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The best thing Tim Wilson did for human rights in Australia was to resign

“In just two years, Tim Wilson has singlehandedly reshaped the human rights debate in Australia. He has restored balance to a debate which had previously been dominated by the priorities and prejudices of the Left.”

Wow. Our Tim of the IPA was really a super hero, all along? And we only ever saw him as a Liberal Party stooge? No application. No ad. No interview. Just a tap on the shoulder from AG George Brandis. And a word in his little pink ear.

“We’ve a top job for you Tim: “Freedom Commissioner”. Hang about a bit. Make the odd speech to the press club about Magna Carta. Do a Tony Abbott with Indigenous peoples. Prance around. Get your photo taken a lot. Get your top off. Go on The Drum. Play your cards right and you could be our next President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Who knows what the future may hold? Gillian Triggs can’t go on for ever with her Leftist agenda, holding the government to account over human rights abuses, child imprisonment and off-shore detention. My secretary, Chris Moraitis may just pop around. Offer her a job in another government department. Tell her she’s lost my confidence.”

The above dialogue is fiction and conjecture, of course, just like Brandis’ rave reference for his protégé. Tess Lawrence writes well about how he really got his job. Unlike the rest of us, Tim was lucky to have been one of a favoured few as the political playing field was tilted back towards the wealthy at the expense of the deserving; at the expense of everyone.

The wider realities of the Abbott/Turnbull government’s sustained attack on the vulnerable; its programme of disempowerment and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged; it eagerness to heed the needs of the privileged are a continuing story. Scott Morrison used a Press Club talk this week to bash welfare recipients for being a burden to those out earning money and a drain on productivity.

How productive was Wilson? What did he ever do for anyone but himself? Brandis is skimpy on evidence of Tim’s super powers after what reads like a hazy, lazy rehash of his appointment release. Let’s face it there is no evidence. Just a damning, resounding silence.

Lawrence makes a good case that the best thing Tim’s done for human rights in Australia, is to resign. The Commission will be a happier workplace without him.

Sadly, however, the damage is not easily repaired. Wilson’s appointment came at the cost of a disability discrimination commissioner. Graeme Innes’ term expired in July 2014 and was not, given the cost of Wilson’s appointment, renewed.

Graeme Innes said at the time, given 45 per cent of people with disability lived in poverty, and rates of employment for disabled Australians were 30 per cent lower than those for their counterparts with disability, ”I could mount an argument that people with disabilities are a threatened species.”

The fate of the discrimination commissioner is paralleled by other cuts to the vulnerable in our society. Under the Abbott/Turnbull government, Community Legal Centres suffered funding cuts of $50 million, helping silence the voices of the disempowered; excluding the poor and disadvantaged from decision-making.

You might expect a Human Rights Commission to act as an advocate for those who can’t look out for themselves. Not Tim.

He’s certainly a quiet worker. You don’t hear a peep out of Tim on human rights abuses. He does speak, however, at Liberal functions; cheques payable to Liberal Party of Australia. Brandis defended him in the senate.

In WA, dissent is being outlawed in a bill which seems certain to be enacted into law. Three UN Special Rapporteurs – David Kaye, on freedom of expression; Maina Kiai, on freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Michel Forst, on human rights defenders – slam the whole bill.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Prevention of lawful activity) Bill 2015 creates vague new offences of “physically preventing a lawful activity” and “possessing a thing for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity”. Both offences carry serious penalties of prison of up to 1 year and a fine of up to $12,000. In certain circumstances, the penalty for preventing a lawful activity can rise to 2 years and $24,000.

Did Wilson, our human rights Martin Luther, also add his protest? Get real. Freedom Boy, as Richard Ackland calls Tim, has a much more urgent and personal agenda. He sees a future for himself within the Liberal Party, an invisible political bias which Brandis, doubtless, easily overlooked when the AG appointed him Freedom Commissioner. Bias would damage the commission’s reputation for independence.

Wilson is going into politics. It won’t be a long journey. The safe Liberal seat of Goldstein has wealth and privilege written all over its tickets on itself. Just the ticket for Tim, he reckons. Yet if our left-busting, debate reshaping, Freedom Boy Tim is to win preselection he needs all the help he can get. And then some.

The blue-ribbon electorate of Goldstein includes the well-heeled suburbs of Brighton, Bentleigh, Elsternwick and Sandringham, suburbs not noted primarily for their human rights activism despite being named after feminist and suffragist Vida Goldstein.

One of the biggest Liberal branches in the state, Goldstein does expect a high-profile and influential member. Retiring member, Free Trade maven Andrew Robb raves about Georgina Downer, whom he notes, is a woman. Tim, he says, carefully, would “also” be an excellent candidate.

Tim, himself, sees his chances differently. A young man with a taste for lavish expenditure, he has never lacked in either ambition or over-self-promotion. Besides, he needs a job. He’s quit his $300,000 plus job as Human Rights Commissioner after only two years in the five year appointment. Perhaps he thinks he’s a shoo-in. The way he sees it, he would be employed and the people of Goldstein would have him. It looks like a win-win. Or does it?

Georgina Downer, a former Minter Ellison lawyer and diplomat, unsurprisingly sees the Goldstein preselection as hers to win while the electorate expects a cabinet minister at least or a well-connected candidate. Switching her attention from the Menzies electorate, where Kevin Andrews has elected not to retire, Georgina is a bit of a late entry and is described by some as an outsider and lightweight. Still she has been lucky in the past.

Ten years ago, when her father Alexander Downer was foreign Minister, Georgina, then a 25 year old with a third class Melbourne Uni honours degree beat 300 other candidates to win the prestigious A$100,000 PA Chevening postgraduate scholarship to study in Britain, despite failing to attain the ‘upper second class degree’ stipulated on the award’s application form.

No-one of course is suggesting that Georgina was not selected fairly, or that the process was anything less than rigorous. It does, however, strangely recall how Tim got his job as Freedom Boy, a curious story in itself yet one which deserves to be better known so clearly does it illustrate the Abbott/Turnbull government’s contempt for human rights. Wilson began by bagging the outfit he was later to be appointed to.

Wilson criticised the commission, and called for it to be abolished. A month later, he alleged it was “missing in action” for not lobbying louder for freedom of speech, in the wake of a court decision against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and his claims about several high-profile “light skinned” indigenous people. Who could be more perfectly suited to get a call offering him a job as Freedom Commissioner?

Wilson’s story illustrates a government prepared to turn away from those in most need of help. It is happy to fund its ideology of entitlement and to protect privilege at the expense of its fundamental obligation to provide for every Australian regardless of wealth, status or background.

The Wilson story also reflects a political elite which rules with callous disregard for the disadvantaged. It heralds a new era of cruelty and injustice where government can splash funds on a so-called “freedom commissioner” to serve its own narrow political ends, while it denies others the necessities of life. Wilson’s silence on WA’s new anti-demonstration laws suggests it, too, would silence those who speak truth to power.

Tim Wilson’s tilt at politics and his career so far, shows a government redefining and debasing human rights to condone its subsidy of the greedy and the powerful at the expense of the poor, the needy and the weak.

In the end such a cynical redefinition will cause it to forfeit popular respect and trust as well as any claims to legitimacy as a government of the people by the people.

 

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10 comments

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  1. Jaquix

    George Brandis has no credibility whatsoever after this pronouncement on Tim Wilson. None. The Liberal party wasted all this money on him, at the expense of the NDIS, to start with. The posts of Freedom Commissioner and Windfarm Commissioner show the lengths they will go to, to shore up their own agenda. Meanehile their priorities lie in “savings” which we know are really “cuts” to essential health and education services. How could anyone think they were the “better managers” on account of their DNA, is beyond me.

  2. diannaart

    To no one’s surprise the ‘Freedom’ Commissioner did not even seek to achieve equal marriage.

    Of course that’s what the Orwellian moniker means; ‘freedom’ to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and quite possibly to whomever he wants.

    That’s libertarianism for you.

  3. DisablednDesperate

    Losing the Disability Commisioner for this man was a slap in the face for all of us on disability. We now have someone who almost every day is inciting friction between those who work and those who are disabled.
    It hurts badly every time I hear that they only care about those “paying” for welfare. We are living in a heartless country now.

  4. totaram

    “It hurts badly every time I hear that they only care about those “paying” for welfare. We are living in a heartless country now.”

    You don’t have to believe what you hear. That is the deliberate neo-liberal lie, which starts by treating the govt. like a household and then claims that they will only provide services “they can afford” . As a sovereign issuer of its free-floating currency, the govt. can actually buy anything that is available for sale in its currency, and that includes services for the disabled. The only restriction is if these services are simply not available, for some reason. It could be that there aren’t enough people to deliver these services. With half a million people unemployed at any time, that should be easy to fix, but this govt. don’t want to. The people running the country at the moment are indeed heartless. The sad part is that a lot of voters are actually bamboozled into thinking that “there isn’t enough money” for these services. Otherwise these rogues would never be in power.

  5. wayne johnson

    this government just dosnt get it it has done nothing in the three years except cut everything

  6. wayne johnson

    the liberal party arent for the poor at all the lnp hate old people they hate young people it was the government that tried to destroy our hrc commissioner simply because it didntwant us the taxpayer to find out what was happening in nerau

  7. Ian Sprocket Muncher Parfrey

    Christ, not another Downer? And the Liebrals lob mud at the other parties and expect to be taken seriously? We should be thankful that Tim “The Chin” Wilson decided to chuck in the position at the Human Commission as he was as useless a twat as could ever be assigned a cosy little earner courtesy of Curious George. Obviously a gent not averse to using his position of power, it seems Curious George like to offer ‘helping hands’ to IPA monkeys as well as getting Abbott staffers off DD charges.

    Nice friend if you could get one even if corrupt. I’m sure we could look the other way.

  8. Matters Not

    Still she has been lucky in the past … despite failing to attain the ‘upper second class degree’ stipulated on the award’s application form

    Indeed. Her academic ‘attainments’, (or lack thereof), should have ruled her out of any appointment in the ‘diplomatic service’ in general. But she had the right ‘breeding’. Rudd knew. But did nothing.

    He was like that.

  9. disabledndesperate

    Totaram I so wish more people knew that truth. I learnt. Others can too. If a pollie had the guts to tell the truth the country could change.

  10. kerri

    Georgina Downer is indeed a lucky girl! To misquote Jane Caro, a member of the lucky sperm club!

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