George Brandis appoints IPA's Tim Wilson to Human Rights Commission

The Abbott government has made a member of a right-wing think tank Australia's newest human rights commissioner.

Attorney-General George Brandis on Tuesday announced the appointment of Timothy Wilson, who has resigned from his job as policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs to take up the role.

Senator Brandis said Mr Wilson was ''one of Australia's most prominent public advocates of the rights of the individual'', who had published and broadcast widely on the topics of personal freedom, liberal democratic values and the rule of law.

''He was at the forefront in thwarting recent attempts to erode freedom of speech, freedom of the press and artistic freedom – rights and freedoms Australians have always held precious,'' Senator Brandis said.

''The appointment of Mr Wilson to this important position will help to restore balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission which, during the period of the Labor government, had become increasingly narrow and selective in its view of human rights.''

The Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs had been acting as Human Rights Commissioner since August last year, when Catherine Branson's term expired.

Professor Triggs will remain as the human rights commission's president, overseeing the AHRC's seven commissioners, including Mr Wilson.

He joins Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

In a statement, Mr Wilson said it was ''an incredible honour'' to be offered the role.

''I am looking forward to the challenge of reasserting the importance of human rights and advancing the government’s freedom agenda,'' he said.

''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.

''I will unapologetically approach this important role with the strong belief that human rights are important, consistent and universal and provide the foundations for a free society.

''As Human Rights Commissioner I will put freedom on the offensive: where it belongs."

Mr Wilson thanked his partner, Ryan, for his support.

He said he had resigned his employment at the Institute of Public Affairs and his membership of the Liberal Party.

Labor senator Kim Carr was quick to criticise the announcement, tweeting ''IPA snouts in the trough as Policy Director lands $322K job at a body it recommended be abolished. Jobs for the boys are back.''

In July, Senator Brandis condemned the Rudd government for appointing former ALP member and ex-Bob Carr staffer Tim Soutphommasane as Race Discrimination Commissioner.

Senator Brandis told The Australian Dr Soutphommasane was ''yet another partisan of the Left'' who would ''not be able to win the public's confidence''.

''Appointees must be people who can command the confidence of the entire community that they will discharge their responsibilities in the human rights field in a non-partisan manner,'' Senator Brandis told the newspaper, adding Dr Soutphommasane's appointment was part of a push to drive the debate on human rights issues towards the left.

He told the newspaper that Dr Soutphommasane's appointment reinforced concerns that the Human Rights Commission had ''become an ideologically driven agency whose agenda lies entirely with advancing the causes of the Left''.

Dr Soutphommasane resigned his Labor Party membership on accepting the position.

Earlier this month, Mr Wilson applauded Coalition moves to repeal a provision in racial vilification laws which made it unlawful to ''offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.''

Mr Wilson argued the provision, which was used against News Corporation columnist Andrew Bolt over an article he wrote in which he claimed that fair-skinned aboriginal people sought professional advantage from the colour of their skin.

Mr Wilson said the provision should be repealed because it undermined the human right to free speech and would force individuals to ''walk on egg shells" when discussing sensitive issues.

In January, the Institute of Public Affairs called for the Australian Human Rights Commission to be abolished.

Simon Breheny, the director of the institute's Legal Rights Project said the commission did not defend fundamental rights such as the right to free speech and property.

"Instead, it selectively defends a human rights agenda determined entirely by the left," Mr Breheny said.

"The Commission is 100 per cent taxpayer-funded yet it actively lobbies government for laws which undermine human rights, rather than defending and protecting them,'' Mr Breheny said.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus described Mr Wilson's appointment as "dubious to say the least."

"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?" Mr Dreyfus said.

"By appointing Mr Wilson, Senator Brandis has sent a strong signal about exactly the kind of blatant political agenda he wishes to pursue as Attorney-General."

Australian Greens legal affairs spokeswoman Penny Wright said Senator Brandis had "laid his ideological cards on the table" with Mr Wilson's appointment.

"Although this government is using the language of freedom, they cannot be trusted to look out for all Australians," Senator Wright said.

"The Attorney General has already made it clear he thinks some human rights are more important than others, including that free speech ought to trump anti-discrimination laws.

"There must always be a balance between "freedoms to" and "freedoms from". Mr Wilson's long-held views are extreme and place of some individuals above the community."

During the election campaign, the Coalition promised to create at least one "Freedom Commissioner" at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

On Tuesday, Senator Brandis said next year, he would bring forward reforms to the Commission to allow the creation of this position.

''In the meantime, I have asked Mr Wilson to focus on the protection of the traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, including, in particular, the rights recognised by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,'' Senator Brandis said.

''Mr Wilson's extensive background as a public policy intellectual, his skill as an advocate and his courage as a human rights champion make him superbly equipped to be Australia's new Human Rights Commissioner.''

Mr Wilson's appointment follows Senator Brandis' announcement last week that he had chosen former Howard government minister David Kemp - the son of IPA founder Charles Kemp - to chair the advisory council of Old Parliament House.

Dr Kemp takes the position made vacant by the resignation of ABC journalist and former Labor staffer Barrie Cassidy, who resigned after Senator Brandis raised concerns about his appointment.

Senator Brandis also appointed to the advisory council Heather Henderson, the daughter of Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies, and Sir David Smith, who as official secretary to the then governor-general Sir John Kerr, read the proclamation dismissing Gough Whitlam as prime minister on the steps of Old Parliament House on November 11, 1975.

with Bianca Hall

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop