OUTGOING Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson does not believe an official gender and sexuality commissioner is needed at the federal level.
Wilson stated his belief shortly after he announced he would resign from his role as commissioner on February 19 to seek preselection for the Liberal Party in the Melbourne-based seat of Goldstein ahead of this year’s Federal Election.
“I am concerned that if I had (vied for preselection) in that role it would have raised questions of impartiality and making sure the office isn’t being used for partisan political objectives.”
While Wilson — an out gay man — said it wasn’t necessary to have a dedicated gender and sexuality commissioner, he conceded there was still a long way to go to achieve LGBTI equality.
“One of the great tragedies for the LGBTI community is that so much of the work that needs to be done is about basic equalities before the law and equal treatment and fair treatment by governments,” he said.
“There’s no need for a specific commissioner for that. What there’s a need for is for the Human Rights Commissioner… to really embrace and engage in that kind of work.”
Last year Wilson released the Resilient Individuals report into sexual orientations, gender identity and intersex rights, which called for law reforms to eliminate state-sanctioned discrimination.
He also helped launch the inaugural Australian LGBTI University Guide, which was co-produced by Out for Australia, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Star Observer.
While he was not able to comment on the preselection process or how he would fare as an MP, Wilson reflected on his two-year stint as commissioner.
“The challenge of being Human Rights Commissioner is it’s a role of perpetual frustration,” he said.
“You can raise issues, you can work with people to affect change you can try and do everything it is you can do. But in the end, every conversation you start can be only finished by the Federal Parliament.
“That is the realisation I have come to and there is a need to finish some of those conversations.”
Wilson, 35, said some of his proudest moments in the role include the “need to work through some of the challenges around marriage”, advocating for free speech and driving economic development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the use of their lands.
“That’s something I’m particularly proud of. Two years ago that wasn’t even an issue being discussed, today it’s a governmental priority for something that needs to be addressed,” he said.
The role was not without its hardships for Wilson.
“Something you can never know until you have fully experienced it is the consequence of holding genuine national office,” he said.
“Genuine national office means you constantly have to traverse this continent while trying to deliver on work programs, do media, maintain a personal home and family life and until you’ve done that… you don’t realise the strain and pressure these sorts of offices can put on people’s lives.”
He said he enjoyed “the warmth and generosity people have treated me in my role — ignoring Twitter” and conceded his job was not about his popularity but about doing good.
“There’s lots of things you do behind the scenes you can’t talk about,” he said.
“You can’t talk about them because you can’t talk about people’s lives, their private and personal stories. You have to take a bit of satisfaction knowing you’ve made the world a better place, you improved somebody’s life and you stood up for something that’s right and the need for a limelight and drawing attention isn’t part of that.”
Wilson also shared advice he would pass on to his successor: “Go in with an open mind but focus what it is your passionate about because you can’t go into work every day and not enjoy it.”
When Attorney-General George Brandis appointed Wilson to the Human Rights Commissioner role in late 2013, it provoked outcry from sections of the LGBTI and broader communities who criticised the decision.
Opponents of the move cited the Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) calls for the Human Rights Commission to be abolished. While the calls were not personally attributed to Wilson, they came while he was serving as the IPA’s Policy Director.