Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby urged Victoria University graduates to "be joiners" to help tackle social injustice as he was conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University yesterday.
Throughout his distinguished career – which included service as the inaugural chair of the Australian Law Reform Commission and membership on many international bodies as a human rights advocate – Mr Kirby said he has always stood out as "a joiner, a stirrer, and a shaker."
"It was not the objective, but it was definitely the consequence, and I would not be standing here today if I had not been a joiner. I was always willing to go the extra mile."
Mr Kirby said Australian society still suffered from injustice that should not remain uncured for decades as it did when he first graduated as a lawyer in 1962. He said at that time, few if any of his graduating class saw any injustice in the treatment of Indigenous people, Asian immigrants, women, gays or prisoners.
"Today we must be more critical, questioning and insightful. We must look into the essence of things and measure ourselves against the standards of universal human rights enshrined in international law."
Mr Kirby told the graduates that they should also "give voice to gratitude" and thank the families, partners, and teachers who supported them to get to where they are now.
"As I have become older, I have learned to be more forthright in thanking those who gave me chances and nurtured me with good instruction, wise discipline and provocative ideas. Go and do likewise."
Since his retirement, Mr Kirby has continued to be active in international human rights and last year received the Gruber Prize for Justice in recognition of his work. He has also been a strong supporter of the Victoria Law School and wrote the foundation article for the law school's new journal Dictum last month.