Just what the nations needs. Not “…Lawyer Rosalind Croucher, the favoured candidate to replace Gillian Triggs as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, has been labelled “Triggs lite” as some conservative MPs caution against the appointment.
The Australian understands Professor Croucher, the head of the Australian Law Reform Commission since 2009, is a leading contender to take the reins from Professor Triggs, amid intense speculation over who will replace the AHRC president.
Government MPs who had pushed for an overhaul of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the AHRC’s complaints-handling procedures consider the pending appointment a chance to rebuild a sense of public confidence in the commission following controversies over Professor Triggs. The Australian understands the decision to appoint a new AHRC president has not been finalised.
An ALRC report produced under Professor Croucher’s presidency questioned whether section 18C “unjustifiably interferes with freedom of speech” and singled out the race-hate laws as a target for potential overhaul but there is doubt within the Liberal Party’s ranks about her commitment to free speech.
Several MPs said they would be “disappointed” if she was appointed to the role, one saying they considered her a “political” person.
Simon Breheny, the director of policy at the conservative Institute of Public Affairs think tank, said the appointment of the next AHRC president was a “test” for the Turnbull government; he was unimpressed by Professor Croucher’s lack of advocacy for free speech.
In an opinion piece for The Australian last year, Professor Croucher said the ALRC had concluded that section 18C might be too broad “because it can capture conduct that ‘offends’ people on the basis of their race … ‘Offence’ may be too low a threshold”.
The IPA is critical of Professor Croucher for not suggesting the words “offend” and “insult” be removed from the law entirely.
Under section 18C, it is illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of race.
“Rosalind Croucher would be a Triggs-lite appointment. Appointing a person with no apparent commitment to freedom of speech would undo the government’s good work in attempting to expand our liberal democratic rights by reforming section 18C,” Mr Breheny said.
“The choice is to appoint someone who will defend individual liberties such as freedom of speech, or to appoint someone who will manage or advocate policies that will see the continued erosion of our freedoms.”
Professor Croucher has an extensive academic background in legal education, is an adjunct professor of Macquarie University and in 2015 was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for “significant service to the law as an academic, to legal reform and education, to professional development and to the arts”.
Martyn Iles, director of the Human Rights Law Alliance, who does not personally know Professor Croucher, said she would likely be less outspoken and controversial than Professor Triggs but believed she would not reform the AHRC “in the way it needs to be changed”.
The Attorney-General George Brandis reappointed Professor Croucher as president of the ALRC in late 2015. The ALRC did not respond to The Australian’s request for comment…” HRC Frontrunner Triggs Lite