Austin human rights defence fund

Journalist Alan Austin has been hit with defamation action after seeking to defend the Australian Human Rights Commission  and its then head Professor Gillian Triggs against attacks in Australia’s media, and then seeking to defend himself.

The article
Alan wrote an article in September 2017 responding to an article by Calum Thwaites in On Line Opinion.  Mr Thwaites was one of the QUT students in the celebrated racial vilification case related to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act  (RDA) which ended last year.  Mr Thwaites’ article was a criticism of an earlier article by Alan about section 18C of the RDA and the Human Rights Commission.

When On Line Opinion refused to publish Alan’s response to Mr Thwaites’ article, the publisher of Independent Australia  did so.

Although lawyers and journalists with defamation experience are confident Alan’s article is defensible, Mr Thwaites has commenced action in the Queensland District Court through prominent Brisbane QC, Anthony Morris.

Both Mr Morris and Mr Thwaites – who now works as Mr Morris’s law clerk – have been prominent players in campaigns spearheaded by The Australian newspaper to change section 18C of the RDA, criticise the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and seek the removal of its (now former) president Gillian Triggs and other commissioners.

After settlement negotiations failed, the point came when Alan had to retain lawyers for court appearances.  Documentation received from the plaintiff by then amounted to 555 pages, including an affidavit by the student of 295 pages!

Mr Thwaites’ Statement of Claim now runs to 73 pages, with another 34 pages of schedules.

Court cases are often expensive, particularly in defending defamation. The cost for a specialist lawyer just to review the documentation was $11,000.

Defamation cases are often technical and many issues will be raised in Alan’s defence.  However, it is significant that Alan’s article was not an unprovoked attack against Mr Thwaites’ assertions.  The opposite is the case. It was a response to Mr Thwaites’ attack against Alan in On Line Opinion, and is thus protected under the defamation law equivalent of self-defence.

It is also significant that Alan’s article sought to defend section 18C of the RDA, and the Human Rights Commission.  These are important areas of public concern, where reasonable discussion in good faith is also protected.

It is important also to note that Independent Australia’s publisher removed Alan’s article from the website as a gesture of goodwill and reconciliation. This was done as part of its settlement with the plaintiff precisely to avoid time-consuming and costly court action.

Alan has been a journalist for more than 40 years, having served with the ABC, World Vision Australia, the Uniting Church and many independent news outlets.  He has won several prestigious awards in Australia and abroad.  He currently lives with his family near Nîmes in the South of France, and writes regularly for Australian publications Crikey  and Independent Australia  and occasionally for other publications.

Alan has never had an adverse finding against him by any court, tribunal or professional body anywhere relating to factual inaccuracy or any breach of media codes of ethics.  Not ever.

Why this is important
It is critical that this action against Alan is resisted.  Not just to protect Alan’s reputation and savings.  But to ensure other journalists and publications legitimately debating matters of public interest, such as our racial discrimination laws and performance of institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, are not deterred.

One irony is that much public criticism of s18C has been in the name of freedom of speech – potentially the freedom to use arguably racist speech – yet this legal action seeks to punish free speech used to respond to public criticism.

Contact: media and other
To contact this fund, please click the small green envelope icon at top right.  Further information is readily available.  Media inquiries welcome.  We will post updates.

Disbursements and auditing of funds
The proceeds of this appeal will reimburse expenses already incurred and ensure future legal bills can be paid promptly. Alan is out of pocket more than $60,000 already, with more costs expected to be incurred in the near future. 

Payments will be made into a Commonwealth Bank account in Melbourne in the name of Alan Austin.

This fund will be audited by Melbourne lawyer/accountant Simon G Mann .

Please share this page with others who may wish to assist. Thank you.


Alan Austin
Brunswick VIC

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