In a statement on Monday, Justice Heydon’s lawyers categorically denied any allegation of predatory behaviour or breaches of the law.
He has also “emphatically” denied any allegation of sexual harassment or any offence.
Mr Howard on Tuesday would not comment on the findings of the High Court inquiry into Justice Heydon’s behaviour but said he had no regrets about his decision to appoint him to the bench.
“I stand by all of the High Court appointments made by my government,” Mr Howard told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in a statement.
“Dyson Heydon was an excellent Judge of the High Court of Australia.”
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten, who was grilled for two days before Justice Heydon during the royal commission into trade union corruption in 2014, led calls for him to be stripped of his Australian honours – a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – on Tuesday.
Mr Shorten said the revelations of 77-year-old’s behaviour were “shocking”.
“My first thoughts are with the six women and other lawyers who have encountered this fellow,” Mr Shorten told Today on Channel Nine.
“It takes a great deal of strength to come forward. These are associates. They’re idealistic young staff. What massive power imbalance.”
The High Court inquiry was prompted by two of the judge’s former associates notifying Chief Justice Susan Kiefel in March 2019 that they had been sexually harassed by Mr Heydon.
Mr Shorten said he saluted Chief Justice Kiefel for her handling of the allegations and her public apology to the women on Monday.
“I get all impressions that when it’s been presented she has acted. This is the High Court of Australia. It’s a respected institution. It goes to show no workplace has been immune from this sort of conduct,” he said.
He questioned why Justice Heydon should get to keep his AC and, if the matter went to court or there were further investigations, his taxpayer earnings from the royal commission.
He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004 for his service to the law.
“If you believe the women, this guy was using his job in a very predatory fashion. How does he keep the highest honour in Australia?” he said.
“He was handpicked by the Coalition government to hold what I thought was a witch-hunt into trade unions. I’ve dealt with him. It’s a separate matter.
“I think the witch-hunt was a waste of time. Now it turns out that the witch-hunter in chief has got his own baggage.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the allegations against Justice Heydon were “very disturbing”, “very concerning” and “incredibly serious”.
He said a proper, formal process would likely be followed.
“It’s not appropriate to presuppose those processes… I would expect those processes to do their job,” Mr Morrison said.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who appointed Justice Heydon to head the royal commission in 2014, was approached for comment.
His successor, Malcolm Turnbull, said he was “absolutely shocked” at the findings of the inquiry.
“This is about men abusing their power over women and we must have zero tolerance for that. We have to have respectful workplaces.”
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Jacqueline Maley is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2017 she won the Peter Ruehl Award for Outstanding Columnist at the Kennedy Awards
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.