POLITICS

What Is Going On With The QUT Case, Gillian Triggs And The Government?

Triggs said the students were consulted. One student says they were not.

08/11/2016 1:35 PM AEDT | Updated 08/11/2016 7:32 PM AEDT
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
ABC
Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs claims the commission believed the matter would be conciliated, as staff were communicating with both parties "in good faith" for more than a year.

One of the Queensland University of Technology students involved in the "race hate" case, which has left the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Federal Government at loggerheads again, has accused Gillian Triggs of not telling the truth on television.

Triggs, who is President of the Commission, appeared on The 7:30 Report on Monday night to defend the Commission's handling of the case, which was booted out of court by a Federal Circuit Court judge on Friday for having "no reasonable prospect of success".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for the Commission to "urgently review" the way in which it manages "race hate" cases while Triggs hit back, saying the Commission should not play the role of the court but, instead, attempt to conciliate matters.

A QUT student has now claimed the Commission did not make contact with him to conciliate matters for more than 14 months. But first, let's take a look at the case.

The Case Involving Three QUT Students

The case involved three Queensland University of Technology students who made controversial comments on Facebook after one student was removed from a campus computer lab reserved for Indigenous students.

Student Alex Wood wrote "just got kicked out of the unsigned Indigenous computer room. QUT is stopping segregation with segregation."

They never had any contact with us. I never received one piece of correspondence from the commission.Calum Thwaites

This comment was followed by two more comments made by other QUT students.

Indigenous staff member Cindy Prior lodged a complaint, using Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, accusing three students of racial vilification and attempting to sue for $250,000.

The complaint was advanced to the Human Rights Commission under Section 18C and entered the Federal Circuit Court in 2015. Brisbane judge Michael Jarrett threw the case out before a hearing was set on Friday.

Section 18c of Australia's Racial Discrimination Act makes it illegal to commit an act that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of their race or ethnicity.

The Australian Human Rights Commission's Role

The Commission's role is to investigate and conciliate matters, which usually takes about four months. Three quarters of complaints are usually resolved before heading to court, and the Commission receives 20,000 complaints a year, according to Triggs.

The deliberations for this particular case took 14 months, which Triggs defended on Monday night, saying the case was difficult because there were a number of students who made different comments, so there were more issues to investigate.

Triggs said it took "much longer than usual" because students had gone away on holidays but the Commission believed for about 12 months they were going to get a conciliation "in good faith".

QUT Student Claims He Was Not Contacted By Commission

On Tuesday, one of the students Calum Thwaites told The Australian Triggs was not telling the truth when she said the students were consulted in "good faith" because they were not told about the case filed against them until a conciliation meeting was held with the university over a year later.

"They never had any contact with us. I never received one piece of correspondence from the commission," Thwaites told The Australian.

"There is absolutely no truth in what she said about that last night on 7.30 and to Fairfax Media.

"How can there be anything done in good faith when we don't know there is even a complaint against us for 14 months, and only hear about it when they are about to start a conciliation conference with Cindy Prior and the university?"

The Australian reports that the students were not told they were accused of racial hatred for 14 months, which internal documents obtained from the Human Rights Commission reveal.

On Monday night, Triggs would not confirm whether or not the complainant was advised to resolve the matter before reaching the court, but remained adamant all parties had been consulted.

Changes To Section 18C Of The Racial Discrimination Act

The QUT case has cast light on the issues surrounding Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which many Coalition MPs have been campaigning to either scrap or remove the words "insult" and "offend".

On Monday, Turnbull said there was "considerable merit" in revisiting the legislation and has announced a joint parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech issues surrounding Section 18C.

On Tuesday, Triggs publicly supported amendments to the act in order to "strengthen" the legislation and handling of complaints.

"We would welcome an attempt to moderate the statute that would make it a little easier for the Commission to say 'these matters are coming to us and we don't think that they've got any real legs at all'," Triggs said.

"We've long argued for this."

More On This Topic

Advertisement
Advertisement