$346,000 job ‘must stay empty’
THE federal government has been urged to leave the $346,000-a-year role of Race Discrimination Commissioner vacant when Dr Tim Soutphommasane finishes in August as it "fulfils no substantive function".
In a parliamentary research brief distributed to MPs this week, Liberal-aligned think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs argued the role had become "merely one of political advocacy" that "promotes division in the community".
Dr Soutphommasane was appointed to a five-year term in 2013 at the age of 31. The former Labor speechwriter has come under fire from conservatives during his tenure for defending contentious laws including section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and encouraging members of the public to lodge complaints against late cartoonist Bill Leak - something Dr Soutphommasane has denied.
The government began advertising for his replacement last month, with Attorney-General Christian Porter pointedly saying the new Commissioner would be someone with an "understanding of middle Australian values".
"The position of Race Discrimination Commissioner is based on the concept that Australians should be divided and separated according to their 'race' - a concept which should find no place in modern-day Australia," IPA research fellow Morgan Begg said in a statement.
"The role of Race Discrimination Commissioner is a divisive political advocacy role with no substantive function. Instead of filling this position, the Turnbull Government should leave it vacant.
"Dr Soutphommasane has sought to divide Australians. He actively encouraged people to make complaints to the AHRC following the publication of a cartoon in The Australian drawn by Bill Leak.
"The problem with replacing the role with someone who represents 'middle Australian values' is that the legislation under which the Commission must operate is based upon the assumption of identity politics and racial division - not racial equality and social cohesion."
The research brief argued there was no obligation for the government to appoint a Race Discrimination Commissioner under the law, and the role had been left empty between 1999 and 2004.
It also called into question the position's "unique courtroom advocacy" role under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 as amicus curiae, or friend of the court, to "help the court by expounding the law impartially, or if one of the parties were unrepresented, by advancing the legal arguments on his behalf".
It argued the Race Discrimination Commissioner "cannot be an effective amicus curiae as he is a member of a government agency that administers the law being considered and applied by the court".