In Senate estimates this week Shadow Attorney General Senator George Brandis grilled the Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs over the failure of the AHRC to stand up for free speech.
As we have argued before (for example here, here and here), the AHRC is funded by taxpayers to defend human rights – but in reality it does so only selectively. The AHRC defends the rights it likes, like anti-discrimination, but has nothing to say about other human rights like property rights, and when it says anything at all about freedom of speech it is to argue how it should be limited.
Here’s two key parts of the transcript:
Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?
Senator BRANDIS: No! There is nothing in the act or the covenant that talks about balance. You are meant to be the agency that advocates for freedom, just as you are meant to be the agency that advocates for egalitarian rights as well. Let the political process and public discussion find where the balance is, but it seems to me, with respect, that you go into this discussion with one hand willingly tied behind your back, not as the advocates of freedom but as the discussants of freedom.
You are not meant to be the discussants. You are meant to be the advocates. That is your statutory charter.
Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.