Before resigning as Human Rights Commissioner to seek Liberal Party preselection, Tim Wilson met with vastly more Liberal Party members than members of any other party, freedom of information documents reveal.

As part of Wilson’s controversial appointment as the self-proclaimed “freedom” commissioner on the Australian Human Rights Commission (on a $400,000 taxpayer-funded salary) in 2014, Wilson resigned his membership from the Liberal Party after two decades of involvement. This didn’t mean he removed himself from the political process entirely. In a Senate estimates hearing in May last year, Wilson said he was attempting to be impartial but “actively sought to engage political parties” on the issue of human rights. He said he had offered to speak to people on all sides of politics on the issue of human rights:

“Each one of them has been given the same opportunity and the same capacity to host a forum or some sort of meeting to discuss these issues … It just depends on how that political party has chosen to engage.”

But according to a list of all of Wilson’s meetings with political parties during his time as commissioner, obtained by Crikey under freedom of information law, Liberals represented 44 out of the 61 meetings recorded. Wilson met with Labor members five times, Greens members six times, independents five times, and members from multiple parties once.

Many of Wilson’s initial meetings with Liberal MPs were about repealing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, but the majority of his meetings were on gay rights. He met with many Liberal MPs to discuss same-sex marriage and also met with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to discuss LGBTI asylum seeker issues.

Wilson held a total of 11 meetings with Liberal MPs the day before and the day of the six-hour Coalition party room meeting on same-sex marriage in August last year. Wilson’s interlocutors included gay marriage opponents Cory Bernardi, Philip Ruddock and Scott Morrison. At that party room, just a month before Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott, the Coalition agreed to maintain a binding vote against marriage equality up to the election, but decided to embark on a $160 million plebiscite after the election, with a free vote granted to MPs after that.

In his last meeting with MPs as Human Rights Commissioner, Wilson held a $154 breakfast paid for by the Human Rights Commission with Education Minister Simon Birmingham, assistant innovation minister Wyatt Roy, and new North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman on the plebiscite.

Wilson resigned as Human Rights Commissioner in February to seek preselection for the seat of Goldstein in Victoria, following the announcement former trade minister Andrew Robb would retire from politics. At the time nominations closed, Wilson was running against four other candidates, including former foreign minister Alexander Downer’s daughter Georgina.

This week the Australian Law Reform Commission released its report into “traditional freedoms”, notionally the freedoms for which Wilson was appointed to the Human Rights Commission. Wilson is unable to speak publicly until the preselection process is finalised in the coming weeks.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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