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Labor says Tim Wilson's Liberal pre-selection bid shows his Human Rights Commission appointment was inappropriate -

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ELEANOR HALL: Federal Labor says the Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson's decision to resign in order to run for Liberal pre-selection shows it was inappropriate for the Government to appoint him in the first place and has damaged the commission's reputation.

Mr Wilson was a controversial appointment to the commission two years ago and is now leaving to contest the pre-selection in Andrew Robb's safe seat in Melbourne.

But he says he has not been a Liberal Party member while on the commission and will need special permission to run for the seat.

Political correspondent Louise Yaxley reports.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor Senator Jacinta Collins says Tim Wilson's appointment to the Human Rights Commission was controversial because of his Liberal Party connections.

JACINTA COLLINS: It was always inappropriate for a Liberal Party activist to be appointed to such an important and supposedly independent position.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Wilson says he has been open about his political allegiance, but insists he has not been partial while on the commission.

TIM WILSON: When it comes down to it, everybody knows what my politics is, John. It's not a secret.

But the key thing is that at every point I have made sure that I have never used my office for a partisan political agenda. I have been focused on the role and making sure it's being done in a way that can maintain the confidence of the Australian people.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Jacinta Collins questions the value of some of his work.

JACINTA COLLINS: You'll recall I think Tim Wilson defending Senator Brandis' comments in the Senate, that people have a right to be bigots. Now I don't think that's a general Australian public attitude, and there are serious questions whether really that is one of our priorities for the Human Rights Commission.

And those questions I think continue to raise why this was always a controversial appointment.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Tim Wilson is quitting the commission as of this Friday, two years after taking on the job, so he can contest the seat of Goldstein.

He says he has not been a Liberal Party member while on the commission.

TIM WILSON: No that's against the rules again, because you are supposed to be held to be impartial, and that's why by making this decision I am taking this principled stand to make sure that people know that I'm not going to tarnish the office.

I will of course seek to be readmitted as a member of the Liberal Party, and to then I will have to seek special dispensation to be able to run as a candidate. But in practice, I have not maintained my membership because I was requested by the Attorney-General himself to resign.

LOUISE YAXLEY: But Mr Wilson says he has been going to Liberal events during that time.

TIM WILSON: I have attended some meetings, I have spoken at meetings. This has been raised at various points and I've also spoken to other political parties. I've done it in an impartial way. I have attended some fundraises as a guest of my partner.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Others expected to nominate for the seat include Georgina Downer, the former Foreign minister Alexander Downer's daughter. If she won the seat she would be the fourth generation of her family in Federal Parliament.

Explaining his resignation gives Mr Wilson an opportunity that others like Georgina Downer don't have.

INTERVIEWER: Isn't it against Liberal Party rules for people seeking pre-selections to engage in media interviews?

TIM WILSON: That's correct and I'm talking about my resignation and in that context...

INTERVIEWER: Oh, thinly veiled.

TIM WILSON: Well, no, that's very clearly what I'm doing and I won't be talking about the pre-selection going forward. But I think, considering the office I hold and the number of people out there who have supported me over the years, that I need to explain why it is that I'm taking this step.

LOUISE YAXLEY: However, Mr Wilson's explanatory interviews do appear to overlap with campaigning for the safe Liberal seat.

TIM WILSON: The people of the Goldstein electorate need to know that if I'm prepared to fight for them, then they need somebody that's prepared to fight for them.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Tim Wilson says he is doing the right thing by the Human Rights Commission by resigning rather than taking leave to contest pre-selection.

TIM WILSON: The institution I believe needs to be preserved and protected, and I believe the appropriate thing for me to do is to resign my office to make sure that it is above question about my intention, but equally not to tarnish the office that I hold.

LOUISE YAXLEY: The Federal Opposition demands that the Government use Mr Wilson's resignation as the opportunity to reinstate a full-time disability discrimination commissioner

ELEANOR HALL: That report from Louise Yaxley.