Last night the Australian government appointed a new commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The new brief is for the protection of freedom of expression. The creation of this role is to welcomed as freedom of expression is an important human rights. Past statements by the new commissioners (before taking up the appointment) do, however, raise some cause for concern.

The new commissioner, Tim Wilson, spent the last seven years as head of the conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. During that time he made statements calling for the abolition of the Australian Human Rights Commission. He also expressed support for the abolition of S18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the section which provides protection against hate speech in Australia. Most concerning, he has said he is unconvinced that there is a human right against discrimination, and he believe free speech should override any effort to protect minority groups from hate speech.  The appointment is of particular interest to the Online Hate Prevention Institute as Mr Wilson has highlighted online speech as one of three areas he wishes to focus upon.

OHPI’s CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, commented that, “Freedom of expression is never an absolute, and international law which urges the protection of freedom of expression also stressed its limitations. The incitement to hate is one area not protected by freedom of expression. Tim Wilson has in his past roles taken an absolutist position on freedom of speech which is incompatible with human rights. Hopefully his new role, and discussion with others in the commission, will see this position moderate.”