CLASSICAL libertarian advocate and openly-gay man Tim Wilson has been appointed as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner by Attorney-General George Brandis.
Wilson has for the past seven years been the policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs. He takes on the position that was previously held by Catherine Branson QC until mid last year. The Human Rights Commission’s president, Gillian Triggs, had been acting Human Rights Commissioner until this week.
For the past few months, Wilson has criticised the commission, including calling for the organisation this January to be abolished.
A month later, Wilson alleged it was “missing in action” for not lobbying louder for freedom of speech, in the wake of a court decision against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and his claims about several high-profile “light skinned” indigenous people.
Wilson has also supported moves by the Federal Government to amend or repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it an offence to act in a manner that ”is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” on racial or ethnic grounds.
A week ago, he criticised the commission for holding its annual awards night at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Wilson will now be paid over $320,000 in his new role.
Announcing the decision, Brandis said Wilson’s background served him well to be the “Freedom Commissioner”, and instead of concentrating on “narrow and selective” human rights issues such as non-discrimination he would instead focus on freedom of speech issues.
“The appointment of Mr Wilson to this important position will help to restore balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission which, during the period of the Labor government, had become increasingly narrow and selective in its view of human right,” he said.
“During the election campaign, I promised to create at least one “Freedom Commissioner” at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Next year, I intend to bring forward reforms to the commission. In the meantime, I have asked Mr Wilson to focus on the protection of the traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, including, in particular, the rights recognised by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Community Action Against Homophobia co-convener Karl Hand responded to the announcement by saying it was reminiscent of Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently appointing himself to the Ministry of Women.
“Tim Wilson’s appointment as Human Rights Commissioner is a feat of Orwellian doublespeak,” Hand said.
“His past qualifications consist largely in having been the president of a student association and having worked for a rightwing think tank. Already, he is indicating a swing towards neo-liberal ideology, calling racial and sexual bullying ‘freedom of speech’, and perhaps more absurdly, calling Australia’s media monopoly ‘freedom of the media’.
“We need a Human Rights Commission which would actually protect the vulnerable in our society rather than supporting the reactionary interests of [Rupert] Murdoch and his radio shock-jocks.”
Meanwhile, Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich said that although he disagreed with Wilson on a number of key issues, he was hopeful he would continue to lead on the issue of marriage equality.
“The Sydney electorate is deeply concerned about the protection and advancement of human rights and protecting vulnerable groups, including the LGBTI community, from discrimination,” Greenwich said.
“As an openly gay man himself, Mr Wilson has proven himself to be accessible and understanding of the aspirations of the LGBTI community, including marriage equality.
“We do disagree in some key areas of the law including some anti-discrimination protections, but I look forward to working with Mr Wilson in his new role and putting forward the case for further anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTI community.”
Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said he hoped a focus on freedom also included the freedom of LGBTI to marry their partners regardless of sex or gender.
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians will look to Mr Wilson to help ensure we can live our lives free from unfair treatment,” he said.
Accepting the position, Wilson suggested that there had been a weakening in recent years in regards to some fundamental human rights.
“As Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner I will seek to reverse the incremental dilution of human rights and reassert their essential status in our community,” Wilson said.
“I will unapologetically approach this important role with the strong belief that human rights are important, consistent and universal and provide the foundations for a free society.
“As Human Rights Commissioner I will put freedom on the offensive: where it belongs.”
Wilson has now resigned from the Institute of Public Affairs and from the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party to concentrate on his new role.