Fight for freedom like IPA: Brandis to Human Rights Commission


By Greg Barns
February 22. 2013

Expect to see political interference in the work of the Human Rights Commission – the national guardian of our human rights – under an Abbott Government.

Likely Attorney-General Senator George Brandis this week hinted at what might be in store in an interview with The Australian. He said the HRC was not doing its job  ‘unless it spends as much time promoting freedom and libertarian rights generally as it does promoting equality or egalitarian rights’ (Brandis eyes speech, press rights – Oz paywall).

Naturally he cuddled up to mainstream media organisations, declaring that  at ‘a time when, in Australia in the past 18 months, we have been having a very vigorous public discussion of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the HRC has done virtually nothing to promote the rights recognised in article 19 of the ICCPR, that is, freedom of speech and expression, while it spends an enormous amount of time advocating other rights, in particular in the anti-discrimination area,” Brandis was quoted as saying in The Australian on February 20.

These remarks, and the idea that the HRC should be lectured by the Shadow Attorney-General or any other politician, are troubling.

Senator Brandis appears to be suggesting that the HRC, the only protector of human rights in a country which stands isolated among hundreds of democracies in not having a national human rights law, should be looking after those more than capable of looking after themselves at the expense of the marginalised such as asylum seekers and Indigenous Australians.

Brandis’ comments, in short hand,  are that the ‘human rights’ of media players are more important than those of children suffering psychological and physical harm in immigration detention centres.

To give weight to that observation consider that when the HRC Chair Gillian Triggs appeared before a Senate Estimates Committee last week Brandis used it as a platform for long winded criticisms of the HRC doing too much on discrimination and not enough on ‘freedom.’  A ‘freedom commissioner’ would be a good idea Senator Brandis thought.

And he upbraided Professor Triggs for not doing more to promote freedom of speech.  “I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a freedom project. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission,” Brandis said.

It would appear that the HRC, with Senator Brandis as Attorney-General, would shift scarce resources away from exposing the outrage of children in detention centres into producing PR material on freedom of speech.


So what does this mean for the HRC under Tony Abbott?

It suggests that Senator Brandis would re-engineer the HRC by stripping back resources put into discrimination in areas such as age, race and disabilities, and putting more into looking after media companies. And  commentators like the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt. He assumed the mantle of victimhood after the Federal Court last year found inaccuracies and a breach of racial vilification and discrimination laws in a piece he wrote on Indigenous Australians.

If this outcome materialises Australians should be very concerned.  Not only will there be no chance of a human rights law to protect our freedoms and rights, but there will be a hard-ridden HRC which loses real capacity to take up the cudgels on behalf of those in our community who have no voice.

The ALP and the Liberal Party have failed Australians dismally on human rights in the past decade.  For a fleeting moment when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister there was a chance a human rights law would finally emerge, allowing Australia to catch up with the rest of the democratic world.  But it was killed off by conservatives like Sydney Catholic bishop George Pell and the right of centre media.

These same groups will applaud Senator Brandis for taking up the cause of their freedom of speech.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yesterday the Senate Committee examining reforms to anti-discrimination laws published its report. GetUp is campaigning for the government to endorse the report and enact the reforms before the election. I have signed  the petition.

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  1. The prospect o Brandis becoming AG of Oz is terrifying. His propensity for political interference as displayed in the Thomson case is testament to his judgment and legal ability. This is man who places personal ideology over professional conduct. Nationally syndicated opinionists who create stories to further their careers vindicating others hardy have a problem with free speech. The intention to change the law to circumvent the legal ramifications of malicious fabrication for profit removes the responsibility that comes with free speech. Bandis seeks to make free speech a haven for self serving hate by claiming loaded opinion is in fact free speech. People like Bolt and Brandis are hijacking free speech to rebrand propaganda.

  2. This is a very important story and a very dangerous development from Brandis. It needs to be shared as widely as possible. Unfortunately given the landslide Abbott is likely to achieve there are going to have to be lots of battles we will need to fight to protect human rights. This is what happens when you have a Labor government with leaders like Carr who are opposed to entrenching rights when they have every opportunity. If Brandis gets his way Carr should be the first to take responsibility for giving the likes of Brandis and Abbott their chance to inflict their ideological obsessions y on our community.


  3. By the way, in the run up to the 2007 election and as the ALP was scheduled to hold its national conference, the then Shadow Attorney-General, Kelvin Thomson, had a Bill of Rights as a policy item. Strangely enough in March of that year a 7 year old letter emerged – most likely from the vaults of the Victorian Tattersalls empire, which at that time had former Labor treasurer David White as their lobbyist. In it Thomson had given a “reference” to Tony Mokbel. No one knew of course at the time of the reference that Mokbel was a criminal and drug dealer – not even the Victorian police (at least they were’t saying) and certainly not Thomson. Thomson was forced to resign as shadow AG. When the conference came to deal with the Bill of Rights, the platform was modified from implementing such a Bill to “having a national conversation” about having a Bill. We all know how that went. This was clearly done to mollify the likes of Pell and the Christian lobby group headed by Wallace, as well as the far right of the ALP and folk like deBruyn and Carr. Labor should hang its head in shame. It will reap what it sows.

  4. Yes, Brandis will use the anything at his disposal to legitimise and further the forthcoming Propaganda Ministry of Abbott and the Goofballs. Or is it here already?
    Ms Gillard and co may not be the best politicians around but they’re way ahead of the LNP. Pretty sure that stands for Lying. Nasty. Perfidious.
    Take a look. Australia is actually going quite well and has a reasonably good, stable, hardworking federal government. ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it.’
    If you are like me and have been a bit apathetic about making a noise about the looming Abbott disaster, now’s your chance. Before it’s too late.

  5. Joy Cooper says

    It is frightening that the far right want the ability to libel all & sundry to suit their political purposes. What sort of an A-G would that make George Brandis. A very scary one indeed.

    John Howard started all of this nonsense that it was ok to call those, who disagreed with you, by such fanciful putdowns as Chardonnay socialists, latte loving inner city living etc, etc & rubbishing anything they thought was PC crap. This lead to certain people believing they had the right to call anyone they disagreed with all sorts of names. They are still at it.

  6. Reblogged this on The Kettle Press and commented:
    It’s not difficult to see the hidden agenda behind what Brandis proposes; especially when compared to his past comments. The LNP have much to say about discrimination but none of it is for ensuring there is none. Their main focus is always on the freedom of speech area, a worthy area for all in a free democratic society, but it does so with a seeming intent on silencing only those who disagree with them and giving open slather to others, especially those who talk against race, gender, policy etc. For Brandis to use the IPA as an example is demonstrative of how troubling his, and his supporters views are, since the IPA is not only a lobby group with no transparency into who finances it but an extreme right wing group. They, nor Brandis, nor the current LNP are what I would consider upholders of freedom of speech for all. To counter the worst uses of free speech, there are and should be laws, such as that under which Bolt was prosecuted and found guilty. There need to be strong shield laws for journalists, strong protections for whistle blowers, and strong defamation and libel laws. There also needs to be an assurance of full debate in the press and media generally without the often ‘faux’ outrage that accompanies alternate views.
    It is high time that Australia had a full human rights law that included freedom of speech with minimal exceptions other than human rights protections, as mentioned above.