Bernard Keane has an article on Crikey today, supporting the IPA’s call for the abolition of the Australian Human Rights Commission:
It’s the Commission’s advocacy role that is the real problem. In exercising its tribunal function in handling complaints, the Commission is bound by statute: Parliament has identified the rights it wants the Commission to protect. In its advocacy role, the Commission has a much freer hand.
This necessarily means a degree of selectivity. The Commission’s establishing act makes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the core of the human rights it intended to protect and promote. That document lists dozens of rights, some of which potentially directly contradict others: the right to freedom of expression clearly has the potential to breach both the right against arbitrary interference with privacy, and the Covenant’s demand that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”.
The most obvious outcome of this advocacy freedom is that the Commission bluntly states on its website that “securing an Australian charter of rights” is part of its mission. This is a blatantly anti-democratic position: both major parties have long and repeatedly made it clear they do not support a charter of rights. Charter advocates may not like it, but the clear view of the overwhelming majority of elected officials is against a charter of rights. Yet the Commission is spending taxpayers’ money advocating it.
Moreover, as the IPA notes, the Commission does indeed seem to regard free speech as a lesser priority than other rights. The Commission has little to say in defence of free speech — and when it does it’s not pretty. In 2010 when the Commission declared that it had jurisdiction over the entire internet, telling the owner of a website hosted in the United States, responsible for some racist, juvenile material about Australian Aboriginal people, that theRacial Discrimination Act actually applied offshore.
And the Commission supported the government’s exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, endorsing the extension of the current, outrageous ban on speech that “offends” or “insults” to other forms of discrimination, although since then Commission president Gillian Triggs seems to have changed her mind.
But by formally endorsing the bill, the Commission entirely abrogated its role as a human rights watchdog on government legislation.
Our press release calling for the Australian Human Rights Commission to be abolished can be found here.