Australian Human Rights Commission

So much for the “Freedom Commissioner”

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Less than three years after the Coalition government appointed Tim Wilson as the “Freedom Commissioner“, Attorney-General George Brandis has now appointed someone from an organisation which has repeatedly been on the wrong side of debates on freedoms, and public policy more generally.

This is just some of what the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – led by the new Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow – has said in recent years:

Freedom of speech:

PIAC has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act…

‘Freedom of speech is a crucial human right but so too is the right not to be vilified on the basis of your race or ethnicity. Serious race-based insult, offence and humiliation can be deeply wounding and threatens important aspects of Australia’s liberal democracy,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders:

PIAC generally supports the proposal for a statement of values or recognition, which appropriately recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution… PIAC submits that constitutional protection is imperative to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians against racial discrimination.

Freedom of religion:

We oppose, in particular, the granting of blanket exemptions to churches and religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws.

Suing Coles for its “discriminatory” website:

“Ms Mesnage relies on a screen-reader to use the internet. Like many people who are blind or have a vision impairment, she has had ongoing problems using the Coles website to do her shopping since 2008,” PIAC CEO, Edward Santow said.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in October 2014 that after negotiations with Coles failed to bring about a solution, Mesnage brought legal proceedings against the supermarket chain under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

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Abbott discusses 18C on the Bolt Report

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This exchange on the Bolt Report earlier today is worth a read:

ANDREW BOLT:
Back home, you dropped reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act, to allow more free speech, saying this would alienate the Muslim community, was that decision a mistake, don’t we need more debate about race and about Islam.
TONY ABBOTT:
Well we certainly need to have a very vigorous community conversation on these subjects. We need to face up to the facts that Islamist terrorism is a deadly threat to everyone who doesn’t share a particular mindset.
ANDREW BOLT:
And the Racial Discrimination Act, was that a mistake to drop the reforms?
TONY ABBOTT:
And Andrew, what’s been absolutely obvious, for more than a year now, is that this would be terrorist empire is coming after everyone who doesn’t share their particular world view.
ANDREW BOLT:
And the Racial Discrimination Act, was it a mistake to drop that?
TONY ABBOTT:
When it comes to Section 18c, I made the decision, that there were some forms of speech in this country that I don’t want to see at all, I don’t want to see the hate preacher’s at work, I don’t want to see the advocacy of genocide and if as prime minister…
ANDREW BOLT:
Just going back to the Racial Discrimination Act, was that a mistake to drop that reform?
TONY ABBOTT:
No I don’t think it was a mistake, I think the circumstances had changed from three years ago when we made that commitment, to twelve months ago, when we dropped that commitment, because what we’ve seen, in more recent times, is the additional effectiveness and impact of these hate preachers. Now, I’m not going to go around and on the one hand and say that speech should be absolutely free, and frankly that I would like to close down some of these hate preachers because what they are doing, it may not strictly speaking be incitement to violence and terrorism, but it is effectively justifying violence and terrorism and I doubt very much that there should be a place for that in our society at this time.

The full interview can be viewed here.

Abbott’s attempt to link section 18C and hate preachers is misleading. Here’s why.

Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission under section 18C are not made public, but if the dispute resolution process at the commission is unsuccessful, the case goes to court. And no court case has been brought against the hate preachers Abbott is talking about under section 18C.

Abbott is right to be concerned with incitement to violence. But failing to see the vital distinction between threats of violence, incitement to violence and violence itself on the one hand, and the use of language which offends, insults, or humiliates on the other is dangerous. There are several laws covering that first category of conduct (here is a non-exhaustive list of examples from around the country: section 545B of the New South Wales Crimes Act outlaws intimidation or annoyance by violence; section 75 of the Queensland Criminal Code outlaws threatening violence; section 338E of the Western Australian Criminal Code Act Compilation Act outlaws intimidation; section 19 of the South Australian Criminal Law Consolidation Act outlaws unlawful threats; section 192 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code makes illegal the causing of an apprehension of fear; section 35A of the Australian Capital Territory Crimes Act outlaws threats of violence; section 200 of the NT Criminal Code Act outlaws threats), and there ought to be none covering the second category.

This is the heart of the debate about section 18C. The distinction between words which cause violence and words which cause hurt feelings is critical to the question of appropriate legal limits on speech. Abbott is wrong to blur that divide.

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Email: Senator Eric Abetz the 14th senator to support freedom of speech

Parliamentary support for free speech continues to grow.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania) has encouraged his party to throw their support behind amendments to remove the words “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

See the full list of current senators who are on the record in support of changes to section 18C here.

The damage to science from global warming

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On Thursday, an important essay by Matt Ridley was published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, categorically detailing the distortion of scientific debate, and the damage to science itself, brought about by global warming alarmists.

He says:

At the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today? In the end, that’s what this is all about. Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy.

You can find this must-read essay here. Matt Ridley also delivered the 2013 CD Kemp Lecture for the IPA, ‘Freedom and Optimism: Humanity’s Triumph.’ You can watch the video of the lecture here and his Q&A session with Bjørn Lomborg here.

Continue Reading →

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Remembering Menzies’ wise words on religious liberty

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The Victorian government’s relentless push to broaden anti-discrimination laws continue, no matter what stands in the way.

In September, I noted how the Labor party’s view of “equality” was concerned more with special privileges for some, and diminished liberties for others. The most recent effort concerns ruling out a proposed exemption for religious organisations in legislation that would permit same-sex adoptions.

A faith-based adoption organisation is fundamentally concerned with where a child is placed, and the nature of the family involved. The proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws run directly counter to these organisations ability to conscientiously carry out a worthwhile service. This is problematic to say the least.

This week, Attorney-General George Brandis opened a roundtable on freedom of religion, where he quoted Robert Menzies from one of his Forgotten People broadcasts in 1942. The transcript in full is worth reading, but one quote in particular struck me as especially timely:

… religious freedom for which the Scottish Covenanters fought was freedom for all, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile, and that to deny it was to go back to the dark ages of man. Religious persecution was the denial of freedom. Freedom of worship is the victorious enemy of persecution.

And so I revert to the theme of my broadcast on the first freedom – that freedom, if it is to mean anything, must mean freedom for my neighbour as well as for myself. There is nothing defiant or sectional about a demand for genuine freedom of worship, which is freedom for all.

The Victorian government’s view of equality undermines religious freedom, and is fundamentally anti-liberty. Menzies’ wise words are worth remembering.

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“So no one else had to read what I had to”

Check out this bizarre video posted on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Youtube channel:

In case you missed, here’s a screenshot of the best (worst) part, where the offended narrator touts the power of the AHRC to demand website remove content “so no-one else had to read” what they had to:

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Taxpayers have no business funding an organisation touting its ability to restrict our liberties”just like that”. It should be abolished.

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Bob Day confronts “a plague of political correctness”

Ahead of further debate in the Senate tomorrow on Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014, the Family First Senator for South Australia delivered an important speech on free speech this afternoon:

A plague of political correctness seems to be sweeping this country, seeking to push out of the public arena those who the ruling elites don’t agree with. When in opposition, those who are now in government spoke powerfully about the need to halt the growing threats to free speech. However, in office they seem to have gone quiet. Yes, the Human Rights Commission is reviewing rights and responsibilities focussing on religious freedom. That begins next month. However, the central and specific commitment to reform 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was abandoned until Senators Leyonhjelm, Smith, Bernardi and I picked it up again. I look forward to further debate on that tomorrow.

Language is very powerful. The framing of these debates is powerful. Opponents of free speech like to talk about ‘hate speech’. They say that certain things should be censored because they might offend or insult someone. Simply calling words ‘hate speech’ is an affront to free speech.

You can watch Senator Day’s whole speech here:

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Tasmania strengthens religious liberty for schools

Freedom for faith-based schools is set to be strengthened in Tasmania. The Liberal state government has introduced into the Legislative Assembly the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2015 which will provide an exemption for religious schools to select their students based on the prospective enrolees’ religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

It is a shame that these schools need to rely on an exemption such as this, but it represents a significant improvement in Tasmanian law.

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 prohibited faith-based schools from having a faith-based enrolment requirement. In 2012, an amendment provided a slight improvement to the act. It inserted sections 55A and 55B which enabled faith-based schools to give preference to certain enrollees, but only in the event that enrolees exceeded the available places for enrolment. This was an onerous process, that required the school in question to ask for an exemption from the state Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, who may or may not grant it.

The latest amendment repeals both section 55A and 55B, and inserts section 51A, which provides a general discretion for faith-based schools to admit students based on religious belief.

This is a positive step for religious liberty. Likewise, it is refreshing to see the the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, place this fundamental freedom at the forefront of the human rights conversation. It is a welcome change after the Australian Human Rights Commission’s many years of negligence in the area.

The Tasmanian state government should be applauded for these changes.

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If the AHRC won’t be abolished, it should be restructured

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Legal Affairs Editor at The Australian, Chris Merritt, has reported on the IPA’s Simon Breheny’s proposal to restore some balance to the Australian Human Rights Commission. While Simon would rather see the commission abolished altogether, he believed:

all anti-discrimination law to be administered by a single commissioner… [which would] be balanced by the appointment of several new commissioners who would be responsible for protecting rights and freedoms.

Rights such as freedom of speech, association and worship, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Yes, the ICCPR has an article that talks about discrimination, but it is just one article among many,” he said.

“Another article is article 19, which talks about freedom of speech, another is article 22 which talks about freedom of association, article 18 talks about freedom of religion and conscience, article 21 talks about freedom of assembly.

“The Human Rights Commission is currently over-represented in the area of anti-discrimination law and massively under-represented in the area of human rights and freedoms.”

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The failings of the Human Rights Commission

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A 2013 profile on Professor Gillian Triggs’ was republished yesterday by The Sydney Morning Herald. The writer is clearly supportive, but highlighted criticisms of the president of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, including those from the IPA’s Simon Breheny. Regarding the former government’s dangerous Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012:

Triggs … offered qualified support for the bill’s “offence” and “insult” provision, seeing it as a kind of speed bump that prevents an escalation into outright vilification. But her stance … enraged conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, who [found] it “extraordinary that [the Commission] is cheering on restrictions while it should be fighting for liberty”.

Shadow Attorney General Senator George Brandis is only slightly less damning, claiming the Commission has a left-wing ideological bias “in choosing some rights over others”, while Simon Breheny, from the Institute of Public Affairs, says Triggs has quite simply “failed”.

The trouble with the Human Rights Commission,” Breheny says, “is that it picks and chooses particular victim groups, from racial minorities to the aged. But everyone is entitled to human rights; it shouldn’t matter if you come from a particular group.”

 

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