Brandis’s Gotcha! IPA’s Tim Wilson the new voice of freedom?

See also edited version on The Conversation

There is something both utterly predictable and wonderfully larrikin about Attorney General Brandis’ appointment of the Institute for Public Affairs’  self-described “classic liberal” Tim Wilson to the vacant Human Rights Commissioner post at the Australian Human Rights Commission. In a “gotcha” moment reminiscent of an undergrad poker game, Brandis saw and raised former ALP Attorney General Mark Dreyfus’ appointment of Labor intellectual Dr Tim Soutphammasane to the Race Discrimination Commissioner job, an appointment he had excoriated in the pages of The Australian while in Opposition.   So now we have the two young Tims facing off at each other, Wilson having been the main architect of Brandis’ push to chop the Racial Vilification provisions (Section 18C) from the Race Discrimination Act, and Soutphammasane the main defender of the rights under those provisions.  Here we see the “me” generation” confront the “we” generation in a fundamental test of the vision for freedom – as a personal versus a social phenomenon.

In one swift move Brandis has dragged the HRC into a very modern moment, with Wilson the gay advocate of LGBTI aggression against all comers, strong supporter of same-sex marriage (for the best of conservative reasons including no taxation without representation)   and valiant defender of Andrew Bolt, circling the space inhabited by the ranks of anti-hate speech activists. Last week over 150 organisations signed on to an open letter to Brandis pleading to save Section 18C. Every one of them would have been red rags to the IPA bulls.

Tim Wilson is well known to the chattering classes, being a fixture on the ABC (“in the name of balance”?) and an ardent opponent of Climate Change and Global Warming.  He describes himself as “currently completing a Graduate Diploma in Climate Science and Global Warming at Murdoch University.” Wilson was first amongst equals in arguing for the end of the Climate Change Commission (one of the first ten IPA victories with the new Abbott regime), king-hitting that third Tim, Dr Flannery, in the process.

While his education has pushed him towards international development and health issues (he is a strong opponent of health labels and limiting the freedom of people to eat, drink, and get very merry), he is also a favoured son of the Murdoch empire, having been anointed by The Australian as one of ten emerging leaders (2009) and been gifted with an Australian Davos Connection leadership award. His formal position at the IPA has been as Director of the Climate policy Unit, where he has been a strong supporter of Lord Christopher Monckton, a global warming denialist.

He presents then a very interesting mix, someone who argues for policy to reflect political values, and be informed by evidence, rather than determined by evidence. He has no problem in arguing that the values he represents and advocates should be placed at the heart of the Australian human rights agenda. Now what indeed might that mean?

Brandis has pointed him at the International Civil and Political Rights convenant as his first landing field. The ICCPR is a complex document but it does rub right up against the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). In hailing him, Brandis foregrounded Wilson’s role in “thwarting recent attempts to erode freedom of speech, freedom of the press and artistic freedom”.  So here we can see the Andrew Bolt case (Wilson and Bolt  form a mutual admiration society), and the attempt by the ALP to regulate the media that ended in a complete shambles under Senator Stephen Conroy’s ham-fisted intervention, though artistic freedom is a bit more obscure. Perhaps a desire to confront Kevin Rudd and back Malcolm Turnbull over the Bill Henson affair in 2008? At that time the IPA (though not Wilson himself as far as I can tell) came out in strong support for Henson and even Serrano’s Piss Christ.   That should be an interesting conversation among the boys in Cabinet.

So what are the classic human freedom issues that Wilson will need to address? A former HR Commissioner, Sev Ozdowski, himself today a supporter of Andrew Bolt *and advocate of removing Section 18C, brought down an important report on the human rights of children in detention in 2004. It had some short-term impact on focussing the Immigration minister of the day on his duty of care for minors. This may be back on the agenda a decade later with the tales of multiple still-births and neo-natal deaths among detainees starting to emerge. So Wilson could do a revisit there, and include something on the right to life.

Freedom of speech is another good one. He could check out what sort of freedoms should be allowed journalists who fake stories in the The Australian to bolster the political agenda of Senator Brandis.  In this case (9 December 2013) journalist Joe Kelly wrote a story about a delegation of community groups which had met with Brandis to protest his moves to remove 18C: the headline was “Brandis wins approval for changes in RDA”.  The delegation was outraged and the The Australian pulled the piece.

But perhaps his main task will be, as it was at the IPA, to ensure that all the bits of the neo-liberal agenda can be held together, on a paltry $320,000 pa +. Given the difficulty the Government seems to be having in doing so, Mr Wilson may give them some well-needed taxpayer-funded support.


  • * Conversation started 18 November

18/11/2013 02:53

Andrew Jakubowicz

We need to act to stop the licensing of hate speech proposed by the new Australian Government. You can help by signing on to the petition and telling your friends. Thanks, Andrew.

  • 8 December
    08/12/2013 21:21

Sev Ozdowski

I think you are wrong. What happens to A Bolt was not fair. A legislative change is needed. Sev