EXPOSING CORRUPTION IN COURTS is the Whistleblowing Way for PERMANENT CHANGE
Woman who objected to depiction of Indigenous father says she felt she was blocked from the conciliation she wanted
The woman who lodged a section 18C complaint against Bill Leak has accused the the cartoonist’s lawyers of trying to coax the case into court because they were confident they would win.
Melissa Dinnison, who is a university student currently on exchange in Germany, said she had lodged the complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) because she wanted to have a “frank and open discussion” with Leak following his controversial cartoon depicting an Indigenous father.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Dinnison said she was not interested in going to court or claiming any compensation.
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“Bill Leak and his lawyers made it clear that they weren’t going to cooperate with the conciliation process,” Dinnison told ABC AM.
“So I began to feel that I was being used to push an agenda and I felt that the Australian wanted to coax me into taking this to court because they were confident they would win.”
Leak’s cartoon shows an Indigenous policeman holding an Indigenous child by the scruff of his neck in front of his father, who holds a beer. When the policeman tells his father he should to talk to his son about personal responsibility, the father answers: “Yeah righto what’s his name then?”
The cartoon drew widespread condemnation, including from the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, and led to Suncorp bank withdrawing its advertising. But the ABC’s new head of Indigenous affairs coverage, Stan Grant, has said it was a very complex image, though not a “particularly great cartoon”, and he defended Leak’s right to have it published.
Dinnison said her main aim was talking to the cartoonist about the impact of his work, to “listen to how these sort of cartoons impact on real everyday Aboriginal people who are trying their best to try and contribute to society”.
“I just really wanted to have a frank and open discussion with him which is what it says on the Human Rights Commission website about what conciliation is meant to be and he wasn’t interested in cooperating, I don’t think,” she said.
“So it didn’t make a lot of sense to go ahead.
“Cartoons like this and such negative media representation make me feel like, it doesn’t matter what I do or how hard I try it’s never going to be good enough and people will always be able to reduce me and my people and my family to such horrible degrading cartoons.”
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Dinnison said she felt “threatened and unsafe” due to the relentless media attention, particularly from the Australian newspaper, which has been campaigning to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“I felt threatened and unsafe with the relentless media attention. Because the Australian hasn’t been able to get a hold of me they have gone after – I feel they have gone after – my family members and my partner which has made me feel very unsafe and very uneasy,” Dinnison said.
The editor-in-chief of the Australian, Paul Whittaker, said Dinnison’s claim was “ridiculous” and described the Human Rights Commission as “thought police”.
Whittaker told his own paper: “The Australian has and always will have an unwavering commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, two vital qualities in our democracy, which Ms Dinnison does not appear to share.
“We will always defend our journalists, our artists and our best free thinkers, of whom Bill Leak is an outstanding example, against unreasonable attempts by people like Ms Dinnison in concert with the thought police of the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“The idea being propagated now on the public broadcaster that Ms Dinnison, who wanted Bill Leak to stop drawing his honest cartoons, is somehow herself a victim of this process is absurd.”
Last week the prime minister announced an inquiry by the human rights committee inquiry into the issue after mounting pressure from the conservative wing of the Liberal party.
HRC president Gillian Triggs has indicated she is open to overhauling the Racial Discrimination Act, including replacing the terms “offend” and “insult” with “vilify”.
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However the HRC race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has said last week there was no case for changing the act.
After Dinnison dropped the complaint, Leak said it had put him through a month or so of “incredible stress”.
But Dinnison was unrepentant, saying the process was supposed to be private and 76% of cases were resolved through conciliation.
“All of the media attention that this has received has been through the newspaper he works for, so I feel like a lot of the attention that this has got is a direct result of him putting it out there. So no, I don’t feel for him at all,” Dinnison said.