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The Government's appalling treatment of Professor Gillian Triggs

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Penny Wright 24 Feb 2015

If I’m feeling battered, I wonder how the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission is feeling. Probably the most difficult day I’ve experienced in Senate Estimates, today, as I had to witness a fine person and exceptional lawyer, Professor Gillian Triggs, being relentlessly hounded by two government Senators, shamelessly assisted by the overwhelmingly partisan Chair of the committee. Senate committees can often be political but can also be a source of good information and strong cross-party work. For me, this was an absolute low point.  

Here we have a government relentlessly pursuing the destruction of the Australian Human Rights Commission and its president, because they have dared to speak out about the unspeakable, and unflinchingly do their job. The Commission and Professor Triggs have courageously championed human rights, however unpopular the “human” they are considering, may be.  

It is sickeningly ironic that Attorney General Brandis has spoken glowingly about the fundamental principles enshrined  in Magna Carta, which is 800 years old this year. “Limiting arbitrary power, holding the Executive to account and affirming the rule of law” he eulogised at the Commission’s annual human rights awards last year. But this is a man who has stood by mute while the Commission has been viciously attacked by his colleagues and today it was confirmed he actively sought to pressure Professor Triggs to resign, offering her an alternative role to encourage her. 

This attack by a government on an independent office holder is very dangerous. The personal nature of the attacks is unprecedented. The Law Council, the Bar Association and many, many lawyers have decried the personal nature of the attacks and warn that they “compromise the integrity of those institutions charged with holding the government to account.”

If anyone should resign, it should be the Attorney General. 

As for me, feeling thoroughly demeaned by my participation in the whole process, I keep thinking, take care Australia. We all have human rights and any one of us might need a champion one day.

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