He is moving towards veganism, though he did ask Mark for tea with milk. Interestingly, Michael’s long-term partner Jan (pronounced “Yahn”) is unapologetically carnivorous. When Jan argues that humans were designed to eat meat and that our brains expanded when we did, Michael responds with “as our brains expanded, so did our sense of morality.”

He wanted to know New Zealand’s laws on live export, and stressed the ethical concerns and risks of allowing cows to be removed to jurisdictions where we can have no say in their treatment and killing. He described the ways of killing animals in these countries as “grossly disrespectful and degrading.” However, SALDF’s Publications Officer, Oska Rego, pointed out the current situation of intensive animal farming in New Zealand – you, dear reader, must have been living under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the “Stop Factory Farming” nationwide protests.

SALDF discussed with Michael New Zealand’s laws on stunning an animal before slaughter; this is a controversial practice because it is inconsistent with Islamic and Jewish beliefs. However, Michael considers that if we must kill animals, ultimately, it is more important to do it as kindly as possible (stunning is unanimously considered kinder to the animal than not) than to honour religious practice.

Michael Kirby is known for his eloquent and moving judgements. True to reputation, he left us with the reminder that “they feel anger, distress, fear, and pain, and the killing is very frightening and painful for them. And we definitely know that larger mammals feel love.” Your Honour, I submit that the human larger mammal does not love other animals enough.
This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2014.
Posted 5:55pm Sunday 31st August 2014 by Elisabeth Larsen.