Tim Wilson has used his first major address as Human Rights Commissioner to speak out against the Racial Discrimination Act, labelling Section 18C as “democratically dangerous”.
The Abbott government has proposed removing the words insult, offend and humiliate from Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The proposed changes, announced by Attorney-General George Brandis in March, would see the stipulations in Section 18C replaced with provisions outlawing racial vilification and intimidation.
In a speech delivered to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night, Mr Wilson spoke in support of the proposed changes, stating that inappropriate speech should not get “special treatment” because it relates to race.
“In its current form, the Racial Discrimination Act is a law that violates human rights and it must be fixed,” he said.
“Section 18C is also democratically dangerous. It is dangerous not just by limiting democratic participation; it is also dangerous for the minorities that these laws may seek impact.”
His comments are in stark contrast to the views of the Human Rights Commission, whose submission on the proposed changes argued for the status quo.
“It should be recognised that, in its current form, the Racial Discrimination Act as applied by the courts and administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission has successfully resolved hundreds of complaints about racial hatred over the past two decades,” it read.
“Any proposed change requires further justification.”
Mr Wilson also used his Tuesday address to outline his intentions as the Human Rights Commissioner, telling the audience that he plans to be the “Freedom Commissioner”.
He also spoke on plans to refrain from introducing new laws during his tenure.
“Old laws may be reformed, but I do not want a new human rights law during my term of office,” he said.
“I do not want a new human rights law to hang the hat of my term of office on.”
Commission to lose role amid budget cuts
Mr Wilson also foreshadowed a symposium on free speech, to be held later this year.
Mr Wilson's comments were made as budget cuts to the Commission of $1.6 million over four years were announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey.
The cuts, made as part of moves to reduce the number of Commissioners by one, equate to $400,000 a year.
In a statement issued on the Commission website, President Gillian Triggs said she was disappointed in the cuts and the impact it will have on the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner.
The appointment of the current Commissioner, Graeme Innes, ends in July and his role reportedly to be taken on by one of his current colleagues in addition to their existing role.
“It is vital that the human rights of Australians with disability, including older Australians, continue to be heard, especially when they are among the most vulnerable in our community,” Professor Triggs said.
“As President, I will see to it that we ensure people with disabilities have a voice.”
Further comment has been sought from the Commission and Disability Discrimination Commissioner.