Bullshit in a high place and at higher expense

While researching bullshit for a chapter in a book on how not to think or write, I noted the following.

A man called Tim Wilson was appointed as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner in February 2014 on a package that is now north of $400,000 a year according to press reports. What were his credentials for this high office and even higher pay-cheque? Mr Wilson sets out his credentials on his website as follows.

About Tim

Tim Wilson is Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner and a classical liberal public policy analyst. He is one of Australia’s most challenging opinion leaders drawing on strong philosophical principles, backed up with evidence while maintaining a real-world edge. Passionate. Controversial. Fearless. He’s not afraid to be outspoken in offering an optimistic solutions-focused perspective on local and international issues that gets people engaging and talking.

Quick summary

Appointed as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner for five years from February 2014.

International public policy analyst specialising in international trade, health, intellectual property and climate change policy.


Recognised by The Australian newspaper as one of the ten emerging leaders of Australian society as part of its 2009 Next 100 series.

Inaugural graduate of Monash University’s John Bertrand leadership series.

Australian Leadership Award from the Australian Davos Connection 2010 recipient.

Recognised by Same Same as one of Australia’s 25 most influential gay and lesbian Australians in 2010.

Fellow of the 2010 Asialink Leaders Program at the University of Melbourne.

Participant in The Australian newspaper’s 2011 Shaping Our Future: Ideas to Change a Century series on public health financing.

Inaugural participant in the 2011 Australian-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Programme run by ISIS Malaysia, the St James Ethics Centre and Asialink…..

Twice-elected President of the Monash University Student Union.

Selected as a News and Public Affairs judge at the 2012 TV Week Logie Awards.

Media and commentary

Regularly published in print media, including The Australian, the Wall Street Journal Asia and Europe and the Australian Financial Review and newspapers across Australia and the Asia Pacific.

Appears on Australian and international television and radio.

Regular radio programs on 2CC, 3AW, 4BC, 6PR & 774.

Regular guest on New York’s nationally syndicated radio program, the John Batchelor show, with John Batchelor and US editorial board member, Mary Kissel.

Regular television programs including ABC’s Q&A, The Drum and News Breakfast, Channel Ten’s Bolt Report and Sky News’ The Nation, the Contrarians and Lunchtime Agenda.

Previously co-hosted ABC News 24 TV’s Snapshot segment.

Regularly contributes to journals and books and speaks at conferences.


Currently completing a Graduate Diploma of Energy and the Environment (Climate Science and Global Warming) at Perth’s Murdoch University.

Completed specialist executive education on intellectual property, diplomacy and global public health in a joint program of  New Jersey’s Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology at Seton Law School and Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment.

Completed specialist eexecutive education on global public health policy and diplomacy in a joint program of Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment and the World Health Organisation.

Completed specialist executive education on intellectual property at the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Worldwide Academy.

Studied the WTO, International Trade and Development at Geneva’s Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développment.

Trained carbon accountant from Swinburne.

Completed a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade (International Trade) from the Monash Graduate School of Business.

Completed a Bachelor of Arts (Policy Studies) from Monash University.

Completed a Diploma of Business.

Board and professional service

Current Board Director of Alfred Health (Alfred, Caulfield and Sandringham hospitals) .

Current member of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s Victorian Board for Nursing and Midwifery.

Former member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s IP industry consultative group.

Previous Member of the Council of Monash University (Australia’s largest University with campuses in Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Italy and the United Kingdom).

Previous appointed member of the Steering Committee of the Sydney Opera House’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Previous Board Director of Monyx (Food and retail services company).

Previous Chairman and Board member of the Monash University Student Union Pty Ltd.


Former policy director at the Institute of Public Affairs – the world’s oldest free market think tank.

Former Senior Fellow at New York’s Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Worked in international development across South East Asia.

Delivered Australia’s 2006 logistical and policy aid program to help the Vietnamese government host APEC.

Trade, Intellectual Property and Environment policy consultant.


Member of the Fawkner Park Tennis Club, Melbourne Cricket Club, Melbourne Football Club, Mont Pelerin Society, Museum of Modern Art (New York), the National Gallery of Victoria, RACV Club, Royal Brighton Yacht Club and the Tate Modern (London).

Enjoys walking, running and bike riding.


Mr Wilson is represented by Shaun Levin from Profile Talent Management, +61(0)3 8598 7808……


Well, it is evident that Mr Wilson has a God-given penchant for bullshit of the purest order. The intro to his website is five star rolled gold bullshit. Mr Wilson has hardly any credentials at all for his office or pay-cheque – except a big head and a bigger mouth, and that penchant for pure bullshit. And when Mr Wilson puts that mouth to work, the results are breathtaking.  If you go to Mr Wilson’s website, you will find a post ‘Charlie Hebdo vs 18C: no contest ‘on January 19, 2015 .  For the purpose of this note, I take it as read.  It is set out below.

Which of the remarks of Mr Wilson do you find to be the most sensible, coming as they did less than a fortnight after the murders?

The post is mainly about the meaning and effects of some of our laws. Among the many tickets that Mr Wilson has collected, such as being a trained carbon accountant, a lawyer’s ticket is not one of them. Well, who says that you should have some idea about what you are talking about? This is a free country is not? When you are pulling down a salary of about the level of that of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia?

Mr Wilson suffers from the intellectual malaise of his political masters and patrons, those most bounteous providers for his welfare. He is not long on rational thought. He prefers slogans and labels. It all comes down to ‘censorship’ and self-censorship. The point of all this invective and venom, and self-mortification, appears to be that Mr Wilson fears that the law is so badly structured that it would not be safe for him publicly to answer or refute the proposition of the man that he is so happy to vilify at our expense. That involves a legal question. Perhaps Mr Wilson may have sought legal advice about what he as saying. Then he should have been told that nearly everything that he had said was bullshit.

And notice how combative Mr Wilson gets with his opponents. Those who disagree with him – or Mr Andrew Bolt – engage in ‘cheap party tricks’. An aboriginal boxer said on TV that homosexuality and aboriginal law were incompatible and that homosexuality should not be shown on prime time TV. Mr Wilson took serious offence at this, but he did not answer the allegation by looking at the meaning and effect of aboriginal law. No, instead of rational and polite argument, Mr Wilson plays the man. In AFL terms, he hangs out a coat-hanger. ‘Mundine has probably taken too many blows to the head in the boxing ring and his comments are stupid and offensive’. Not content with branding his opponent as punch-drunk, stupid and offensive, Mr Wilson later builds up to ‘despicable’ and ‘bigotry’, the intellectual death-knell of his primary patron

If there is a substantive argument about the law that Mr Wilson refers to, you may have trouble in seeing the connection between the murders in Paris on the ground of religion and an Australian debate about offending or insulting people on account of their race. Is it any more than this? These murders in Paris deter people from speaking their mind on religion. Murders are bad. Therefore Australian laws that deter people from speaking their mind on race are bad too. Even though the abolitionists say nothing about the other more general laws to the same effect which do not mention either religion or race.

Since 1789, people in Paris and what is now Australia have been committed to the idea that we should be free to do what we like provided that it does not injure others. By the time you categorize all the ways in which others may be injured by speech, there is not much content left to the original idea of ‘freedom’ of speech – the freedom is determined by the ambit of the exceptions, and where you draw the line is where you get the arguments. This is very common in the law.

The events in Paris remind us that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who can be greatly hurt by speech directed at their religious belief – so hurt that many of them want to kill those responsible. It is curious that that reminder leads some politically driven people in Australia to resume their campaign to abolish a law that gives another category of protection against injurious speech. Mr Wilson is clearly a man with an agenda, a man on a mission.

And do you not find it hard to banish a suspicion that Mr Wilson might think that he is just a little bit smarter than Mr Mundine – or, perhaps, just a little superior ?

Charlie Hebdo vs 18C: no contest, The Australian

Posted on January 19, 2015 by Tim Wilson

CHARLIE Hebdo would have been a legal publication in Australia. But it would have faced regular efforts to have it shut down or censored under state and federal laws.

In Australia the primary legal weapon used against Charlie Hebdo would have been section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of race, colour, national or ethnic origin.

18C doesn’t cover religion, but Charlie Hebdo published many cartoons on race as well as ethno-religious topics that could have been deemed offensive under it.

This is outlined in the explanatory memorandum to the bill that introduced 18C.

The memo said “it is intended that Australian courts would follow the prevailing definition of ‘ethnic origin’ … (which) involves consideration of one or more characteristics … this would provide the broadest basis for protection of peoples such as Sikhs, Jews and Muslims”. It’s this interpretation that led to former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton facing a complaint under 18C because of his disgraceful anti-Semitic language.

18C would have been used against Charlie Hebdo because it sets a low bar to restrict free speech. Administratively, 18C also makes it easy to take action; all you need is an aggrieved party and an arguable case.

Charlie Hebdo’s publishers would then have been caught up in regular disputes and subsequent legal battles if they refused to back down. After significant cost and time, courts would have had to test whether each cartoon enjoyed exemptions under the impossibly opaque section 18D of the act, which requires publication to be undertaken reasonably and in good faith.

Many cartoons were satirical, but they were also designed to strongly provoke and didn’t seek to minimise the offence caused. That may mean they wouldn’t always be covered by the exemptions. Each one would have to be assessed on its merits.

Even if 18D did apply in all cases, that doesn’t justify 18C. Section 18D doesn’t protect free speech. Arguing it does is absurd. In practice, 18C declares you guilty, 18D allows you to profess your innocence.

Censorship doesn’t just occur because a court silences a voice. Censorship also occurs because bad laws allow publications to be bullied through legal processes until their only viable option is to cower and self-censor.

Charlie Hebdo would have been destroyed through a thousand 18C complaints.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre is a tragedy, and it should be a reminder that we need to defend free speech even when speech offends and insults.

Offence and insult are subjective, emotional responses to the actions of others. Individuals can be offended and insulted by just about anything, even when it is not intended. For that reason, a law that prohibits speech that merely offends and insults sets the bar too low. Instilling these principles in law ultimately leads to self-censorship.

For example, last year Anthony Mundine did an interview on Channel 7’s Sunriseprogram. During Andrew O’Keefe’s interview Mundine said Aboriginality and the “choice” of homosexuality were incompatible and homosexuality shouldn’t be shown on prime time television. The basis of his comment was “Aboriginal law”.

Mundine has probably taken too many blows to the head in the boxing ring and his comments are stupid and offensive. We can say both those things. And in a free and democratic country Mundine should be allowed to say stupid and offensive things.

But that doesn’t mean the basis of his offensive comments is wrong. Across the country I’ve met gay and lesbian Aboriginal Australians who have told me horrible stories of how they’re treated.

Not that poor treatment of gay and lesbian people is limited to Aboriginal culture. Many ethnic cultures engage in even more horrific treatment of gay and ­lesbian people, including in Australia.

But if we want to harshly criticise the justification of Mundine’s commentary we risk offending his ethnic origins. Because of 18C Australians have to cautiously discuss the topic, especially non-Aboriginal Australians.

The example highlights a fundamental flaw of 18C. The assumption behind the law is that racism essentially comes from the dominant racial group against minorities. That isn’t the case. Sometimes minorities judge each other horribly and harshly.

One of the cheap party tricks of 18C’s defenders is asking the leading question: “What is it that you want to say that you can’t say?” The assumption is that you want to say something racist. That isn’t the case. When Mundine made his despicable comments I censored my response because of 18C and the risk that I’d offend or insult his heritage.

Would I have been let off because of 18D? Possibly. I can’t say with confidence my comments would have been judged to have been in “good faith”.

Regardless, I don’t fancy being hauled through the Human Rights Commission or a court for refusing to apologise. So it is to self-censor rather than criticise another’s bigotry.

Chalk that up as a victory for social inclusion and harmony. 18C gives legal privileges to some to be bigots while we allow the law to intimidate others into self-censorship who want to respond.