Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Commissioner for Corporate Rights

Written by

It's hardly surprising that the appointment of IPA policy director, Tim Wilson, as Australia’s new Human Rights Commissioner met with such opprobrium from Greens and Labor supporters. It's even less surprising that George Brandis and the Abbott Government couldn't give a pair of foetid dingo's kidneys about complaints from Labor and Greens supporters.

What is interesting, although possibly still not surprising, is what the appointment says about the Abbott Government's utter disdain for the very idea of Human Rights.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s website describes their origin and purpose:

The Commission was established in 1986 by an act of the federal Parliament. We are an independent statutory organisation and report to the federal Parliament through the Attorney-General.

    • Our statutory responsibilities include:
    • education and public awareness
    • discrimination and human rights complaints
    • human rights compliance
    • policy and legislative development.

we do this through:

    • resolving complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under federal laws
    • holding public inquiries into human rights issues of national importance
    • developing human rights education programs and resources for schools, workplaces and the community
    • providing independent legal advice to assist courts in cases that involve human rights principles
    • providing advice and submissions to parliaments and governments to develop laws, policies and programs
    • undertaking and coordinating research into human rights and discrimination issues.

Senator Brandis said Wilson was ''one of Australia's most prominent public advocates of the rights of the individual, who had published and broadcast widely on the topics of personal freedom, liberal democratic values and the rule of law”.

According to Tim Wilson's website, he published 15 articles in 2013. Three of them were about the evils of the Carbon Tax; eight were protesting the regulation of Food Warning Labels, Prices, Media, Supermarkets, Local Government, Trade Deals and Marriage, two articles moaned about the Nanny State and one was about the bad manners of LGTBIQ activists.

His website records 22 articles from 2012: 10 of them about the carbon tax and the rest were ideological, political or economic arguments against various activities of the Gillard government.

There's maybe a loose argument to be made that this is advocating for the rights of individuals, but there's a much stronger argument that it's a history of advocating for corporate freedoms and an ideological narrative. Either way, there's very little in the way of Human Rights advocacy.

Brandis made the reason for this appointment quite clear:

... I have asked Mr Wilson to focus on the protection of the traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, including, in particular, the rights recognised by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 19 of the ICCPR states:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

It's a single mention of the concept of free speech in a document that is based on “the inherent dignity of the human person” and that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

The rest of the document deals with individuals rights to life free of threat, torture, unlawful detention, slavery and injustice.

The obvious connection in Australia is the detention of asylum seekers. The Australian Human Rights Commission has investigated mandatory detention issue in the past. It had this to report:

The Commission acknowledges that use of immigration detention may be legitimate, in some circumstances, for a strictly limited period of time. However, in order to avoid detention being arbitrary, there must be an individual assessment of the necessity of detention for each person, taking into consideration their individual circumstances. A person should only be held in an immigration detention facility if they are individually assessed as posing an unacceptable risk to the Australian community, and that risk cannot be met in a less restrictive way. Otherwise, they should be permitted to reside in the community while their immigration status is resolved – if necessary, with appropriate conditions imposed to mitigate any identified risks.

Australia’s mandatory detention system does not provide a robust and transparent individual assessment mechanism to determine whether the immigration detention of each person is necessary, reasonable or proportionate. The detention of unlawful non-citizens is not an exceptional step, but the norm – and it is often for lengthy periods.

Also, under Australia’s international human rights obligations, anyone deprived of their liberty should be able to challenge their detention in a court. To comply with article 9(4) of the ICCPR, that court must have the power to order the person’s release if their detention is found to be arbitrary.

Currently, in breach of its international obligations, Australia does not provide access to such review. While people in immigration detention may be able to seek judicial review of the domestic legality of their detention, Australian courts have no authority to order that a person be released from immigration detention on the grounds that the person’s continued detention is arbitrary, in breach of article 9(1) of the ICCPR.

The Tribune has not yet been able to find anything written by “Australia's most prominent public advocates of the rights of the individual” on this topic, but we are more than happy to publish a correction should we have missed something.

Government appointments are always going to have some basis of partisanship, as they should. The agenda and vision on which the electorate chose a government can only be prosecuted by those who adhere to it. Protests by the opposing side on ideological grounds are a healthy part of democracy.

This appointment is something more than ideological differences though, this demonstrates at best a complete ignorance of the very meaning of human rights, and at worst, gleeful disdain for the concept.

One can only imagine the unhinging that would occur in the right wing dovecotes if a Labor government had appointed Paul Howes as the Human Rights Commissioner based on his advocacy for a single article in one of the seven documents that make up the human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 22

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is the editor of The King's Tribune.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneTribune