Senator Sarah Henderson – Estimates questions to the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding doxxing and a contract with Hue Consulting

May 31, 2024

President, I realise that this issue has been raised and that you have addressed some questions on it, but I want to go to the issue of doxxing and understand whether you acknowledge that doxxing is a serious issue. The government has announced that it intends to pass laws on doxxing. Do you support those laws in terms of the commission’s work?

Senator HENDERSON: President, I realise that this issue has been raised and that you have addressed some questions on it, but I want to go to the issue of doxxing and understand whether you acknowledge that doxxing is a serious issue. The government has announced that it intends to pass laws on doxxing. Do you support those laws in terms of the commission’s work?

Prof. Croucher: The issue as it is raised in proposed legislation is a matter that the commission will engage in. As it raises human rights issues, it is a natural matter for us to consider, and we would be making submissions.

Senator HENDERSON: Doxxing is a serious issue. Obviously, I am referring particularly to the doxxing of the 600 Jewish creatives.

Prof. Croucher: In terms of the revelation of the breach of privacy and the exposure to attack, of course those situations are not acceptable in our law.

Senator HENDERSON: You had engaged Hue Consulting to provide antiracism resources and then discovered the comments made by the owner of this firm, Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg. They were exposed in February. How quickly did you respond after seeing those comments?

Prof. Croucher: The chief executive will comment. It is a matter we considered expressly.

Ms Smith: As I said in response to an earlier question, we became aware of the social media activity of one of the directors of this company on 21 March. We contacted them immediately afterwards to seek a meeting, which we held on 5 April. In that meeting we asked them many questions about the allegations of doxxing. Our own assessment, after we received information from the company about the actions they had taken to carefully redact personal information, led us to understand that this was not a case of doxxing, as far as we could tell, and that it is not unlawful at this stage.

Senator HENDERSON: So you found that it wasn’t a case of doxxing?

Ms Smith: On the basis that they had redacted personal information and could show us that they had taken efforts to remove personal information in what they reposted, yes.

Senator HENDERSON: Are you able to provide the committee with supporting information in relation to that investigation, so we can understand the materials that you assessed and your determination that it was not a case of doxxing? It has certainly been alleged that Ms Tuet-Rosenberg was involved in doxxing. Are you saying that, if the names of people who are doxxed are removed, then that is acceptable and not considered to be doxxing?

Ms Smith: There is no legal framework for doxxing, at this stage. From our understanding of where things stand, it is not currently unlawful to re-post the information. We asked for the measures they had taken to protect the privacy of those individuals. They provided us with assurances that all of the personal details were redacted.

Senator HENDERSON: This particular person has also made a number of other comments on social media in relation to it. I will read out one of these quotes. ‘Let these effing’—I won’t say the full word—’Zionists know no effing peace’ and referred to ‘zimbos’. She has also talked about Zionists in the context of ‘genocidal fascists who have moved too deep into fascism.’ So there is some very aggressive and abhorrent language. Was that raised in your meeting with this person, which led to the contract being terminated?

Ms Smith: It was, and I believe I have provided that answer already.

Senator HENDERSON: President, I am going to ask to have tabled another report, by James Campbell in the Sunday Telegraph on 5 May: ‘Jewish outrage over inflammatory social media posts from employee of human rights mediator.’ Are you aware of that report?

Prof. Croucher: Senator; could you repeat your question to me?

Senator HENDERSON: Are you aware of this newspaper report, ‘Jewish outrage over inflammatory social media posts from employee of human rights mediator’? That has been distributed to you. The article reports on the fact that a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission was involved in making comments on social media which included, ‘Looking at Israel’s psychopathy today, October 7 should make a little more sense to you all.’ Another comment was: ‘Israeli colonial violence is illegal, immoral, and illegitimate. Resistance is the only legitimate form of violence.’ This is a lawyer, apparently with your organisation. Is she in your employ still?

Prof. Croucher: Yes.

Senator HENDERSON: What is your response to the reporting of these comments, and these comments made by one of your staff?

Prof. Croucher: Any issues concerning staff members are considered through the lens of the code of conduct. I am not able to comment on any investigations of staff which might be being conducted by the commission.

Senator HENDERSON: This is a public issue; it was reported publicly. The posts were made publicly. One of your staff members has made comments implying that she supports Hamas. President, do you condemn those comments?

Prof. Croucher: As the matter concerns a staff member, I repeat what I said just a moment ago, which is: any investigation of, or any consideration of conduct, of staff is considered through the lens of the code of conduct. I won’t discuss whether there are, and the nature of any investigations, but I will point out one error in the reporting to which you refer. The article referred to the person as a ‘mediator’. That is factually incorrect. Ms Salid is not a conciliator; she is a research officer. There is no involvement of the employee with any aspect of our complaints-handling jurisdiction.

Senator HENDERSON: She’s a qualified lawyer; is that correct?

Prof. Croucher: She is legally qualified, yes.

Senator HENDERSON: I am not going to quibble with her role at the Human Rights Commission. What is of concern are the comments she has made publicly. I am also concerned that you are not able to make any comment in relation to those comments. Is that acceptable behaviour at the Australian Human Rights Commission?

Prof. Croucher: The question of acceptable behaviour is considered through the strict lens of the code of conduct, and that’s the lens that we apply.

Senator HENDERSON: So, for any employee who posts comments implicitly supporting a listed terrorist organisation, is that a case of misconduct at the commission?

Prof. Croucher: Senator, I feel I have answered that question. All of our staff are required, by virtue of their terms of employment as public servants, to comply with the code of conduct. Any question with respect to any staff member who may raise a code of conduct issue is considered seriously.

Senator HENDERSON: To be clear: does the Human Rights Commission condemn the view expressed by this research officer?

Prof. Croucher: I will stick to the code of conduct. The question under the code of conduct relates to comments associated with the commission that can in any way call into question the integrity and the impartiality of our processes—that is the lens we apply.

Senator HENDERSON: I am not talking about your code of conduct. I am asking: if any staff member expresses those sorts of views publicly as a representative of the Australian Human Rights Commission, do you repudiate that view?

CHAIR: They are not employees; they’re staff. It is like being in the ABC estimates.

Prof. Croucher: Staff members in such a way are not representatives of the commission—

Senator HENDERSON: Wow! So you are not able to say that you repudiate or condemn anyone—

CHAIR: Senator Henderson, I am going to call you to order—

Senator HENDERSON: who works for your organisation—

CHAIR: Senator Henderson, you are speaking over me again!

Senator HENDERSON: who implicitly promotes Hamas.

CHAIR: Senator Henderson, you are speaking over me again! We will suspend the hearing.

Proceedings suspended from 12:12 to 12:15

CHAIR: We are going to resume the hearing. President, we’ve had a conversation about the conduct of the hearing and about ensuring that we can have an orderly, courteous and respectful hearing. We’re going to continue. Sender Henderson has some questions. As a general rule, we’re not going to interrupt you when you’re giving your answer. Of course, you’ll take into consideration that, if that answer strays into not being relevant to the question, senators may interject. I am going to ask them not to speak over me, as chair. I have a job to do. That job is to make sure that this hearing is orderly, no matter what the subject matter is. That is what I intend to do from now until 10.15 tonight. Senator Henderson, you have the call.

Senator HENDERSON: Thank you very much, Chair.

CHAIR: It’s only for a minute or two, and then I will have to hand it over. Sorry; I should have mentioned that.

Senator HENDERSON: Just picking up on my earlier questions, I am concerned about the conduct of this staff member. You’ve explained that there is a process in place with the staff member at the moment. Can I specifically ask you, in relation to statements such as ‘October 7 should make a little more sense to you all’ and ‘resistance is the only legitimate form of violence’ that have been published by a member of your staff, is this appropriate?

Prof. Croucher: Senator, I should also reiterate that it’s inappropriate for me to indicate whether any action against any staff member is on foot. They are conducted entirely confidentially. Our policy is to consider potential violations of the code. All such consideration respects the privacy of staff and is confidential. I also wish to reiterate that commissioners make commission positions, not any social media of our 200-plus staff.

Senator HENDERSON: Is it appropriate for a member of your staff to be implicitly endorsing Hamas? Could you please address that question.

Prof. Croucher: I believe I have addressed that question, Senator.

CHAIR: I am going to hand the call over in a moment, Senator Henderson. You have one last question.

Senator HENDERSON: Thank you very much, Chair. President, you haven’t repudiated those sorts of sentiments. This is an opportunity for you to do so now, as the President of the Human Rights Commission of this country. Do you repudiate statements made by your staff which implicitly endorse Hamas?

Prof. Croucher: The statements of a staff member are not the statements of the commission. Whether such statements breach the code of conduct is a separate issue. The commission position has been entirely clear in terms of the outrages that have been occurring, and we will be consistently looking at the impact of those events on our Australian communities.

Senator HENDERSON: Wow! I’m shocked.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Henderson. You don’t have the call. I am going to hand the call over to Senator Shoebridge. We are due to go to a break at 12.45. Senators will recall that the structure of the program today was designed, at the request of some of the officials from the Australian Human Rights Commission, to allow for travel arrangements. I want to flag that, if we do get to a point where we have to come back after lunch, we may be in a situation where we need to discuss that within the committee. One of the reasons that the commission was on nice and early for us today was to allow for some of those travel arrangements. Senator Shoebridge, you have the call. We will have some discussions offline about the timeframe for future questions. Thank you.

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