The 2nd Century BC Roman senator Cato the Elder would end every speech with, ‘Carthago Delenda est.’. Its english translation is, ‘furthermore Carthage must be destroyed’. Rome had defeated Carthage in the two previous Punic Wars, but, both times Carthage quickly rebuilt its strength and continued to pose a threat to Rome. Plutarch wrote that, “Cato the Elder one time famously drop a Libyan fig in the Senate, as he shook out the folds of his toga, and then, as the senators admired its size and beauty, said that the country where it grew was only three days sail from Rome.” Cato the Elder’s campaign eventually lead to Rome destroying Carthage for the last and final time and as myth would have it salting the ground so nothing would grow there ever again.
Liberty loving Australians have been fighting their own war against a tyrannical empire of sorts – the Australian Human Right Commission. First there was the Bolt case, then the QUT students and now Bill Leak. Leading the AHRC in its war against free speech has been Gillian Triggs riding on the back of her war elephant – stomping on our freedom. Of course instead of a literal war elephant Trigg’s weapon of choice is 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission’s dubious complaints process.
Gillian Triggs once indomitable now looks defeated after the Prime Minister has publicly stated that her contract as Human Right Commission President will not be renewed. With Gillian Triggs on her way out and 18c likely to be amended many want to hang up their gladius and pilum and relax. But, my fellow soldiers, now is not the time to return to your field and start a life of farming. The Human Rights Commission must be destroyed (Or at least significantly reformed).
Much of what the Human Rights Commission does is confidential. So therefore we don’t know the details of what goes in most cases. We do know that in the last six years there has been over 800 complaints covered by 18c, of those 3% went to court. We also know that in the QUT case, basic procedural fairness was not provided. We’ve had examples of the students being given 3 days notice before being required to appear before the commission. We also know that in one case, one of the students was contacted via Linkedin by the complainants lawyer and this was the first time that student learned that he had a complaint made against him. Another fact from that case was that some of the students settled their claim by paying $5000 each to the complainant. A credible source has contacted LibertyWorks informing us that these kinds of payments are common. Greater transparency by the Human Rights Commission would either substantiate or disprove that fact.
We also know that Human Rights Commission has gone beyond its role as a fair arbitrator of complaints and instead has actively encouraged complaints, as Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane did this in the Bill Leak case. To put this into perspective this would be like a judge encouraging litigation and then judging the case. Another fact is that free speech is also meant to be one of the human rights protected (or in AHRC double-speak, ‘balanced’) by the commission. In the Leak, Bolt, and QUT case free speech was balanced out of existence.
So with the knowledge we do have, we know that the Australian Human Rights Commission has failed to act impartially, is procedurally incompetent and refuses to defend free speech. It would be a grave mistake for people to see the replacement of Gillian Triggs as being an end in itself. The Human Rights Commission needs to be abolished. It has become a cabal for left-leaning human rights lawyers and special interests groups. Where are all its improvements in the rights of Australians? Where is improved access to employment and services for Aboriginal Australians, or the end of sex discrimination for women or more equality of opportunity for the disabled?
Laws such as 18c don’t work, they don’t change what’s in people’s hearts and minds – only free speech does that. As we saw in the QUT case, these laws make great weapons for vexatious claimants, but don’t really help people in need. How many Aboriginal Australians may now miss out on employment because potential employers fear a QUT type scenario? Does the possibility of being dragged before an anti-discrimination board make one more or less likely to deal with a marginalised group?
Change isn’t going to come from commissioners on 400k salaries. It won’t come from armies of bureaucrats investigating cases of alleged discrimination. It will come from the ground up, from people like Warren Mundine who are doing good work in the real community. It will come from conversations between thousands of normal everyday people about these important issues. Bodies like the Human Rights Commission only make things worse and they should be abolished. Human Rights Commission delenda est.
Justin Campbell is on the executive committee of LibertyWorks.