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Sex slur scandal deepens for Howard

Prime minister John Howard says he hopes Justice Kirby's reputation is unaffected by this incident  

By CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australian Prime Minister John Howard has become further embroiled in unseemly sex slurs against a senior judge following claims his personal chauffeur was the source of a forged document central to the affair.

A senior government figure, Senator Bill Heffernan, on Tuesday apologized to Justice Michael Kirby for a speech he made in parliament last week alleging Kirby had used a government car and driver to trawl for under-age male prostitutes.

The allegations were based on a driver's log sheet which was subsequently proved to have been forged, raising suspicions of a concerted campaign to damage the reputation of the openly homosexual Kirby.

The source of the false document, a Commonwealth car driver, was not revealed by Heffernan on Tuesday.

But in parliament Wednesday, the leader of the main opposition Labor Party Simon Crean said the source of the bogus documents was Howard's driver Wayne Patterson.

Howard, who is currently in London, has sought to distance himself from the affair, saying he had little prior knowledge of Heffernan's actions.

When it became clear the driver's log was false, Howard asked for his close political confidante Heffernan to resign as cabinet secretary. Asia
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Both Howard and Heffernan have resisted calls, however, that the senator resign his seat in parliament.

The Labor Party has been pursuing the question of when the Howard government first found out the driver's log was a forgery, and have suggested that information had been known for more than two years.

Speaking from London Wednesday , Howard said he believed he had acted correctly in the Kirby affair, saying his own behavior in the circumstances was "completely appropriate".

Howard has been criticized for reading into the parliamentary record a letter from Heffernan to him that elaborated on the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kirby.


Both Howard, and Australian Attorney-General Daryl Williams, have come under fire for not vigorously defending Kirby, and the independence of the High Court, against attacks of this nature.

Questions have also been raised of why Howard and Williams did not do more to substantiate the validity of the driver's document before the allegations were aired in Parliament.

Howard and Williams have rejected suggestions that they had some responsibility for assessing or investigating the Kirby allegations, saying the matter was entirely one for the New South Wales police to resolve.

Serious mistake

Sen. Bill Heffernan: made allegations under parliamentary privilege
Sen. Bill Heffernan: made allegations under parliamentary privilege  

The issue of how the bogus document was leaked to a Sunday newspaper is also unresolved.

Because the Kirby allegations were made in parliament they came under the statutes of parliamentary privilege meaning both Heffernan and the media were protected from defamation actions.

Howard said that while he agreed Heffernan had made a serious mistake, it was not his style to abandon his friends.

He said earlier that he hoped Kirby's reputation as a lawyer would be "completely unaffected by this incident".

"It ought to be, I hope it is, and I would expect him to continue as a member of the High Court bench until he reaches retirement age," Howard said.

The Kirby affair is the latest in a long line of scandals which have dogged the Howard government since it gained a third term in office in November last year.


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