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Concerns over appointment of new Australian Human Rights Commissioner

TRW
Photo: Newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson via www.humanrights.gov.au

The Abbott government has once again caused concern throughout numerous anti-discrimination and civil rights organisations, by appointing one of the nation’s largest critics of the Humans Rights Commission as the new Human Rights Commissioner.

Tim Wilson – who has now resigned from his former role as Policy Director of conservative think-tank, the Institute of Public Affairs – will now be formally known as the “Freedom Commissioner” in his new role announced on Tuesday.

As Human Rights Commissioner, Mr Wilson will join the team of Commissioners comprising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

Wilson, a man who has openly called for the abolishment of the Human Rights Commission and who was a large opponent to the Occupy Melbourne protests, has vowed to “…reassert the importance of human rights and advancing the government’s freedom agenda…” in his new position.

Despite many blessings from many in the political spectrum, all are not convinced of the move – including Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus – who told the press that Mr. Wilson’s appointment was “dubious to say the least”.

“How can Mr Wilson possibly undertake the role of a Human Rights Commissioner when it’s obvious he has such contempt for the commission itself?” Mr Dreyfus said in a statement to media outlets following the announcement.

“By appointing Mr Wilson, Senator Brandis has sent a strong signal about exactly the kind of blatant political agenda he wishes to pursue as Attorney-General.”

CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Australian Greens legal affairs spokeswoman Penny Wright has also expressed serious doubt in the decision, calling Mr Wilson’s views ‘extreme’ and that Senator Brandis has “laid his ideological cards on the table.”

“The Attorney-General has already made it clear he thinks some human rights are more important than others, including that free speech ought to trump anti-discrimination laws,” she said.

This is referring to a viewpoint held by Wilson that anti-discrimination laws violate the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

In a 2010 statement, Wilson was quoted by saying; “Irrespective of what any individual thinks about how 18C [of the Racial Discrimination Act] has been used in the past, it should be repealed … it fundamentally undermines the human right to free speech.”

“You have a human right of freedom of association, you have a right of speech; I am not sure I am convinced there is a human right against discrimination, as abhorrent as it is.”

The appointment of Wilson as the new Human Rights Commissioner has sent concern through many sectors that a move to repeal the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would be a significant push backwards for human rights in this country, although Mr. Wilson fully supports the notion.

“Repealing the section altogether would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We need strong laws which prevent Holocaust deniers from going about their trade and other people that want to attack people on purely racial grounds and stir up racial violence,” he said.

s 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) states that it is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

Wilson is singularly under-credentialled when it comes to what’s really going on in the free-speech marketplace,” Sydney Morning Herald Columnist Richard Ackland wrote on Friday.

“His utterances since his appointment was announced show a slender grasp of the issues at stake and his outpourings beforehand are a collection of corporate-inspired outrages about government trying to protect the health and welfare of society.”

Shortly after the announcement, Mr. Wilson has come out on 3AW to address his critics and clear up any concern surrounding the situation, stating that “haters will hate.”

“…obviously there’s some people on social media that are choosing to exercise a different view from perhaps the one I’d prefer to hear, but that’s their right and I’ll defend it … Most of the criticism is completely baseless.”

Tim Wilson will commence his new role as Human Rights Commissioner in February, 2014.
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Note from Ethan: To his credit, Wilson has already come out in opposition to the Newman-Government’s anti-Bikie laws, and this is definitely a good thing. We’ll see how he goes next year.

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