Section 18C retreat was one of Abbott’s biggest mistakes

Sect18c.pngWhereas in my mind there is no doubt that replacing him with Turnbull was a major error, Abbott disappointed me in many ways and one of the worst was his failure to keep his word on repealing Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

This Act has seen the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart subjected to an attempt to silence him in the same sex marriage debate, Andrew Bolt found guilty of “offending ” Indigenous Australians for daring to question how ‘Aboriginality’ is to be defined, and now an absolutely unbelievable process is being undertaken to silence a group of white students in Queensland.

Three Queensland University of Technology students were asked to leave a computer room by indigenous staffer Cindy Prior because they were white. The students made a series of posts on Facebook about the event, basically saying racial segregation was being encouraged at their university.

Cindy Prior complained to the HRC about the Facebook posts and the three students were charged with racial vilification. However it was 14 months after this complaint before the three students were made aware of it and by then it was too late to stop the case from going to court.

The Australian reports (paywalled) that Ms Prior has been unable to work for 2½ years and wants $250,000 from QUT and the stud­ents. The students have insisted their posts were innocuous, harmless and a legitimate ­expression of their freedom of speech.

The total legal bills for the university and other parties are estim­ated to be nearing $1 million. The three students are now suing the HRC for “recklessly” breaching their human rights.

They allege the commission has treated them with “flagrant ­indifference” because they are “white Anglo-Saxon heterosexual citizens who maintain a male ­gender identity” and have no criminal rec­ord, no outspoken political opinions and no record of particip­ation in trade unions or ­religious sects.

Commission president Gillian Triggs advised that she had “delegated my powers in relation to these complaints to Mr Angus Stewart SC”, a Sydney silk, to inquire into whether “acts or practices of the commission were ­inconsistent with or contrary to (the students’) human rights”.

Imagine the bills the taxpayer will have to pay for this action readers.

In a letter to Professor Triggs yesterday, the lawyer for the three students, Michael Henry, stated: “Examining complaints against the commission is your responsib­ility and your responsibility alone. We had sincerely hoped that some leadership would be shown by you on this issue and that the commission would have investigated this deeply regrettable incident of its own initiative.”

Mr Henry said it was regrettable that a “further round of combative and adversarial litig­ation” would be unavoidable.

He said that, apart from the pressure on the young men, Ms Prior had been let down, humil­iated and made a focal point of mass community outrage ­because “until very recently nobody ever had the moral courage to ­actually tell Ms Prior that her conduct and sense of grievance with (the stud­ents) was patently unreasonable and totally disproportionate”.

“She is facing the very real risk of losing everything she has; all in circumstances where the entire matter could have been easily ­resolved during the process the commission was duty bound by statute to undertake,’’ he said.

What a totally unnecessary and costly mess. With the ineffective Gillian Triggs at the heart of the matter of course.

You should never have backed away from this Tony. You should have fixed it.

That said, it was not all Abbott’s fault. George Brandis was mostly responsible IMHO.