18c inquisition ends in QUT case

The persecution-by-process ends at last

It seems that this is finally the end of the road for one of the more absurd chapters in modern legal history:

Justice Dowsett handed down a 56-page judgment which comprehensively rejected Ms Prior’s attempt to run an appeal against a lower court’s summary dismissal last November of her bid to sue the students for $250,000 over Facebook posts.

The judge said “young people [referring to the students and Ms Prior] have suffered more from legal proceedings than any other young person would have suffered in a lifetime”.

Justice Dowsett ordered Ms Prior pay the students’ legal costs and said he was “very serious about it — this matter has to be brought to an end. It is a great pity that it has not been brought to an end before now”.

Ms Prior ejected Mr Wood and other students from an indigenous-only computer lab at the Queensland University of Technology’s main Brisbane campus on May 28, 2013, prompting a Facebook post about segregation.

Justice Dowsett said Mr Wood and Mr Thwaites “only became aware of Ms Prior’s complaint in late July, 2015. Mr Powell became aware of it in late August 2015. It seems that Ms Prior’s solicitor (Susan Moriarty), QUT and the commission all knew that the (students) had not previously been notified of the proceedings in the commission”.

“To say the least, it is surprising that those parties assumed that it was appropriate to proceed in this way.”

HRC president Gillian Triggs has repeatedly rejected criticism of the failure to notify the students at any stage of the process, and refused to apologise. She told a parliamentary committee the decision not to notify the students was to “protect” them.

Justice Dowsett said Mr Powell’s posts, including one in which he wondered “where the white supremacist computer lab” was located, were irony.

He said that “to suggest that humour or irony cannot blunt the most outrageous of statements overlooks the history of such devices, and the extremes to which comedians, authors and speakers commonly use them today”.

Justice Dowsett said Mr Powell was not suggesting “that there should be a computer lab for white supremacists. Rather, he was asserting that such a proposition would be absurd. It is fair to say that he used such absurdity in order to demonstrate his opposition to the provision of separate computer facilities for indigenous students.”

Justice Dowsett found that the post by Mr Wood, who was ­ejected by Ms Prior and posted soon after on Facebook that the indigenous-only lab was “segregation”, was not racist.

Ms Prior’s lawyers had wanted Justice Dowsett to find that it was unlawful under section 18C to “say or do anything” which calls into question the ­appropriateness of special measures which advantage an ethnic or ­racial minority.

The decision yesterday and costs order, in addition to cost ­orders from the earlier proceedings, mean the total bill facing Ms Prior, who went on stress leave and did not return to her QUT job, will be more than $200,000. She faces bankruptcy unless the money can be raised.

After reading the judgment, Mr Wood, who was forced to seek public help to raise funds for his legal bill, said: “Bloody brilliant.”

I feel little sympathy for Ms Prior’s fate, facing bankruptcy, given the hell she has put others through, including attempting to bankrupt them by claiming $250k in compensation.

And to be clear, this outcome isn’t ‘justice’. Some young men have been put through years of hell, years of stress, faced bankruptcy, had their names and reputations trashed, and may need years to undo the damage done from this pointless litigation. Our legal system is not a justice system in any meaningful sense of the word anymore. And persecution-by-process is the new norm by which activists and the easily offended can prosecute their worldview onto everyone else, with the backing of ‘the law’. And even when they lose, their victims lose as well.

So I take small comfort from this outcome, even though it’s better than the alternative. For as long as 18c exists, and for as long as the AHRC gets away with such partisan behavior befitting an activist organisation, not a government funded ‘commission’, then we are all just a facebook post away from ending up in Alex Wood’s shoes.

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