Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby told the Star Observer he had big hopes for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth this month.

The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, on which he sits, is due to report back on the state of HIV in Commonwealth countries.

“That report makes very strong recommendations within the Commonwealth about responding more effectively to HIV and AIDS,” Kirby said.

“The levels of HIV infection in Commonwealth countries are double the levels in non-Commonwealth countries. It is therefore a specific Commonwealth problem.

“In 41 of the 54 Commonwealth countries, the law is still in place that makes homosexual activity illegal and criminal.

“That has to change if there is to be an effective response to HIV and AIDS and I hope our prime minister can make that point as respectfully but forcefully as possible to friends in other Commonwealth countries.”

Kirby was speaking to the Star Observer ahead of the release of his new book A Private Life, published by Allen & Unwin.

The book offers intimate portraits of the man behind the public persona. It covers his childhood, the Kinsey Report’s effect on him, his infatuation with James Dean, his first experiences with Sydney’s gay scene, his life with his partner of 42 years, and the dialogues with Christian groups and lawyers in countries with homophobic laws that his public profile has afforded him.

“This is an opportunity for me to speak directly to the reader and to tell a slightly different story to the formal biographies,” Kirby said. “It tells the story of the inner person.”

Long-term partner Johan van Vloten comes through as a strong voice in the book, although Kirby said van Vloten remains a very private person.

I have to respect that,” he said. “He often won’t come to events I attend — he finds legal events a bit boring.

“He is a very strong personality, and I have to respect his wishes and views.”

Van Vloten’s life began very differently from Kirby’s. His family was displaced during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. He then had a career in the merchant marines, before emigrating to Australia in 1963.

“When people ask if Johan is a lawyer and I say ‘No, he’s a sailor,’ that always seems to shock them,” Kirby said.

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