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Australian senator apologizes for sex slur

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

By CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Pressure is mounting on Australian Prime Minister John Howard to reveal how much he knew about the false sex-crime accusations made against a High Court judge in parliament last week.

Howard, who is en-route to London for a meeting on the Commonwealth's response to the recent Zimbabwe elections, on Monday night asked the perpetrator of the allegations, Senator Bill Heffernan, to apologize and resign as Cabinet secretary.

Heffernan, a close political adviser to Howard, last Tuesday accused the openly homosexual Kirby of using a government car to trawl for sex with underage male prostitutes.

The document on which the accusation was based was on Monday shown to have been fabricated, prompting Howard's call for Heffernan to step down from his parliamentary executive post.

Heffernan on Tuesday apologized to Kirby in the parliament's upper house, the Senate, for the allegations but did not tender his resignation from parliament.

"I want to extend to Michael Kirby my sincere apology and deep regret for the allegations I made in this place," he said.

"I withdraw them unreservedly. I also apologize to the Senate and the whole Parliament." Asia
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In response, main opposition Labor party leader Simon Crean moved a motion in the House of Representatives that Senator Heffernan be censured for "persistent denigration of institutions fundamental to Australian democracy, including the public service, the defense forces, the parliament and the courts".

Crean is now calling for Heffernan to resign from parliament completely and for Howard to explain how much he knew about the forged document before Heffernan made his claims in parliament.

"The prime minister has to make an apology because this attack on Justice Kirby was done with the knowledge of the prime minister," Crean told media earlier Monday.

Correct process

"He then went on and fueled the issue in the House of Representatives based on information Heffernan had written to the prime minister about but which he hadn't even alleged in the Senate," Crean said.

"Howard has to explain his involvement in this sordid affair. John Howard can no longer step back and say he wasn't involved," Crean said.

Howard has defended his tabling in parliament of a letter from Heffernan to him detailing further Kirby allegations as the correct process for him to follow.

He said 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.


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

"He has been a very active and very distinguished jurist. I would hope that this incident does not in any way affect the performance of his duties and I would point out that at no stage have I expressed any view to the effect that he is not fit to continue as a member of the High Court bench."

Kirby has denied the allegations and accused Heffernan of homophobia.

New South Wales Police Minister Michael Costa told the state legislature last week that Heffernan had already made the claims to police in 1998.

They were investigated and dismissed without charges being laid.

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.


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