Freedom of speech

A true victory for free speech

For any who care about free speech in Australia, that a Federal Court has thrown out the QUT racism lawsuit, should be cause for genuine celebration.

Finally, the 3 students of the Queensland University of Technology, have had their names cleared and can hopefully continue on with their lives as normally as possible.

But while this is a good decision, the fact that 3 students have been dragged through such a lengthy, onerous lawsuit over this trivial matter, should be a source of great shame.

As if common sense is to inform future policy making, ending Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs’ tenure, as well as the abolition of section 18C, would be the best action to take.

“Federal Court blocks QUT racism lawsuit”, Skynews, November 4 2016:

Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs should resign for allowing an untenable racial discrimination case against three Queensland university students to get as far as the Federal Court, a QC says.

Queensland University of Technology students Alex Wood, Calum Thwaites and Jackson Powell were being sued by Cindy Prior, an indigenous administration officer, under the Racial Discrimination Act’s controversial section 18C.

The $250,000 lawsuit was thrown out by Brisbane’s Federal Court Judge Michael Jarrett on Friday after he found Ms Prior did not have reasonable prospects of successfully bringing a case against the trio.

Outside court, Mr Thwaites’ lawyer, Tony Morris QC, slammed Professor Triggs for allowing the case to get so far.

Mr Morris said Prof Triggs sat on the case against the students for 14 months before they were told a complaint had been made against them, and no inquiries were made.

He said the commissioner should have told Ms Prior there was no substance to her claim and dismissed the complaint.

‘Triggs takes $400,000 a year out of the pockets of the taxpayers of this country for a job she doesn’t bother to do,’ Mr Morris said.

‘If the woman had any decency whatsoever, her resignation would be on the attorney-general’s desk on Monday.’

Mr Thwaites said he was extremely relieved at the outcome and happy to be able to get on with his life.

Ms Prior was not in court for the judgment and is said to be facing a six-figure bill if the students recoup their legal costs from her.

She had argued she was unable to continue working face-to-face with white people following a series of Facebook posts made after Mr Wood was asked to leave an indigenous-only computer lab at the QUT in 2013.

‘Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT stopping segregation with segregation,’ he wrote.

The post attracted a number of responses, including one from Mr Powell who wrote: ‘I wonder where the white supremacist computer lab is.’

Mr Thwaites is alleged to have written ‘ITT Ners’ but has denied being responsible for the post.

Several other students have settled with Ms Prior out of court, reportedly for $5000 each, while QUT is still subject to a lawsuit.

The university released a statement late on Friday saying it was pleased the matter had been resolved ‘as far as the three students are concerned and regrets that the issue has taken so long to come to a conclusion for them’.

The case has been a rallying point for opponents of 18C, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.

On Friday, Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson joined the growing number of voices calling a parliamentary inquiry into changing the law.

Mr Paterson said while he was relieved the judge had found the students had no case to answer, they should never have endured such an appalling legal process.

‘This judgment doesn’t give them back that time, or their reputations, or the stress of having to endure these false allegations and defend themselves,’ Mr Paterson said.

Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam said the Turnbull government could no longer stick its head in the sand on section 18C.

‘The proof that the human rights regime is damaged beyond repair is now plain for all to see,’ Mr Roskam said.

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who has long campaigned for changes to the Racial Discrimiantion Act said the the case was a ‘win for common sense’.

‘These three students whilst they have been vindicated today after three long years have had their reputation trashed courtesy of the Human Rights Commission taking these people to court- taking on a case that should have never been taken on,’ Senator Abetz told Sky News.

Senator Abetz admitted the legislation ‘has worked’ but accused the Human Rights Commission wasting taxpayer money pursuing the case.

‘Whilst you can say the legislation has worked, yes it has, but it has been the process that has been the punishment and that is why Section 18C needs to be amended and indeed we need to have a close look at the way the human rights commission is run and the way they waste taxpayer dollars in funding these sort of cases,’ he said.

He called on Malcolm Turnbull to prioritise reforming Section 18C next year.

‘I would like to think in the parliamentary calendar of 2017 we might find some time to get rid of the words ‘offend and insult’ out of Section18C and start the inquiry being suggested by some.

‘I would like to think there would now be a majority of crossbenchers who can see the trauma occasion to these three students, sure they won after three long years, but they shouldn’t have been put through such a trauma by a government or semi government body like the Human Rights Commission,’ he said.

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