It used to be that reasonable people could disagree about issues, and agree to disagree. Unfortunately it looks like those days are long gone. There are so few reasonable people left to disagree with. Consider the case of Jenna Price – senior lecturer at UTS in the Journalism School. She is a columnist for the Canberra Times. This week she suggested that former IPA Senior Fellow and current Freedom Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission be sacked.
To be entirely fair there are very good reasons why Tim Wilson should be sacked. Having highly intelligent policy entrepreneurs working for the government rather than in the private sector is a massive misallocation of scarce societal resources. Tim Wilson could and should be deploying his vast talent to making the world a better place, rather than doing … well, whatever it is he does for the government. Then there is the argument for simply shutting down the entire organisation – after all it isn’t clear what any of them do.
Those sorts of arguments were not what Ms Price had in mind. Rather it was a hysterical tirade against Tim Wilson because he had answered his phone on a Sunday but then declined to be drawn into a political dispute.
Now, I rang Wilson on Sunday because I wanted to ask exactly what involvement he had in The Forgotten Children report. I rang him because I thought he helped write it. In the report, it says: “The Inquiry was led by Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Commission, with assistance from Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner and Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner.”
Seems rather strange that Ms Price didn’t call Professor Triggs – who did write the report if she wanted any clarification on the report itself. So having phoned Tim Wilson on the pretext of his having written the report – he didn’t – she then proceeded to ask him about the on-going political stoush between Gillian Triggs and the federal government.
Unsurprisingly Tim didn’t want to comment on that matter, neither on the record nor off the record.
It is entirely inappropriate for Tim Wilson to comment on that matter. In the Australian Human Rights Commission hierarchy he would become the acting President should Gillian Triggs stand down from her position. Further it is not his place to comment on why the government may be displeased with Professor Triggs’ performance – Ms Price should have phoned the Attorney-General, or even Professor Triggs herself for commentary on that issue.
As a public servant Tim Wilson could only comment on the report – I would be surprised if he approved of children being in detention and I hope he said so. But for his trouble, Jenna Price launched on an ad hominem attack:
… the person who should be removed from the job is Tim Wilson … Mr Wilson’s appointment to the Australian Human Rights Commission last year was really just a way for the Attorney-General, George Bigot (sic), (and it’s on the record that he and Wilson are friends) to have someone from the right deep inside the Commission, with the ability to chat to other neoconjobbers. … Tim Wilson, who could show some leadership among conservatives by standing up for what’s right, rather than what’s Right, is strangely silent.
Hardly strangely quiet at all. It’s called “professionalism”, it’s called “avoiding conflict of interest”, it’s called “staying out of political conflict when you’re a public servant”.