Aitkin sued over alleged slur
NCA Chairman Don Aitkin. Photo: Karleen Minney
FORMER University of Canberra vice-chancellor and former chairman of the National Capital Authority Don Aitkin is being sued for $6 million for alleged racial discrimination.
Ngambri Aboriginal elder Shane Mortimer alleges the adjunct professor's blog contravenes Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and has lodged an application for damages in the Federal Magistrates Court.
But Professor Aitkin said the application was preposterous.
''I offered to talk to him and discuss with him, but he simply rejected it,'' he said. ''I am a supporter of the Aboriginal people in their struggle for respect … I've been a proponent for restoration for Aboriginal people since I can remember. I was a member of the ACT conciliation council while it existed for 10 years.''
Mr Mortimer said he was offended by an article from August 27 that says: ''He looks about as Aboriginal as I do, and his constant references to his 'ancestors' makes me scratch my head.''
Mr Mortimer said he was horrified that such an educated and prominent Canberran had equated indigenous ancestry to skin colour.
''It's dreadful, it's on his blog out to the entire world,'' Mr Mortimer said. ''It's extremely serious. Why would a person with that sort of profile and important position in the national capital make those sorts of statements.''
He said Professor Aitkin's blog belittled him. ''[It] casts doubt on my community standing. Discredits my Aboriginality internationally. Undermines my confidence. Treats me contemptuously, disrespectfully and offensively.''
Professor Aitkin apologised for the comment but refused to retract it. ''There is nothing offensive in saying that Shane Mortimer doesn't look Aboriginal because looking Aboriginal isn't one of the criteria. The criteria are do you claim to be and are you accepted by others as one.''
Mr Mortimer said the case was very similar to that of Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. Bolt was accused of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act and was found to have contravened Section 18C of the act.
But Professor Aitkin said there was no comparison. ''That's stupid, I'm an academic, I'm an emeritus professor of the University of Canberra. I'm really distressed he feels this way. I respect his position as an elder,'' he said.
Mr Mortimer is seeking $500,000 in personal damages and a further $5.5 million to be paid to an indigenous non-for-profit organisation, Agriculture Arts Residency Kenmore Limited (AARK), of which he is chairman.
He said the $5.5 million figure represented $10 per Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, according to the last census.
Mr Mortimer said he was forced to make an application to the Federal Court after his complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission could not be settled by conciliation.
But Professor Aitkin said Mr Mortimer was looking for a fight.
''The Human Rights Commission is for conciliation but he was not interested in conciliation, so I have no alternative … I have to respond to it because I'm summoned to court - I haven't had any legal advice about it but I will be meeting my lawyer in due course. But the whole thing - it's preposterous,'' he said. The matter is listed for hearing on November 26.