tip off

Why Tim Wilson is a good (if ironic) pick for the HRC

There’s no harm in Tim Wilson being appointed to the Human Rights Commission. And he may even prove valuable in the role, Crikey’s Canberra editor argues.

For many, it was a Vandals-at-the-gates-of-Rome moment: Attorney-General George Brandis had just announced that Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs would be appointed to the Human Rights Commission as a “freedom commissioner”, joining the current seven commissioners who cover areas such as sex, ageing, disability and race discrimination.

Cue outrage from the Left. The Human Rights Commission, the progressive Holy of Holies, would be defiled by an unbeliever, a heathen, who must accordingly be smitten hip-and-thigh. In particular, that the IPA had argued for the abolition of the HRC was held as some sort of profound hypocrisy on Wilson’s part. How can he join it if he thinks it should be destroyed?!

The charge of hypocrisy is a furphy. Given the government is not going to abolish the HRC (I partly agreed with the IPA and suggested some of its functions should be abolished at the start of the year), if anything its opponents have a greater reason to want to shape the direction of the body.

Further, the rage of the Left is wholly out of proportion to the impact of Coalition appointments on key institutions. The Howard government stacked the ABC board with all the hard-Right ideologues it could find and made no impression except to remove their voices from the anti-ABC media chorus while they stumbled through exhausting board papers on digital transmission and ABC Enterprises revenue.

I’m not sure I agree with Wilson on many things, and I share the view that the IPA’s position on a number of issues very conveniently matches the needs of its sponsors, which is why they were strangely quiet on Gina Rinehart’s attempts to use the courts to pursue journalists who’d written unflattering or revelatory pieces on her. Nonetheless, there’s no doubting the IPA has an instinctive distaste for anything that limits civil liberties or free speech, and that’s not something we’re exactly over-endowed with in Australia. If there’s going to be a body like the HRC, it should focus on free speech as well as other rights.

But the commission’s record in free speech is a poor one, and at best it has failed to strongly advocate on the issue. There’s a strong view on the Left that free speech is a lesser kind of basic right because it’s perceived as being a right particularly exploited by the powerful against the less powerful and the economically or socially marginalised. And that is often true. But free speech is attacked as much as exploited by government, the wealthy and corporations (cf Rinehart). You don’t have to look too far to see rights of free speech and a free press under attack in Australia recently from outfits like News Corporation and security agencies.

Moreover, if you’ve kept an eye on the history of the data retention issue, you’ll be aware that it’s almost certain the Attorney-General’s Department is going to try to push it again. Having Wilson in an official position to take up cudgels against a proposal ┬áthe IPA diligently fought alongside many of us across the political spectrum can only be a good thing. Ironically, it’s exactly this sort of taxpayer-funded advocacy by the HRC that so many of us object to — while it’s there it should be deployed against real threats like mass surveillance.

More to the point, the key thing is that the HRC continues to undertake its core function of providing victims of discrimination with a forum for pursuing complaints. That’s its most valuable and important role and that won’t change, with or without Wilson.

  • 1
    max steinman
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    His and your neo-liberal ideological alignment shouldn’t give you the confidence that Wilson isn’t an enormous hypocrite. This man does not get the benefit of the doubt after acting as a propagandist for the far right and IPA on the ABC for the last year.

    Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons”

  • 2
    Michael Jones
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    These people support Free Speech the same way they support Economic Growth and Family Values.

  • 3
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    LOL Really Bernard, you should have saved this piece for #trollthursday

  • 4
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    This will all depend on who he wants to shut up and deprive of their freedom to do what they want?

  • 5
    Angelo Caon
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I confess that I know little about Tim Wilson and I’m willing to listen to an argument in his favour. The article is titled “Why Tim Wilson is a good (if ironic) pick for the HRC” so I read it hoping to learn something about Tim Wilson and why his appointment is a good one. I haven’t learned anything new about Tim Wilson from reading it and am no further enlightened as to why his appointment makes any sense. It still just seems a job for the boys from a vindictive government.

  • 6
    Dan Lee
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Well his background may explain to some degree the way he was treated by ABC News24 Anchorwoman - Virginia Rioli this morning. In the interview she repeatedly referred to him as “the guy that used to come in and review the newspapers”. Clearly an attempt to discredit him and his credentials for the job. Rioli is blatant when she doesn’t like someone or their agenda.

  • 7
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    At least the ABC didnt get Sophie.

  • 8
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Rioli. Isn’t HE a footballer?

  • 9
    David Duncan
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Great, at best a one issue pony. Beyond that, based on previous form, views that seem to spring forth from an empathy vacuum and sense of self-and-like-self-entitlement barely fathomable even in adolescent males.

  • 10
    Rubio Diego
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, I can’t accept your support of Tim Wilson’s
    appointment as a Human Rights Commissioner. Why do you think that it’s a furphy, that Wilson is a hypocrite for accepting the appointment of a position, he openly wanted to destroy? He could have refused the position if he was true to his beliefs. This is an inside job with Wilson’s true role being to avenge the “indignation” perpetrated on Andrew Bolt.

  • 11
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    It would be interesting to see some evidence for the assertion that “the Left” consider the right to free speech a “lesser” human right. For that matter, it would be interesting to know just who constitutes this “Left”.

    Wilson’s brief is “traditional” rights. You can hardly blame those who haven’t been the beneficiaries of “traditional” rights for expressing some alarm.

  • 12
    Ben Gray
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I must have read a differnt article from the rest of the people who’ve commented! I thought Bernard made a case that this guy is likely to stand up for peoples rights on free speech, data retention and other “Big Government” threats.

    Comments like those earlier and the general outrage on social media only serve to give credibility to arguments that qango’s like this only reflect a certain viewpoint and could be done away with no ill effects.

  • 13
    blake andrew
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m confused about the need for a focus on free speech and particularly this “right” of free speech. We have no such right. Our constitution gives us a right to a jury trial, a right to just compensation and a right to non-discrimination based on what state we live in. We also have the right to freedom of religion. To the best of my knowledge no legislation gives a right to free speech either. We have an implied right to political satire thanks to the High Court but I somehow doubt Tim Wilson is going to be spending his time defending cartoonists.

    I’m personally against a right to free speech - in my experience it’s used by the hard left to bully and intimidate and by the hard right to justify their homophobia, racism and sexism.

    My point, however, is why is the government appointing someone to be a proponent for something that doesn’t exist? Or should I just get used to the rabbit hole?

  • 14
    max steinman
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to do away with the IPA, I would however like to see other qango’s more fairly recognized on our national broadcaster if we’re going to give them airtime at all, as the IPA seems to be featured more than all others combined. People deserve to be outraged at the over representation of right wing ideologues, and such outrage doesn’t actually reflect a position that advocates censorship, just fairness.

  • 15
    Grumpy Old Sod
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Although I regard Wilson as a highly loquacious sock puppet I tend to agree with your analysis. He just maybe be the one who will go into bat for more personal freedoms and just maybe try limit the spooks with their anti freedom desire for more and more data about our day to day movements and contacts.

    However, let’s review this in a year’s time as I still have my doubts as he is working for a government that has demonstrated stunning incompetency to date and may find himself trapped ultimately by their stupidities and thus be hoist by their petard.

    And as @max steinman has quoted, his credentials are somewhat suspect when it comes to actions that prod his beliefs. This could be a case of putting the fox amongst the chickens.

  • 16
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Dear Bernard, What on earth have you been smoking?Regardless of the arguments that you advance in favour of the Wilson appointment, in the end it’s an outrage at the very least to appoint someone to lead an organisation when that someone has in the not distant past recommended that organisation’s elimination on purely ideological grounds. Too much more of this nonsense and I’m cancelling my subscription.

  • 17
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Wilson’s also quite keen on ‘property rights’, because as we all know, they’re so under threat in our capitalist dystopia.

    For Tim, any carbon tax or ETS is really an attack on the rights of those who own coal, and that problem with what it creates (carbon dioxide) is everyone else’s problem.

    Watch out for Tim’s crusade to protect coal’s rights. It will be pure and rigorous conservative orthodoxy, of the type that says tobacco is a legal product, so ‘hands off’.

    In fact Tim predicted the Australian government would lose its case against big tobacco over plain packaging…infringement of their ‘rights’ said Tim.

    Tim was wrong.

    He will be again, just watch.

  • 18
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m with most of the comments above. More elitist bulls+it, Bernard. I’m fed up with your superior attitude to those who disagree with you. What do you suppose is the new Commissioner’s attitude to asylum seekers? If you have watched ABC TV’s The Drum as many times as I have, with that bast*ard Wilson expounding his extreme right-wing cr*p about this issue and many other so-called left-wing causes, anyone with half a brain would want to throw a brick at the TV screen, and hope it hit him somehow!

    As I understand it, the fact that Tim Wilson is openly gay should lead one to expect he would support the human rights of the gay community. Haven’t heard a word from him about the rights of members in this cohort to marriage equality.

    Hypocrite personified! He will do NOTHING to advance the cause of human rights in this country, and one suspects he has been appointed to follow through with the IPA agenda of abolishing the whole human rights framework. Just what Brandis the Terrible has in mind.

    As for free speech being your main concern, Bernard. I think there are many more pressing issues than that in the human rights arena. Agree with those above who say that so-called freedom of speech is a perk of the wealthy, powerful and influential. The poor and the great unwashed get thrown in prison for exercising their human rights where free speech is concerned. If you don’t believe that, then you should get out more, Bernard!

  • 19
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Bernard Keane surely can’t be serious. Tim Wilson has stated that, as a Human Rights Commissioner, he intends to privilege freedom over concerns about discrimination. In other words, the free speech of the Andrew Bolts of this world will be privileged over the harms done to Indigenous people and others as a result of his speech. I’m always puzzled as to why absolute free speech is so sacred to white middle-class men, and especially men on the left. Why does their own freedom of speech take precedence over the harms done to others by racial vilification, pornography, etc.? Surely what all fair-minded people are striving for is Fair Speech: free speech that is fair, and available to all. Betty McLellan

  • 20
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Every cloud has a silver lining - at least this will drastically reduce his presence on ABC discussion panels. Although I predict he’ll still periodically emerge onto the Q&A set.

    Be grateful Abbott didn’t appoint Wilson as Governor-General - or Mirabella. Gad, I feel woozy…

  • 21
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    LOL Zut! Did you see the cheeky suggestion running around the other day about David Flint? As in Governor General… with Alan Jones as his butler.

    Feeling even woozier now?

  • 22
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    @chrispy, Flint and Jones at Yarralumla? Please, someone pitch it to Casey Bennetto, I can scarcely wait for the musical.

  • 23
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Dinner for One” - with both fighting to play the old lady?

  • 24
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Naughty klewso, but very funny.

  • 25
    Tyler T
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    can’t wait for his spirited attacks on the disgusting anti-bikie laws up in Qld, though for my own safety i won’t be holding my breath. Another liberal shill for the wealthy/powerful desperately fighting for their right to grade the ‘authenticity’ of australia’s indigenous population.

  • 26
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Sheesh Bernard, I’m starting to worry about you. The other day you gave Abbott the best politician of the Year award, and now this. No words can justify this appointment. It is another outrageous jobs for the boys act of bastardry by this sorry excuse for a government. Please go take a holiday.

  • 27
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    The last few weeks Crikey has been pestering me to resubscribe, but I’m sorry… that’s it. Bernard, you’ve been writing utter rubbish for the last few days. What as I paying for? An insipid, deliberately contrary version of our national state of affairs..? This government is a catastrophe… wake up. This isn’t a game.

    Thank christ for The Guardian, and the various independent blogs. Sorry, Crikey. I like you, but what’s currently happening is far too serious for me to even consider resubscribing. I hope you guys wake up from your lazy press gallery stupor.

  • 28
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Wednesday, 18 December 2013 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Fighting to play the old lady, or fiddle the young lad?
    Though Tim Wilson’s appointment does remind me of the Howard government’s selections for the ABC board. These seemed to follow three basic criteria. 1: No experience in public broadcasting. 2: Published opinions condemning the ABC as some sort of anarchist collective. 3: Authorship of a series of rants, that show the future board member to be somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan.

  • 29
    Bugger Bum
    Posted Thursday, 19 December 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    It’s a lot simpler that what you write about, Mr Keane. If a Republican can be Governor General, and whilst holding that position advocate for abolishment of the Crown and the formation of a Republic, Wilson can head up the body he wants abolished.

  • 30
    Posted Thursday, 19 December 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    BK - still pumping out that CV for the OZ, hasn’t it dawned on you yet that, even at your worst, you still can’t get under the snake belly bar?
    being gay does not make someone a believer in freedom, rights or magic ponies but it does demonstrate significant, if not treatable, cognitive dissonance. Or hypocrisy or anomie.

  • 31
    Ben heslop
    Posted Friday, 20 December 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    It’ll be nice to not have to hear Tim any more, and his personal intellectual fraudulism may provide some comedic moments in the course of his new job.

    However like so many ‘public figures’ he’s in it for the lucre and so wont raise a peep to bring the spotlight on to his little niche.

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