Subjects: The Liberal Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission.
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC24 NEWS BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: The Liberal Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission.
VIRGINA TRIOLI: Now the Opposition has asked the Federal Police to Attorney-General investigate whether Federal Attorney-General George Brandis broke the law by offering the President of the Human Rights Commission another job as, I don't know if we can use the word, inducement, that's what's under discussion, but to get her to resign.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joins us now from Canberra. Mark Dreyfus, good morning to you.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Michael.
ROWLAND: Let's start with the letter you have written to the Australian Federal Police and I'll bring up the relevant paragraph towards the end of it. You're asking whether the Attorney-General's offer to an independent statutory officer of an inducement to resign her position as President is to affect the leadership to avoid political damage to the Abbott Government, may constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct. Why do you believe it may constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct?
DREYFUS: What we heard in Senate Estimates yesterday, Michael, was really disgraceful conduct by the Government. The Prime Minister and Senator Brandis, the Attorney-General, have said they've lost confidence in Professor Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission.
I think that the Australian people have every right to lose confidence in the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. They shouldn't be attacking the President of the Human Rights Commission in this way.
The specific concern that is raised in my letter to the Australian Federal Police rests on that conduct, of sending the Secretary of the Department to Sydney to ask, in effect, Professor Triggs to resign. It raises real questions about whether or not there's been a breach of the law, breach of the criminal law, because we've got criminal laws that prevent and guard against inducing, trying to affect Commonwealth public officers in the performance of their duties.
ROWLAND: It's a very loaded word, inducement, as Virginia mentioned just there. Even Gillian Triggs is preferring not to use the word inducement.
DREYFUS: She knows it's a term that's got a particular meaning in the criminal law. She's not going to characterise it and what I'm saying is that it's for the Australian Federal Police to investigate further, to interview those concerned and if appropriate to refer it to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Even before we get there though it's already apparent that this Attorney-General is not fit to hold the office that he holds. It's his job to defend holders of high independent office like Professor Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission, just like it's his job to defend the judiciary. It's his job to uphold the rule of law.
And rather than defending Professor Triggs and the Human Rights Commission, what this Attorney-General has done is to join with and assist in the Prime Minister's attack on the Human Rights Commission.
ROWLAND: This comes down to, as you well know, a he said she said event here because Chris Moraitis, the head of the Attorney-General’s Department, who had that meeting with Gillian Triggs, insisted yesterday he did not use the word resign or resignation. He simply expressed the fact that Attorney-General George Brandis had lost confidence in Gillian Triggs. Now, what he says certainly undercuts the argument you're trying to make.
DREYFUS: I don't think we've heard the full story and that's why the Senate Estimates process is hardly the right environment to be investigating whether or not a criminal offence has occurred here. That's why it's a matter for the Australian Federal Police.
Certainly anybody that was listening yesterday has heard more than enough to see that this needs to be investigated further and while it's being investigated we are entitled to say that this Attorney-General isn't fit, that the Prime Minister has lost the confidence, not Gillian Triggs.
It's this Government that is creating the blemish. It's this Government that is creating the attack on the Human Rights Commission. Completely failing to recognise its independence, completely failing to recognise that Professor Triggs and her Commission have done no more than follow the statute under which they operate, which is to judge the actions of successive Australian governments against a human rights framework.
The suggestion that the writing of this report warranted a loss of confidence in the Government is simply nonsense. It's again, typical of this Prime Minister, typical of this Attorney-General attacking anybody whose views they don't like, not caring whether those people, in this case an independent statutory Commission, have got a duty under law to report in the way that they did.
ROWLAND: Okay, now you say we haven't heard the full story there. I quoted what Chris Moraitis, the head of Attorney-General's Department said. Surely you're not questioning the voracity of what he said, your attack is aimed at the Attorney-General himself?
DREYFUS: Of course, it's the Attorney-General who gave the instruction to the Secretary of his Department to go on this shameful mission to Sydney and seek the resignation of the President of the Human Rights Commission.
It's the Attorney-General who is responsible and behind him the Prime Minister who together, with the Attorney-General, have orchestrated an attack on an independent statutory Commission. The whole of it is disgraceful conduct by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General and as well, what we now learned yesterday is that there's something that the Australian Federal Police need to investigate, which is just what was said, what was the inducement that was offered?
There’s a process, Michael, in the human rights legislation for the removal of the President of the Human Rights Commission. And that process is the only process that can be followed here. There's a reason why the President of the Human Rights Commission has got a five year statutory term. It's so that she is protected, so that she can carry out her duties independently without fear of political interference.
She is not subject to the whim of the Government of the day. She is an independent statutory officer and she ought to be allowed going on doing her job in the proper way she's done it up until this point.
ROWLAND: When are you expecting to hear back, if at all, from the Federal Police?
DREYFUS: I'm hoping to hear back promptly from the Australian Federal Police. This is a very important matter. It concerns the highest officers of the land. This is the First Law Officer of Australia who is engaged in the conduct.
It's the direct reverse of the kind of conduct we should be able to expect from the First Law Officer who has got a duty to protect, not to attack, a duty to protect the President of the Human Rights Commission and her Commission and he's failed utterly in that duty.
ROWLAND: Okay, Mark Dreyfus in Canberra, we'll leave it there. Thank you for your time this morning.
DREYFUS: Thank you Michael.