“In just two years, Tim Wilson has single-handedly 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.” George Brandis
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, (as Richard Ackland dubs him) 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.
Wilson 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.