“The complainant is Cynthia Prior. Ms Prior was a university administrator at QUT until she decided she simply couldn’t work any more for fear of being offended. The basis of her distress were a number of remarks made online by QUT students, including the factual statement by one student that Indigenous-only computer labs were an example of ‘QUT stopping segregation with segregation’.
“Three respondents have each handed over $5000 to make the issue go away. But the case continues for the remaining respondents. But this complaint is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Mr Prior, whose trauma must be extreme indeed, wants $247,570.52 compensation.
Breheny was asked how much the current 18 complaints emanated from Muslim, Aboriginal and Jewish complaints. He said he considered race and religion to be irrelevant to the issue. But from a back-of-envelope tabulation, he noted complainants include Lebanese (1), Pakistani (1), Sinhalese (1), Indian (3), Australian (8), Chinese (1), and non-specific Asian (1), “dark-skinned” (1) and uncategorized (1).
“The progress of these complaints ranges from an acknowledgement to a final response following conciliation at the commission,” he said. “Details of these complaints are not made public. The documents provided to the IPA under FOI are heavily redacted. They include some basic procedural information, dates, and the race of the complainant but none of the conduct which forms the basis of the complaint.
“The conciliation process within the commission is shrouded in secrecy. HRC Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane admitted this last year: ‘To give you a sense of how the law currently operates, last financial year the Commission received 440-odd complaints [including s18c complaints]. Only about 3% of those complaints ended up in proceedings before a court.’”
Breheny says, “That means that 97% of all complaints are dealt with behind closed doors. Only in 3% of cases, where the matter is not resolved at conciliation, is the public ever made aware of the details of a complaint.
“Why is this relevant? Because had it not been for the QUT complaint advancing from conciliation to litigation, the public would never have known the extent to which s18C threatens freedom of speech. And without transparency around the conduct, the public doesn’t have the opportunity to assess the practical operation of the law.