Four hundred thousand buckaroos. That’s the yearly salary for the taxpayer-funded role of human-rights commissioner, a role with a five year term. I dunno about you folks, but if I were in such a role, I probably wouldn’t get wanderlusty. I’d stick around and they’d probably end up giving me some cool catchy nickname for my role, like ‘Liberty Commissioner’. I’d make up a superhero-esque theme-song for myself (“Liberty commissioner, liberty commissioner, friendly neighbourhood, liberty commissioner…”) that I would sing to myself while fighting for human rights and kicking ass. It would go on for five years, and when my term would end, I’d be dragged out of my office screaming, “I’m the real Liberty Commissioner! This isn’t fair! I think I need to send a complaint to myself’. But oddly enough, some people think differently.
After only two years in his role of Human Rights Commissioner (where he was dubbed ‘Freedom Commissioner’ by George Brandis), Monash alumnus Tim Wilson has resigned from the Australian Human Rights Commission to run for Liberal pre-selection in the seat of Goldstein. In other words, he has left a stable, highly regarded, taxpayer-funded job at an independent organisation with three years left in his term, to run for possibly being a liberal candidate (which is by definition partisan), so he could possibly be a member of parliament. Is that wacky? Maybe… though in some ways, this may be pretty unsurprising.
Prior to becoming ‘Freedom Commissioner’, Wilson was a policy analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a prominent right wing think-tank, that advocate mainly for issues like free speech and other civil liberties. At this time Wilson was also a member of the Liberal party, however when appointed as the HRC, he discontinued his membership. His experience in the IPA and prior Liberal party involvement clearly shows his political leanings, even if he wasn’t active in those groups at the time of his post as Human Rights Commissioner.
As a commissioner, some saw Wilson’s views and position as controversial. When he was appointed commissioner, the role of a full time Disability commissioner was scrapped under the Abbott government’s 2014 budget. This lead to the resignation of Graeme Innes and resulted in Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan taking on the portfolio. With 37% of complaints given to the commission regarding discrimination on the basis of disability- a figure much higher than others – many in the disability community saw this as concerning. Wilson was also an advocate of the removal of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, an act that forbids the use of language that will “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” on the basis of race, ethnicity or nationality. This view additionally placed Wilson firmly in the right.
However what should be noted is Wilson’s relative progressiveness on LGBT issues, which sets him apart from more socially conservative sections of the Liberal party. As an openly gay man, Wilson has expressed support for same sex marriage. After a series of transphobic tweets appeared on Q&A in October 2015 regarding transgender Group Captain Catherine McGregor, Wilson showed his support for the transgender community, and called for a greater discussion on transgender issues in the Australian public.
The district of Goldstein covers the suburbs of South Caulfield, Bentleigh, Beaumaris. Brighton, Cheltenham, Gardenvale, and Sandringham, and is a safe liberal seat. The current member of Goldstein, Andrew Robb, has decided to leave politics after serving the electorate since 2004. In the 2013 election, Robb had 61.03% of the vote in two-party preferred, making his position stable. It’s unclear who will run as the Liberal candidate in Goldstein, so there is now an incredibly competitive race for liberal pre-selection.
Wilson will be competing against some formidable opponents in the pre-selection race. They include Georgina Downer, the daughter of Howard government foreign minister Alexander Downer. Additionally, software developer Marcus Bastiaan and international relations expert Denis Dragovic are also running for the seat of Goldstein.
So what are Tim Wilson’s odds? Monash Politics lecturer Dr Nick Economou believes he has a chance. “Wilson is backed by party power-broker Scott Ryan. However, Liberal rules give the local branch members a lot of power over pre-selections, and the Brighton to Sandringham region is not one of Scott’s areas of great influence.” As for Wilson’s socially progressive views, and how it will affect his chances in the electorate, Economou states his views are “not a problem for the seat, but Wilson first has to convince the local Liberal members, and I would expect the Liberal branch members of Goldstein to be very socially conservative. They may find Denis Dragovic more to their liking.’
I spoke to Max* a Monash student who lives in Goldstein. He says that he is not a Liberal voter and even though he thinks Wilson is likely to win preselection, his vote would not change. “Wilson is more socially progressive [than Robb] so that may even the playing field for progressive parties like Greens. I think more so it gives a chance for the smaller conservative parties, like Family First. Sadly as their policy would tend to stand out more, and perhaps be more in line with some more conservative Liberal voters, they could benefit the most”
“Assuming he wins pre-selection, I think Tim Wilson will win Goldstein. While I still won’t vote for him, we could do a lot worse. If anything else, it would be good to have a member who is an advocate for same-sex marriage, and is openly gay. Hopefully he can bring some humanity to the Liberal Party ”
Tim Wilson is taking a massive risk running for the fiercely competitive Liberal pre-selection in Goldstein. While being a well-known figure, there is every chance that he could lose in pre-selection. If that were to happen, what would be next for Freedom Boy? It seems he may have sacrificed a more than enviable role in the human rights commission for nothing.
* Not Real Name
Tim Wilson was contacted for comment, without any reply