Subjects: The Abbott Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission; Iraq
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WEDNESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: The Abbott Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission; Iraq.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: What we saw in Senate Estimates yesterday was the full detail, or not quite the full detail, but detail of a disgraceful attack by this Government on the independent statutory office holder, the President of the Human Rights Commission.
The Government is saying, the Prime Minister has said, the Attorney-General has said, that they have lost confidence in the President of the Human Rights Commission.
We say that Australians have every right to lose confidence in this Government because of the way that this Government has treated the independent statutory office holder, Gillian Triggs.
There are very, very concerning revelations in the hearings in Senate Estimates yesterday. In particular that the Attorney-General sent the Secretary of his Department to Sydney to speak with Professor Triggs, to offer her in effect an inducement to leave her job.
There are proper processes that could be followed if there was to be a removal of the President of the Human Rights Commission. The Government is not following those processes, far from it. The Government is instead, in this grubby way, sent the Secretary of the Department to offer another job to Professor Triggs in order to persuade her to leave her role as President of the Human Rights Commission.
We have said that there is absolutely sufficient for there to be an investigation by the Australian Federal Police. I have written to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police to ask the Australian Federal Police to commence that investigation and then, if appropriate, to refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. And then it’s a matter for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to assess whether there’s sufficient for the matter to then be proceeded with.
But I’d repeat, this is a disgraceful attack by the Government on an independent statutory office holder. The Government should be ashamed of itself for what it’s done, it shows no respect for the rule of law, no respect for independent agencies like the Human Rights Commission, consistently with the Government showing no respect for the judiciary as well.
JOURNALIST: You say ‘in effect’ it was an inducement. What’s the difference between in effect and an actual inducement (inaudible)
DREYFUS: I’d invite everyone to look at what was said by Senator Brandis, by the Secretary of his Department and by Professor Triggs herself, in the hearings of the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday.
I’m not going to seek, any more than Professor Triggs was prepared to seek, to characterise this in a legal framework. What I do say is that there’s ample for the Australian Federal Police to investigate. It’s matter for them, it’s a matter for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, to decide if a criminal offence has been committed. But it is, on its face, disgraceful behaviour and that’s whether or not a criminal offence has been committed.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect that much will come of the investigation, given that the Secretary of the Department and Professor Triggs have differing accounts of what happened in a meeting between two people.
DREYFUS: That’s a matter for the Police to conduct a full investigation, to interview all concerned and then come to a conclusion. Again, I’m not going to pre-judge the conclusion of the investigation. I’m not going to, as Senator Brandis liked to do in opposition, assert that offences have been committed directly, or go right to the end, or seek to interfere in some way.
I’m going to say this is absolutely ample for the Australian Federal Police to be investigating. That’s what should be occurring.
JOURNALIST: Can you explain the potential for criminality here?
DREYFUS: The potential for criminality is that there are offences in the Criminal Code around offering inducements to Commonwealth public officers. Of course Professor Triggs is at the very highest level of Commonwealth public officer. And what seems to have occurred here, what we heard yesterday in the Senate Estimates hearings, is the offer made to her in return for her agreeing to resign. That’s what’s at the heart of this.
That’s why we have to avoid this kind of behaviour going on at the highest levels of government, when you’ve got a senior official like Professor Triggs, her office is established by an act of the Commonwealth Parliament, in it she is given a five year term of office and a very, very tight process for removal. She’s not there at the whim of the government. It’s not to the point that the Government is trying to attack her competence, or say that it has lost confidence in her. Australians can lose confidence in this Government as a result of that, because it shows the very poor attitude that this Government has to an independent office.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor supportive of sending troops into Iraq in a training role?
DREYFUS: Labor is going to look at any proposal the Government brings forward. Obviously we have been supportive of the efforts that have been made to deal with Daesh or ISIL in Iraq and Syria up until now. And we have to hear from the Government whatever proposal they’ve got.
JOURNALIST: It sounds like they are already putting it in motion if John Key is to believed.
DREYFUS: We need to see the detail of the proposal. That’s always the case.