Human Rights appointment gets mixed reaction
The appointment of Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission this week was declared by Attorney-General George Brandis as an attempt to redress the leftist leanings of the commission under the previous Labor government.
However, critics say Wilson’s former position with conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) means he is not likely to champion anti-discrimination legislation over free speech.
Brandis told media the appointment of Wilson “will help restore balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission which, during the period of the Labor government, has become increasingly narrow and selective in its view of human rights.”
In a statement in which Wilson also thanked his male partner for support, he declared: “I am looking forward to the challenge of reasserting the importance of human rights and advancing the government’s freedom agenda. 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.”
However, a statement issued by the IPA ahead of a function Wilson attended in January this year began: “The Australian Human Rights Commission does not protect human rights and should be abolished.”
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus reflected the view that for Wilson ‘freedoms’ were more important than ‘rights’: “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?" Dreyfus said.
One commenter on the GNN website wrote: “Yikes! Looks like they've put the fox in charge of the hen-house.”
But on the marriage equality front, Wilson has strong support, and has written about the importance of separating religious and civil ideas of marriage.
Australian Marriage Equality’s Rodney Croome put a positive spin on the appointment, stressing Wilson’s support for marriage: “Mr Wilson is a long-time supporter of allowing same-sex couples to marry, and is on record as saying he would marry if he could. We are confident Mr Wilson's emphasis on freedom will embrace the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.”
LGBTIQ commentary site the stirrer wrote: “...Tim is not just openly gay, he’s a staunch supporter of equality, especially equal marriage. He has argued strongly for a greater separation of church and state, by following the French model, where only secular marriages performed by the state are legally recognised, with religious weddings an optional extra with no legal meaning.”
Wilson’s support for marriage is balanced against his desire to protect free speech, which brings him head to head with anti-vilification laws. In early December, defending the government’s aim to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it an offence to “offend, insult, humiliate of intimidate” others on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”, Wilson said members of an ethnic group could use the law to hide behind when attacking gays and lesbians.
“The simple reality is that some individuals from different cultural, ethnic or national backgrounds don’t accept people being same-sex attracted, and make it known,” Wilson wrote. “If section 18C is allowed to stand they can throw hostile verbal bombs at LGBTI Australians, but retreat to the protections of 18C should LGBTI Australians respond.”
A constant critic of the nanny state, Wilson is unlikely to feel empathy with many in the LGBTIQ community who have been victimised and suffered discrimination. His stress on the importance of the individual over group rights could make it difficult for him to appreciate that sometimes groups suffer an unfair disadvantage that the Human Rights Commission is there to redress.