By now, everyone is aware of Bill Leak’s infamous cartoon.
TMR has elected to reproduce it here as a firmly extended central digit to the left – which loves taking offense for the sake of taking offense and which specialises in encouraging people who otherwise couldn’t care less to join their crusade (seriously, I take my hat off, they’re really good at doing this).
I’m not going to provide yet another opinion on the merits of the cartoon itself. That’s for you to decide. Long may you continue having the freedom to do just that.
Bias and conflict of interest
The point of this post is to debunk the accusations of bias and conflict of interest that have been raised (I bet you weren’t expecting that) and to expose the egregious waste of public money that is the Human Rights Commission (you were probably expecting that).
Go make yourself a cup of coffee (or prepare a stiff drink) and stick around: you’ll be blown away by some of the numbers.
A lot has been made of Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane’s comments following Leak’s cartoon:
Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane told Fairfax Media: “Our society shouldn’t endorse racial stereotyping of Aboriginal Australians or any other racial or ethnic group.”
He said “a significant number” of people would agree the cartoon was a racial stereotype of Aboriginal Australians and he urged anyone who was offended by it to lodge a complaint under the Racial Discrimination Act.
Specifically, many have complained that Soutphommasane’s comments are biased, have effectively ‘prejudged’ the matter going before the Commission and amount to a conflict of interest:
Tim Soutphommasane has encouraged people to lodge complaints with the commission about Bill Leak’s cartoon last week depicting an Aboriginal policeman returning a delinquent Aboriginal youth to his equally delinquent Aboriginal father. The problem is that the commissioner has prejudged those complaints: Leak, according to Soutphommasane’s public statements, is guilty and people should feel free to complain. Those complaints will all go to Soutphommasane’s organisation, where every official knows that one of those at the top has already made up his mind. That means any attempt by the commission to deal with complaints about Leak’s cartoon is now vulnerable to challenge for a perception of bias.
With the greatest of respect to this line of thinking, while seeming correct, it misconceives the utterly useless and pointless nature of the Human Rights Commission and the office of the Race Discrimination Commissioner that sits within it. The reason lies in what the Human Rights Commission is authorised by law to do when a complaint is lodged. In short, very little whatsoever:
While his conduct has been disgraceful, it is wrong to say that Soutphommasane has unfairly prejudged this matter for the simple fact that the Human Rights Commission is not authorised to judge or decide on any disputed complaints. It can only facilitate parties reaching an agreed settlement. If either or both parties refuse, then it is up to the aggrieved party to commence their own litigation in the Federal Magistrates Court or the Federal Court.
Suffice to say, a federal judge or magistrate isn’t going to give two hoots about Soutphommasane’s personal views on this matter (if it proceeds). Instead, they will look at Leak’s cartoon and decide whether it contravenes section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) and whether any of the exemptions under section 18D apply:
Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:
(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or
(c) in making or publishing:
(i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or
(ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.
(NB: while you may think it’s a foregone conclusion that Leak qualifies here, just bear in mind that section 18D was entirely useless to Andrew Bolt).
Try as he might, Soutphommasane can’t possibly be biased in the judicial sense because neither he nor his office has any decision making power. Thank goodness for that is all I can say.
Accusing Soutphommasane of having a general conflict of interest also carries little merit. This is because his actions have done little or nothing tangible to advance his personal interest or to prolong the life of the Human Rights Commission or his office. If anything, it’s arguable that his inflammatory comments and actions have been self-harming given the attention they have attracted. It would also be a stretch to say that Leak’s position has been harmed by Soutphommasane. If anything, Soutphommasane has turned Leak into a martyr for free speech.
If anyone thinks that Leak is going to be silenced or discouraged from going about his normal work as a result of this, they should reconsider that thought.
The waste that is the Human Rights Commission
The real point in this matter is that Soutphommasane has done what he has done simply because he has nothing better to do. This is because the Human Rights Commission is little more than a government funded ‘make-busy’ organisation. Its primary purpose is to provide cushy jobs for and overpay the likes of the duplicitous Gillian Triggs and the perennially miserable Soutphommasane – allowing them to publicly grandstand, while achieving nothing of substance. Indeed:
- Who else in the productive world would employ either of Triggs or Soutphommasane on such salaries otherwise?
- And, if you believe those on the left, Australia is now more more racist than it ever has been – which has interestingly coincided with the existence of the Human Rights Commission and the office of the Race Discrimination Commissioner.
In fact, if you’d like to see just how redundant the Human Rights Commission really is, have a read of section 20 of the RDA for yourself:
The following functions are hereby conferred on the Commission:
(b) [sic] to promote an understanding and acceptance of, and compliance with, this Act;
(c) to develop, conduct and foster research and educational programs and other programs for the purpose of:
(i) combating racial discrimination and prejudices that lead to racial discrimination;
(ii) promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups; and
(iii) propagating the purposes and principles of the Convention;
(d) to prepare, and to publish in such manner as the Commission considers appropriate, guidelines for the avoidance of infringements of Part II or Part IIA;
(e) where the Commission considers it appropriate to do so, with the leave of the court hearing the proceedings and subject to any conditions imposed by the court, to intervene in proceedings that involve racial discrimination issues;
(f) to inquire into, and make determinations on, matters referred to it by the Minister or the Commissioner.
Notice how there’s nothing in there about actually reducing racism? Or achieving any other measurable results that are in the public interest?
About the only other benefit one can point to in having the Human Rights Commission is that our real courts get small breather from handling the nutjob complaints (as they typically go to the Human Rights Commission first). The hilarity of this is that these are the very same complaints that Triggs recently had the audacity to whine about, even though she and her office have actively encouraged them.
They get how much?!
Which then takes us to the question of money and how much of it taxpayers should be contributing towards this racket. Finding budget data for the Human Rights Commission is no easy task (funny that). However, if you persist, you’ll eventually hit the jackpot at page 136 of the Attorney-General’s portfolio budget statement (PBS):
(NB: pay no attention to any of the forward estimates (last three columns): they’re little more than made-up hooey).
In short, the Human Rights Commission currently takes in about $23 million of the public’s money each year and then cheerfully spends that plus another million.
For all the complaints about the Commission’s funding, the truth is that it also happens to be sitting on a sizable cash balance of about $11.8 million – which, of course, it’s trying very hard to eradicate as fast as possible.
Wait – it gets worse
As bad as the above is, there is a much greater sin being committed and it lies in the ‘Cash used – employees’ item. As you can see, $15.936 million will be spent on the Commission’s employees in the 2016-17 financial year which:
- amounts to an insane 70.4% of the Commission’s annual budget;
- taking into account the Commission’s average staffing level of 111 employees for 2016-17 (see above PBS link , page 130), amounts to an incredible average employee salary of $143,568. In other words, almost DOUBLE the national average salary; and
- while total spending on employees will increase by $432,000 this year, the average number of employees is expected to decrease from 114 to 111. Or, in other words, this year’s average salary of $143,568 represents a $7,568 increase on the previous year’s average of $136,000 (i.e. a 5.6% pay rise).
If there ever was a question that should be asked of Gillian Triggs and the Human Rights Commission, it’s this: why on Earth does your Commission pay its employees an average of almost double what regular Australians earn?
And here we all were thinking that the Human Rights Commission was all about reducing ‘the gap’ and ‘income inequality’. Some are just more equal than others I suppose.
It goes without saying that the Human Rights Commission should be seriously cut back or eradicated. That said, what about all the other government departments and quangos that are similarly run? Something tells me it would go a very long way towards repairing our diabolical federal budget.