Fears for Race Discrimination Act under Redneck rights commissioner

Australia's controversial new Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson started his job today amid calls for him to leave the Race Discrimination Act alone.

Smartypants and redneck, Tim Wilson, may re-activate the 'white Australia policy' in his new role as Human Rights Commissioner

Photo: Wayne Taylor Sydney Morning Herald

Gary Cox SBS News 18 February 2014

Mr Wilson advocates changes to the legislation to allow for greater freedom of speech.

But community groups are worried that would turn back the clocks to the White Australia policy.

"We have very limited protections of individual rights and freedoms so it comes back to a cultural approach where people understand what their rights are and feel they can go about defending them," incoming Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson told SBS.

There are six other commissioners and they won't always see eye to eye.

Mr Wilson wants to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to end "unnecessary restrictions on free speech".

"I'm approaching it as a human rights advocate from a free speech position rather than justifications to reduce the amount of free speech people enjoy... also looking at when rights come into conflict," he said.
Section 18C won notoriety when columnist Andrew Bolt was found in breach for a column about "fair-skinned" Indigenous Australians.

It deals with whether a case offends, insults, humiliates and intimidates someone because of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.

On Saturday, Mr Wilson told Sky News the sorts of changes he would like to see implemented.

"Free speech should really only be shut down to the extent that it comes into conflict with other human rights basically when you come into situations of violence," he said.

Community groups said Australia needs the act, because the country is not the sophisticated multicultural society it purports to be.

"If we were at that point we clearly wouldn't get the level of racially motivated complaints that we do see from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, members of other ethnic groups, who are vilified on the basis of their race. So while we aspire to that we can't say we are there yet," Congress of Australia's First Peoples' Kirstie Parker said.

Chinese community leader Anthony Pang said he believes any changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will negatively affect Australia's most vulnerable.

"I deal with vulnerable people and people whose linguistic skills are not as good as some lawyer or the average man in the street and I believe they should be protected," he said.

The Korean community is concerned any changes would be a return to the bad old days of the White Australia policy.

"When Koreans came here in the 1970s many Australians spat on them and since then many things have changed, now Australia is a multicultural society, a harmonious and peaceful country, so the Act is working. Why change it?" Luke Song told SBS.

Mr Wilson was appointed in December by Attorney-General George Brandis to "restore balance" to the commission.

Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs welcomed Mr Wilson's arrival cautiously.

"Our central position here at the HRC, and agreed to by six commissioners I might add, is that 18c has worked well," Professor Gillian Triggs said.

The issue looks set to be debated in parliament before the end of the year. Professor Triggs says she looks forward to a robust public debate on the issue.

"If that means we have an exposure of the arguments in the public arena, we relish it and look forward to it."