December 3rd 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anti-discrimination law validates Safe Schools

CANBERRA OBSERVED Triggs on the way out, but her weapon (18C) must go too

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump White House

EDITORIAL Trump portends the start of a new political era

EUTHANASIA Late-night reprieve in SA Parliament

EAST ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan and Japan look extinction in the face

SEXUAL POLITICS Victorian Liberals pledge to scrap Safe Schools

LAW AND SOCIETY No-fault divorce a tragedy of nuclear proportions

PARENTING Experts envisage lustrous future for infant graduates

POLITICAL HISTORY Folly with a touch of good sense: Colonel Sibthorp

ECONOMICS Trump as a symptom of the end of neoliberalism

MUSIC Vale Leonard: did we ever really understand you?

CINEMA Fantastical and beastly: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BOOK REVIEW A Life well spent

BOOK REVIEW Catholic revisals


FOREIGN AFFAIRS How the left whitewashed Fidel Castro

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Triggs on the way out, but her weapon (18C) must go too

News Weekly, December 3, 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated that his Government remains intent on pursuing its defence of free speech agenda in the Australian Parliament in the face of a concerted but at times absurd campaign by the left to curb it.

The highly partisan president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has been told by the Prime Minister that her term will not be renewed when it expires next year.

Gillian Triggs

The move has been welcomed across the Coalition as a result of Professor Triggs’ ongoing mishandling of the commission’s briefs.

Professor Triggs’ tenure has been plagued with controversy, not least of which was her unusual decision to delay an inquiry into children in detention when the Labor Government was in power.

During Labor’s term the number of asylum seekers in detention soared, but the Human Rights Commission turned a blind eye … until the Abbott government was elected.

The Coalition has been successful in removing children from detention, but has received no credit for doing so.

Professor Triggs, who took up the role in 2012, is understood to be on a package of more than $420,000 a year in an organisation that receives $15 million a year from taxpayers to conduct its activities.

According to a recent Herald Sun report, one such activity was to assist the United Nations to review the human rights record of Australia, which, not surprisingly, received a bad rating over migratory detention. Such a rating has allowed countries such as North Korea and Egypt to be open critics of Australia’s human rights record.

Mr Turnbull has also described as “indefensible” the Human Rights Commission’s pursuit of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students over Facebook comments they made in 2013 after being thrown out an “indigenous only” computer lab.

Rather than the students being seen as the victims of discrimination, the evictor, Cindy Prior, brought the case to the Human Rights Commission, claiming that she was the aggrieved party.

In response, the commission (under Professor Triggs’ leadership) decided to use the flimsiest of cases to showcase 18C for a cause celebre.

Section 18C states that you cannot say anything that is “reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person or group because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

What the proponents of 18C fail to acknowledge is that a corollary of freedom of speech is that sometimes people will be offended. The novel right in Australian law “not to be offended” has proven to be something that is extremely difficult to manage in practice.

The election of Donald Trump may be an indication in a change in the zeitgeist, indicating a reaction against extreme political correctness.

Interestingly, the new managing director of the ABC, Michelle Guthrie, has also chimed in on the debate, siding with freedom of speech. “I think it is a big deal to reduce any sense of press freedom or freedom of speech, you take that very seriously,” she told The Australian recently.

Since the Federal Court’s decision to throw out of the case against the QUT students, the Human Rights Commission has come under increasing fire. Former Abbott government minister Eric Abetz, no friend of Mr Turnbull’s and one of Professor Triggs’ strongest critics, welcomed her departure.

“The Australian people are fed up with the repeated incompetence displayed by Professor Triggs and this announcement by the prime minister will be welcomed by many in the community,” Senator Abetz said.

The Tasmanian Senator said he hoped the next human rights commissioner would have a better understanding of “natural justice” and be a promoter rather than a suppressor of free speech.

But Professor Triggs’ departure is unlikely to bring an end to the ongoing calls for a reform of Australia’s controversial race discrimination laws.

Labor strategists know that the case in favour of keeping section 18C is thin, and have consequently reverted to the tactic of sidelining the issue as something that concerns the “elite” media.

18C is the “gold standard” that the radical sexual rights lobby wants written into anti-discrimination laws.

In 2012, they supported Labor’s unsuccessful attempt to have all federal anti-discrimination laws consolidated into one act that would have made it an offence to offend, insult or intimidate another person on grounds that included sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, and race.

Had the proposal succeeded, the new federal law would have been very similar to Tasmania’s anti-discrimination act, under which there was an attempt to prosecute the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, for distributing a Church pamphlet supporting man+woman marriage.

Mr Turnbull is no warrior in the culture wars, but appears to be setting about making changes in this area in a considered, reasonable way, winning plaudits even from his political enemies inside the Coalition.

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