Tag Archives: Triggs_Gillian

Brandis – doing his job?

Graeme Innes was a human rights commissioner under five attorneys-general from both sides of politics. He writes that George Brandis was the only one to question his integrity.

Innes was appointed in 2005 under Philip Ruddock, who said he must do the job “without fear or favour”.

I disagreed many times on policy issues with Howard ministers and staffers. Our discussions were sometimes “free and frank”, usually civil and never personal. My views were regularly questioned, my integrity was not.

Under Rudd Robert McClelland became attorney general. He said to commissioners:

Sometimes you’ll give us a kicking. Sometimes you’ll support us. That’s your job.

He took the Ruddock approach, sometimes questioning our recommendations, but never our integrity, as did attorneys-general Nicola Roxon and Mark Dreyfus.

Things changed under Brandis, he says. Now on the Triggs matter, Innes says:

Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs, because they are not in a position to easily defend themselves.

In attacking her, Brandis is not doing his job. Innes told The World Today:

“It changed under that of George Brandis, where the officers ourselves, the commissioners ourselves, the statutory officers ourselves were questioned, rather than what we were putting to the Government and the attorney from the perspective of the Human Rights Commission.

“Our integrity was questioned in the same way that Gillian Triggs’ integrity has been questioned in the last month.”

Yesterday Brandis’s peers in the Senate passed a no confidence motion in him, declaring him “unfit to hold the office of Attorney-General”.

The motion was supported by Labor, the Greens, the Palmer United Party’s two senators and Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie. South Australian independent Nick Xenophon and Family First Senator Bob Day both sided with the Government.

Brandis argued that the Human Rights Commission is not a court and not protected like the judiciary:

It should never be above criticism. No institution of the executive Government should be beyond criticism and beyond scrutiny. Not the ministry, not the public service, not agencies within the executive Government.

This Parliament should be a guardian, a fierce guardian of its rights to call members of the executive, and agencies of the executive Government into account.

On that basis it is the duty of politicians under parliamentary privilege to attack public servants who can’t defend themselves.

Michael Bradley, the managing partner of Marque Lawyers, says that Brandis has trampled all over the conventions that govern his own role as first law officer. In the the Westminster system the Attorney-General is supposed to have a higher duty, beyond politics, as the primary defender of the rule of law and our system of justice. He sees the HRC as included in the system of justice. It’s important that the HRC should be free to say what the Government does not want to hear. His bottom line:

If Triggs’s testimony is correct, the fact that Brandis sought to remove her from her position by offering her another job raises serious questions about his integrity. Where his actions leave us is in the untenable situation that his working relationship with Professor Triggs is irretrievably broken.

Consequently, one of them will have to go. It shouldn’t be her.

Denis Muller at The Conversation argues that The Australian newspaper has been running a concerted campaign on the Triggs issue. The paper’s position is ideological, he says, and inappropriate for the fourth estate.

ABC FactCheck has found Gillian Triggs’ assertion that in the first months of the Coalition Government the time children spent in immigration detention “was reaching quite exceptional levels” is correct.

Innes also criticised Tim Wilson’s appointment as human rights commissioner without a selection process and fresh from the Institute of Public Affairs, whose policy was to abolish the Commission. This left Susan Ryan covering disabilities as well as age discrimination, an unfair burden.

My earlier post is here.

Abbott shoots himself in the foot – again

Chris Uhlmann and Sabra Lane say that pressure is building in the Liberal Party to remove Prime Minister Tony Abbott and that backbenchers and ministers say the Malcolm Turnbull now has the numbers. The leadership issue has risen again because of the brutal attack launched on Gillian Triggs as President of the Human Rights Commission. Ben Eltham says:

In a show of belligerence that has stunned seasoned political observers, the Abbott government has declared a personal vendetta against one of the most respected lawyers in the land. Triggs’ personal ethics have been questioned, her competence and impartiality attacked, and her conduct impugned.

Turnbull has certainly put some distance between himself and Abbott on the matter. He says that criticism of Triggs “misses the point” the point being the children in detention. Further, he said that Triggs was “a very distinguished international legal academic”.

Eltham again:

The findings of The Forgotten Children report should shame us all. Triggs found that children have been sexually and physically assaulted in federal care. Some children have been detained for more than 27 months. Many are denied education. Unaccompanied children are locked up in adult compounds. They are mentally and emotionally traumatised. There have been multiple instances of attempted suicide and self-harm.

A government with a scintilla of compassion would have welcomed the report, and redoubled its efforts to get children out of these hell-holes. And, if the Abbott government had wanted to, it could have spun the findings in its favour. For instance, the report found that there are fewer children in detention now than under the previous Labor government.

Instead the Government advised her that it had lost confidence in her and suggested that her legal talents might otherwise be employed by the Government. She declined. It then launched a public attack, bringing up also her finding in the Basikbasik matter.

A galaxy of legal scholars has signed a letter supporting Triggs, pointing out, inter alia, that the Government is not obliged to take her advice, a point she understands well.

Distinguished retired lawyer Hal Wooten tells why he signed up. He respects Triggs personally and professionally, the facts of the report speak for themselves.

Once again Mr Abbott has proved a loose cannon, but this time his wild firing threatens grave pain and injustice to a courageous and honourable public servant, and the undermining of a much needed national institution, as well as obscuring the terrible effect of detention on innocent children.

Richard Flanagan says that some day a PM will apologise for what it is now doing. He thinks:

The only accusation of Gillian Triggs with the ring of truth is that she has lost the confidence of the government – but then so too has Tony Abbott. Gillian Triggs’s real crime is that as human rights commissioner she spoke up for human rights with a government that has no respect for them.

He also sees women and children as being at the bottom of the pile, as it were. Triggs is being attacked as a woman speaking up for children.

Bill Shorten says Tony Abbott sank to ‘a new low’ over Gillian Triggs’s treatment and that Abbott was ‘psychologically unsuited’ to the prime ministership.

Annabel Crabb says the Government is thumping Triggs when it could/should be thumping Labor. It has also presented Labor with the moral high ground.

Jonathon Green has written the speech Abbott could have made about Triggs’ report, with Triggs at his side.

One point is that there were 1500 children in detention when the LNP took over. Now there are 126.

For the record, from Berard Keane at Crikey, this is what Chris Moraitis from Brandis’s department told the Senate hearings:

“There were essentially three points that I was asked to make. One was that the Attorney had lost confidence in Professor Triggs as chairperson. He retained significant goodwill towards her and had high regard for her legal skills. In that respect, he was asking me to formally put on the table or mention that there would be a senior legal role, a specific senior role, that her skills could be used for.”

Brandis later quibbled over the word “position” being tossed around, emphasising that the offer was for a role. But an offer there surely was, later denied by Julie Bishop representing Brandis in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile much of importance, such as the McClure report on social security, is not being discussed.

Saturday salon 21/2


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Here are a few bits and pieces that came to my attention last week.

1. Brandis staffer oversees Labor meeting with Gillian Triggs

This scungy mob don’t know how to behave.

When Mark Dreyfus, shadow attorney general, met human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs Brandis’s deputy chief of staff, Josh Faulks, turned up at the commission’s Sydney office at the appointed time for the meeting. Both Dreyfus and Triggs asked him to leave.

Faulks refused, saying he was acting on the instructions of the attorney. The meeting proceeded with Faulks watching.

The Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body.

At the same time Abbott refuses requests from Triggs for a meeting and Brandis has been unable to find time in recent months.

Simply outrageous.

2. Abbott wades into the Bali nine affair

When Abbott promised an “absolutely unambiguous” response if Bali nine the executions went ahead, I was inclined to agree with him. I thought there should be some very overt sign of our displeasure if our neighbours kill some of our citizens. However, I thought, now is not the time to be saying this.

I also thought it was very bad form to remind Indonesia about the help we gave them during the aftermath of the Aceh tsunami. Surely we gave help because it was needed, not in the hope of future favours.

It seems that Abbott’s intervention was a real diplomatic clanger and may have undid much of the carefully crafted strategy pursued by Julie Bishop and others. Lets hope no-one takes the clown too seriously. Certainly Julie Bishop made clear to RN Drive that aid was a quite separate issue.

3. Remembering the freedom rides

Nearly every week we remember some significant event of the past. This week it was the freedom rides of 50 years ago. Ann Curthoys and Brian Aarons remember:

We travelled by bus to protest against racial discrimination against Aboriginal people in New South Wales country towns such as Walgett, Moree, Bowraville and Kempsey.

Although we had done our best to prepare, the non-Aboriginal students were shocked by what we found: desperately poor living conditions on fringe settlements, missions on which white managers controlled every aspect of Aboriginal people’s lives, white people convinced of their racial superiority, and exclusion of Aboriginal people from the basic amenities of a country town.

So, we protested against the exclusion of Aboriginal people from RSL clubs in Walgett, swimming pools in Moree and Kempsey, and picture theatres in Bowraville.

The SMH tells the story of the re-enactment. Here John Powles, Charles Perkins, Patricia Healy and Jim Spigelman plan the ride:

Freedom rides_1424227244392_550

How much has changed? A lot, but there is more to go, according to this account of Moree then and now.

4. Remembering Dresden

Just a week ago, on 13-14 February, we remembered the 1945 carpet bombing of Dresden and the consequent fire-storm in which at least 25,000 people died. There are some historic pictures at The Atlantic:


The Daily Mail concentrates on photos of the commemoration, including the magnificent rebuilt Frauenkirche. It also includes historic photos towards the end.