Image for Honouring Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks

The term “epic” inspires thoughts of great literature, of Homer or Dante.

But there is an epic which we are all part of and which some of us are privileged to have a role in writing.

It is a story of ideals and tragedy and of heroes and villains, as dramatic as anything found in the Odyssey.

That epic is the law.

For the whole time I have known Robin Banks she has been both an author and a hero of this epic.

I met her when she ran the Public Interest Law Centre. She came to that role from the disability sector, but at PIAC she became an advocate for law reform that uplifted many different disadvantaged Australians.

In her subsequent role as Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin has continued her advocacy for progressive law reform.

An example I’m familiar with is marriage equality. She could have dismissed it as an issue outside her jurisdiction, or as a distraction from more immediate human rights abuses. Other human rights officials did. But she chose instead to highlight whenever she could the human rights that exclusion from marriage violate.

Robin has also shown her proficiency as a legislative drafter and lobbyist, proposing and steering through legislation that has kept Tasmania at the forefront of human rights.

Her laws against transgender and intersex discrimination, against offensive conduct, and for the expungement of gay criminal records: each of these has broken new ground for the nation and ensured Tasmania leads on progressive law reform. I’m sure there are many more examples from other fields.

What is less public is the leadership Robin has shown in educating Tasmanians about the importance of anti-discrimination law, and in interpreting that law with a compassion and a generosity of spirit that has ensured Tasmanians suffering abuses have had their day in court.

As you would expect, a hero who has so tirelessly wielded statute in defence of the vulnerable and the downtrodden has endured many attacks. Government officials have turned away from some of her proposals because the light they shine on past abuses is too bright.

Some law-makers want to starve Robin’s work of funds or roll back her legislative initiatives because their idea of what Tasmanians can achieve is as stunted as hers is broad.

Some community figures have turned on her because their fragile sense of identity cannot bear the big, bold story she is employing the law to write.

It is in the destiny of epic heroes to have others conspire to bring them low.

It is in the nature of epic narratives that sometimes heroes walk away from battle, or find a new way to fight it.

I can’t hide my disappointment that Robin will not be our Anti-Discrimination Commissioner after January.

My consolation is knowing she has set such a high standard for her successors to aspire to.

I also know she will not stop defending the undefended. She can’t. Regardless of which pennant waves over her head, it is her vocation, like the hero she is, to always stand up for what is right and good.

One reason I am confident she will continue to fulfill her vocation is that the times demand it of her.

Already Tasmanian politicians are being seduced by Trumpism.

At least one MP, who at his best is known for his common sense, affability and support for social reform, is now demonising some Tasmanians and flattering others in the name of “Making Tasmania Great Again”.

In the face of the politics of division, Robin’s boldness, intelligence, humour and high principle are more important than ever.

Most of all we need to keep hearing her message that what unites us as Tasmanians is more important than what divides us.

Robin, from all of us here today who have drawn inspiration from your work, thank you.

From all those many disadvantaged Tasmanians whose lives you have improved, thank you.

And from all those Tasmanians you have brought together in reconciliation and hope, thank you.

You are our hero.

*Rodney Croome is a veteran campaigner for gay rights, and marriage equality advocate.