Gillian Triggs leaves the AHRC

News Corpse farewelled Gillian Triggs from the Australian Human Rights Commission with the usual spitting hatred with which they have treated her throughout her tenure. It’s a mark of honour, a sort of arch of arcing spittle, through which she has walked pretty much unscathed. The right’s campaign against Triggs and the AHRC in general may have done some contingent damage, but in terms of the general political state of play, it has gone nowhere.

In her wake, the organisation is stronger than ever, more legitimised, confirmed as a permanent part of Australian government. How has that occurred? Thank the prioritising of tactics over principle, and Tim Wilson, the Henry Bucks shirt mannequin who became an MP. Wilson was elevated to the role of “Freedom Commissioner” to, well, er — as with much of what Tim does, he appears to have passed through without trace. He got himself photographed eating a Big Mac after McDonald’s got protest laws changed to get a store built in outer-east Melbourne. He defended the government’s practice of preventing controversial speakers from being allowed to enter the country, a strange idea of free speech. Above all, he gained preselection for the blue-ribbon seat of Goldstein (named after a socialist feminist of the early 1900s heh heh). Above all, he was part of the comically failed attempt to remove the 18C/D/E provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, a campaign that anchored the laws more securely in Australian social fabric than before.

[As Triggs faces QUT 18C grilling, stats show improvement]

In the absence of substantial achievements on the ferrdom! front, all Wilson’s presence on the AHRC did was to legitimise a left-liberal idea of what rights are. For classical liberals, rights should be sparingly enumerated and minimally defined in the most general laws possible, constitutionally grounded. Rights should restrain the state from enumerating new laws, especially those focused on particular sections of the community. Classical liberals are meant to regard rights as arising from the essential character of human existence (whether or not God is brought into it). The social liberal idea of rights is that rights are conferred by the state in a utilitarian fashion, and may enforce positive freedom (i.e. the guarantee of enabling conditions) rather than merely negative freedoms (i.e. restraining the state from interfering in your life). Section 18 C/D/E is a prime example of that, the positive freedom of having racist abuse minimised trumping the negative freedom right of free speech.

Wilson’s ineffectual tenure on the AHRC — a social liberal, positive freedom rights factory, which discovers new dimensions of discrimination and oppression at a dizzying pace — has served only to strengthen the legitimacy of this idea of rights in Australian society, and by undermining any classical liberal expression of principle in, I dunno, refusing a gumment job telling other people what to do, further undermined the credibility of classical liberalism and the “ferrdom agenda” in Australia life. But then, the ferrdom agenda and limited gumment don’t seem to be high on the list anymore. Half the IPA appear to be ethno-nationalist obsessives, whining about values, and the other half appear to have taken tenured jobs and post-docs in publicly funded universities. If the right are scratching their heads wondering why the entire apparatus of social rights — which, as a materialist leftist, this correspondent is less than thrilled about — has expanded its legitimacy and remit in the last four years, it might want to look at the cluelessness, fecklessness and self-interest of those ostensibly waging the war against it.

Australia: a country so statist that even those vowing to change it get on the government payroll to do so.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.