As far as titles go, ‘Race Discrimination Commissioner’ is a fairly benign one. Certainly, as distinct from its incumbent, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, it is not quite as bombastic as its former Soviet counterpart, the ‘People’s Commissariat for Nationalities’.
That comparison of course is not meant to imply the office’s communiques, or that of its parent body, the Australian Human Rights Commission, could be likened to the comical agitprop of communist regimes.
“Today Australia has been transformed,” heralds a futuristic newsreader in a promotional video for the AHRC publication Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership.
It is July 2026, and Australians awake to glorious news that massive cultural diversity targets within government, universities and business have been exceeded. No longer is Australia an Anglo-dominated backwater, thanks to a leader and his ten-year plan.
“A driving force was Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane,” the newsreader continues effusively, before crossing to archival footage from ten years prior featuring the visionary himself. “Australia’s a very multicultural society,” said he, stern-faced and with much gravitas, “but we don’t see that diversity represented yet in our senior leadership…It’s pretty striking, and simply it’s not good enough.”
“Passionate words from Tim Soutphommasane,” adds the newsreader admiringly, repeating the great man’s name for posterity. All that was missing in this video were the shots of cheering citizens taking to the streets in spontaneous demonstrations of joy and thanks.
Laugh if you will at this cringeworthy and grandiose affirmation of one’s own legacy, but remember your taxes are paying Soutphommasane’s $339,460 salary. That does not include the budget for his support staff, or travel, or the office outlay. Not bad work for an entry-level academic and former ALP staffer who was appointed by the Rudd Government to the AHRC at the age of 31.
In a speech last week to the Western Australian Multicultural Mental Health Forum, Soutphommasane denounced those who sought to “reopen ideological culture wars”, and dismissed with derision suggestions that “cultural Marxism [is] taking over public institutions.”
Ideological culture wars? The very use of that simplistic terminology to describe an opposing view is revealing, especially for a man supposed to personify diversity. But for this human rights commissioner, the ideal culture is Soutphommasane-centric, and dissenting opinions threaten social harmony. Indeed, such people are guilty of “deviationism”, to borrow a Stalinist term. Critics therefore are not to be regarded as opponents, but as enemies. What is cultural Marxism if not aggressive social engineering in the name of equality, together with public condemnation of those who question its worthiness?
“Today’s conservatives frequently endorse a form of destructive radicalism towards public institutions and civil society,” wrote Soutphommasane, a self-described social democrat, only months before his appointment to the AHRC in August 2013. This is tosh. One need only look at the events last week in Hamburg’s G20 summit and the actions of so-called anti-fascists in the US to see who is responsible for this destructive radicalism. It is not conservatives who are torching cars, looting shops, and attacking police officers. Yet Soutphommasane maintains “very nasty forms of xenophobia and populism are on the rise in many countries.” In other words, we must blame those who voted for Trump and Brexit.
And last week’s speech would not be complete without Soutphommasane attributing ill-motive to those seeking amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, particularly section 18C, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people based on their race, colour, or national or ethnic background.
Never mind that careers and reputations have been destroyed as a result of complainants exploiting this section, or that the test for infringing 18C is essentially a subjective one; Soutphommasane’s take on reformists appears to be one of malice. “Some commentators…complain about there not being enough freedom of speech to racially insult or offend others,” he said. That’s right, the man who once wrote the ‘Ask the Philosopher’ column for this newspaper resorted to using a cheap logical fallacy – the straw man argument – as a substitute for informed rebuttal.
Yet Soutphommasane champions freedom of speech when it comes to defending the left. “The arts must…consciously question the status quo,” he wrote in June this year. “This has always been the role of the arts: to challenge, to disrupt, to speak truth to power…” But what of artists who disrupt progressive dogma? The late Bill Leak spoke truth to power with his cartoon last year in The Australian featuring a delinquent indigenous father, and Western Australia police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said it was an accurate depiction of what his officers saw daily. Soutphommasane, however, responded by tacitly urging people to make a complaint under the 18C process. He later denied this constituted touting. Presumably he meant at no time did he don a sandwich board or spruik outside the entrance to the AHRC office.
Given his antagonistic demeanour and his glass jaw, Soutphommasane will likely struggle to sell an already controversial blueprint requiring cultural diversity “targets” within corporations. The recommendation that employers should gather and report “cultural diversity data” has been labelled “racial profiling” of employees by Liberal backbenchers. As an aside to the statist connotations, the blueprint is written in depressingly familiar bureaucratese, especially with its espousing of “diversity metrics”. “Diversity and inclusion”, it says, must form part of “managers’ performance appraisals.”
Are you having trouble staying awake? What a surreal life it must be for the likes of Soutphommasane and the others at the AHRC. Then again that office’s culture has been defined by its president, Gillian Triggs, with all the trappings of elitism and her personality cult. Fortunately she finishes this month, and who knows what lavish ceremony will mark her departure. Flying out Elton John to play Goodbye England’s Rose as the British-born Triggs walks down the steps for the last time, perhaps? As the American political philosopher Thomas Sowell observed “We should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.