Labor questions delay in hiring new Race Discrimination Commissioner

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Source: AAP

Tim Soutphommasane finished up in the role in August and applications for the vacancy closed in May, with the government insisting a replacement will be chosen soon

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is warning the government not to let the position of Race Discrimination Commissioner sit vacant after the departure of Tim Soutphommasane last month.

Mr Dreyfus said he feared there were some conservatives in the Morrison government who wanted to scrap the role.

The Institute of Public Affairs, an influential free-market thinktank with strong links to the Coalition, has recommended the position be junked for “promoting division”.

“I’m very concerned that there’s something going on behind the scenes here, I hope Mr Dutton and Mr Abbott aren’t pulling the strings,” Mr Dreyfus told ABC Radio on Wednesday morning.

Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane.
Former Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane.

“I’m concerned that there might be a battle between conservatives and moderates within the government over the future of this position, and absolutely this position can’t be allowed to be a casualty of leadership chaos.”

Attorney-general Christian Porter insists the role will be filled, telling SBS News an appointment would be made in “due course” in May.

The job was advertised on a government website but has since been taken down after the deadline passed in May. The intention was to fill the position in August, when Mr Soutphommasane stepped down.

The position comes with a salary of more than $340,000. The Commissioner sits within the Human Rights Commission and enforces compliance with the Racial Discrimination Act.

Mr Soutphommasane used his final speech to warn of a resurgence of “far-right politics” and “race-baiting” during his term.

The commissioner rose to prominence in the media through the long-running debate, peaking in 2017, on whether Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should be edited or removed.

The proposed changes to 18C were eventually defeated in the Senate.

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