Second gripe about dancing orang-utan GIF reaches QIRC

A second complaint by a public servant related to a birthday GIF sent to a work colleague has escalated to reach the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC).

Electoral Commission worker William Huey appealed to the QIRC over the management of his complaint about the happy birthday message, which was sent to an Asian co-worker in October 2022 and contained an animated clip of an orang-utan dancing.

An appeal last month to the QIRC by colleague Moira McNeil about the same subject was dismissed by Industrial Commissioner Dwyer, who stated the proceedings were “a great waste of time and money” – and he came to the same conclusion about the second appeal.

Mr Huey disputed a decision by Electoral Commissioner Pat Vidgen that Mr Huey had not demonstrated the requisite “honest belief based on reasonable grounds” in his complaint about the GIF being inappropriate, and that the subject matter had already been dealt with in Ms McNeil’s complaint.

Commissioner Dwyer said the QIRC could “only reiterate the lamentations expressed in McNeil”, but said no criticism could be made of the Electoral Commission’s handling of either matter.

“The source of this great waste is the labyrinth of directives and policies that are intended to serve a legitimate purpose, but which contain innumerable layers of detail that can be utilised as footholds for highly resistant or unreasonable parties to perpetuate trivial and unreasonable disputes,” he said.


Commissioner Dwyer said during the Commission’s scouring of material filed by Mr Huey, “with the turn of each page, expectation gradually gave way to a combination of incredulity and quiet despair”.

“At this point in the proceedings, having been clearly advised of the Commission’s concerns about the futility of his appeal, one would expect that a litigant so fervently invested as Mr Huey would have been able to inundate the Commission with evidence,” he said.

“Instead, after having been given every opportunity to make his case, which has caused many hours and taxpayer dollars to be expended, Mr Huey has presented evidence that evokes the (metaphoric) sounds of crickets chirping.”

Commissioner Dwyer said “it ought to be stressed that these reasons did not emerge in a vacuum and there is an important broader context that dictates the tone taken in these reasons”.

He said “the conduct of Mr Huey and Ms McNeil in pressing these appeals has many of the classic hallmarks of a folie au deux”.

Commissioner Dwyer said at a mention before the Commission in May, Mr Huey was advised of the limited scope of orders available to him and “the Commission’s concerns were painstakingly explained in a comprehensive and respectful manner”, with Mr Huey “presumed to be both an intelligent and reasonable litigant”.


“No criticism can be made of Mr Huey for exercising a right that was plainly his pursuant to s 562A(3) of the IR Act. But there is a very large difference between having a right and capriciously or unreasonably exercising that right,” he said.

“The assertion that the GIF was a racist slur is, on the evidence, so thoroughly unsustainable that the most likely explanation for Mr Huey’s decision to proceed is that he has done so unreasonably.

“Whether his emotions have robbed him of objectivity or whether driven by malice, the cause of his unreasonableness is irrelevant. The problem is that, in doing so, he has caused the Respondent to expend its resources preparing submissions and he has diverted the Commission’s resources away from other matters of genuine controversy that are awaiting resolution.

“Further, the unreasonableness of Mr Huey’s decision to proceed is compounded by the fact that, given legal representation is prohibited in Public Sector Appeals, there can be no costs consequences in proceedings of this nature before the Commission.

“In the face of such obvious unreasonableness, and in circumstances where there will be no consequences for Mr Huey at all, it is an important matter of public interest that these reasons at least partially serve as an admonishment for such wasteful conduct.

“This decision ought to serve as a cautionary beacon to public sector employees contemplating appeals, or those responsible for responding to them.”


In an epilogue to his decision, Commissioner Dwyer stated the QIRC had “significant sympathy” for the Asian co-worker to whom the GIF was sent.

“She has been dragged into this controversy by two individuals who have purported to act in her interests, but who have for all appearances actually been pursuing their own misconceived or possibly even nefarious agenda,” he said.

“However well-meaning they might profess to be, it would appear that neither Mr Huey nor Ms McNeil gave any thought to the effects of prolonging this roundly unpleasant dispute over the course of more than 12 months, or its very public conclusion in these reasons.”

Commissioner Dwyer ordered that under Section 562A(3) of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld), the QIRC would not hear Mr Huey’s appeal.

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