Article By Kishor Napier-Raman First published on Sep 06, 2021
Lorraine Finlay has in the past asserted a number of positions that may place her at odds with the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Yesterday the federal government quietly appointed Lorraine Finlay as the next human rights commissioner. She is a Murdoch University legal academic and human trafficking specialist with the Australian mission to ASEAN. Media releases from Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and the Australian Human Rights Commission both praised Finlay’s academic expertise and work in international human rights law. But they neglected to mention hers deep ties to the Liberal Party, as a former upper house candidate in Western Australia and president of the state’s Liberal women’s council. They also overlooked her years spent vocally taking positions that might put her at odds with the AHRC.
A Liberal stack
Finlay’s links to the WA Liberals go back a decade. Until 2018 she was president of the its women’s council, a position she’d held since at least 2011 when she was hosting twilight drinks with a then-shadow minister, Scott Morrison.As head of the council, Finlay worked hard to advance women’s representation in the party — by opposing gender-based quotas. She also helped stitch up preselection contests for older, male establishment figures over younger female candidates, even as senior figures such as Julie Bishop were crying out for better gender representation.Spend enough time as a party apparatchik, it seems, and you start getting touted as a possible candidate.
In 2015 there were rumours about her running for the federal seat of Canning (now held by Andrew Hastie). Two years later she ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals as an upper house candidate in the state election.More recently she’s popped up in reporting on the disastrous state of the WA party, as an enemy of “The Clan”, a group of influential Liberal power brokers with ties to former finance minister turned OECD supremo Mathias Cormann. Crikey asked Cash’s office whether Finlay’s Liberal links helped her land the appointment, and whether it was appropriate to pick someone so close to the party. We did not get a response.
The IPA’s pick in 2017, the Institute of Public Affairs, which has long called for a dramatic overhaul of the AHRC, listed Finlay as one of its favoured candidates for the commission. It cited Finlay’s co-authorship of No Offence Intended: Why 18C is Wrong, a book-length call to remove that section of the Racial Discrimination Act.Both the Abbott and Turnbull governments campaigned unsuccessfully to have the section — which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person based on their race, colour, ethnicity or nationality — repealed. It dragged the commission and its former president Gillian Triggs into a protracted culture war over freedom of speech. Finlay, meanwhile, has openly called — in her book and in articles — for 18C to be abolished. She has plenty of other views that put her at odds with the commission’s work.
The AHRC supports an Indigenous voice to Parliament. Finlay joined an IPA advertisement where she called that “political segregation”.The commission also does critical work on sexual harassment and sexual assault. On these, Finlay’s views are in line with the Sky News set. She believes moves to adopt an affirmative consent model on sexual assault laws — under way in NSW — would undermine due process and the presumption of innocence for alleged perpetrators. In fact, she’s been making this argument since 2018, when she appeared on a YouTube video with men’s rights activist Bettina Arndt. Finlay’s appointment is just the latest instance of the Coalition targeting and stacking the AHRC. In 2013, the Abbott government appointed former IPA policy director Tim Wilson, now a Liberal backbencher, as Human Rights Commissioner. Earlier that year, staff at the Institute had called for the Commission to be abolished. At the time, attorney-general George Brandis openly admitted ideology played a part in Wilson getting the gig. This time it hasn’t been quite so open.
Editors note: An earlier version of this article said Tim Wilson had called for the AHRC to be abolished during his time at the IPA. Wilson did not personally call for its abolition.
Kishor Napier-Raman from Crickey