Former human rights commissioner Sev Ozdowski has criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission in The Australian today for going missing in action on human rights:
Australia’s first Human Rights Commission was created by the Fraser government, with its initial function arising from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The five pieces of legislation focusing on egalitarian rights were added later. Despite its origins, our commission is missing in action when important civil liberties are under threat. Consider the 2011 prosecution of Andrew Bolt under the Racial Discrimination Act over an article he wrote about access to grants reserved for Aboriginal Australians. Given the significance of the case, one would assume that the Human Rights Commission would be interested in how the court interpreted the legislation, and would wish to assist with specialist advice. The case certainly met the commission’s own amicus curiae guidelines, yet they made no representations to the court.
The Human Rights Commission was also quiet when former attorney-general Nicola Roxon wanted to outlaw, as discrimination, any actions or words which have made others feel offended, and proposed shifting the burden of proof in discrimination cases from the accuser to the accused. It required former Whitlam adviser and former NSW chief justice James Spigelman to remind the commission in his Human Rights Day oration that “the freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech”, and that “there is no right not to be offended”.