Subject: The Liberal Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission.
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
SKY NEWS PM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: The Liberal Government’s attack on the Human Rights Commission.
DAVID SPEERS: You're watching PM Agenda as we have been discussing this afternoon, the Prime Minister told Parliament this afternoon Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission, was not asked by the Government to resign.
The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, also told Parliament she was not offered another job. At all. Well, that does appear to contradict what the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department told the Senate Estimates hearing yesterday when he did talk about a specific job being discussed with Gillian Triggs.
Joining me now, the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Thank you for your time this afternoon.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you, David.
SPEERS: Gillian Triggs herself yesterday said this offer of another job was not an inducement. You have told Parliament this afternoon it was. Have you made up your mind on this already?
DREYFUS: No, because - and that why is we have asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate - what we do have is massively contradictory and conflicting accounts. We have got denials, goodness knows where they come from, from the Prime Minister and now the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop.
They clearly have not read the Hansard of yesterday's Senate Estimates hearing, at which some very clear things were said, not clearing up everything, but some pretty clear things were said there by the Attorney-General, by Chris Moraitis, the Secretary of the Department and by Professor Triggs herself.
SPEERS: But as I say, one of the things that Professor Triggs clearly said was this was not an inducement.
DREYFUS: She didn’t say that. She said we would prefer not to use that term.
SPEERS: She said she would prefer not to use that term, inducement. You have used that term.
DREYFUS: Because it seems to me that it is properly described as an inducement, if you are saying to a statutory office holder, the President of the Human Rights Commission, there is a job for you, a senior job for you, and naming that job - because that is what apparently occurred. We don't yet know what that job was. That, to me and I think to anyone listening, with any commonsense, would say that is an inducement.
SPEERS: But as you say, this is a serious accusation to make which is why you've referred this now to the Australian Federal Police to look at.
SPEERS: Aren't you prejudging that?
DREYFUS: No. I'm wanting the Australian -
SPEERS: You said it is an inducement?
DREYFUS: In ordinary lay terms, it is an inducement, but it is also a term that is used in the Criminal Code and that’s the reason for-
SPEERS: So your use of it is - you're not making a criminal accusation?
DREYFUS: No, we sound like a pair of lawyers here talking, David.
SPEERS: This is the accusation you're making. You have referred this to the AFP.
DREYFUS: I have said to the AFP we think that the evidence in Senate Estimates yesterday absolutely warrants further investigation by the Australian Federal Police, because what it suggests is corruption and unlawful conduct. I'm not prejudging that. I'm not-
SPEERS: That’s all I'm wanting to establish. You used that word but you're not pre-judging it yourself?
DREYFUS: No, and nor could I or nor should any politician at any point pre-judge, that is why we have got the Australian Federal Police, that is why we have got the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, that is why we have courts.
SPEERS: Because Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader this morning used the word suborn, he said they are trying to suborn this person out of their position.
DREYFUS: That is a very appropriate word.
SPEERS: Suborn actually means trying to actually induce someone to commit an illegal act themselves.
DREYFUS: That is a definition. Again, we are talking about the meaning of words. I think it’s pretty clear-
SPEERS: Serious accusations-
DREYFUS: To anyone that was listening yesterday in Senate Estimates just what's happened here. We have got the Attorney-General, perhaps on the instructions of the Prime Minister, perhaps not - we don't know - sending the Secretary of his Department to say to the President of the Human Rights Commission, in a really disgraceful, underhand manner, we have got another job for you. Here it is. This is what it is. And we have lost confidence in you.
Now, the only confidence that should be lost is that of the Australian people in the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General because this Human Rights Commission, the President of the Human Rights Commission, has done nothing more than do her duty.
SPEERS: There's nothing illegal about losing confidence or expressing any criticism of the President of the statutory authority is there?
DREYFUS: There is in the way in which they have gone about it. They have got a report they don't like and instead of responding to that report, they have set about a character assassination and amazing smear. Having got the report back on 11 November, mind you, they have spent the next two and a half months attacking the President, attacking the Commission and trying to get her to leave ahead of the tabling that was required in the first sitting week.
SPEERS: I guess that is what is alleged and to be established here. But it's entirely legitimate for a government to express criticism, concern, even condemnation at a statutory authority.
DREYFUS: Not at the personal level and what they should be doing, particularly in this human rights area is responding to the report. Not setting out on a shameful and disgraceful personal attack on the President.
SPEERS: Let's just go to that-
DREYFUS: No, it’s pretty important. We will go to the report in a minute. But it is pretty important that the role of the Attorney-General as First Law Officer, which is to defend holders of high office like Professor Triggs, to defend the courts to, defend the Human Rights Commission and explain what it is that the Human Rights Commission does. He has done none of that. Instead, he has joined in the attack.
SPEERS: The report, of course, was only done after the Coalition came into office. Do you accept the point that the Government has repeatedly made, that this should have been done earlier, this should have been done when there were far more people in detention?
DREYFUS: Not at all. This is a tenth year anniversary, it is on the tenth anniversary that the last time that the Human Rights Commission looked at children-
SPEERS: Why is a ten year anniversary more important than having a lot more children in detention?
DREYFUS: More significantly, David, it looks at the period from January 2013 when, the last time I looked Labor was in office and it comments in detail about that period. It comments on the numbers. It comments on the length of time in detention. And it explains that during Labor's time in office, as during the Coalition's time in office, children have been mistreated in detention, have been kept for far too detention, and it's really an indictment of both parties in that sense.
SPEERS: You're right then-
DREYFUS: And to suggest that that is partisan is simply to completely misunderstand what the task is into the Human Rights Commission is carrying out here. I think it is outrageous. It is disgraceful that the Prime Minister should have embarked on the kind of attack that he has made.
SPEERS: Yes, the report does look at and does criticise Labor's time in office, but-
DREYFUS: How can it be partisan then? How can it be-
SPEERS: Because it was only done after the election. And there was Gillian Triggs has acknowledged, discussion with Labor Ministers during the caretaker period-
DREYFUS: I’ll make this point to you David, it is about now, right now. It's about the fact that there are still more than 200 children in detention. It's about the fact that some of them have been in detention for more than a year and a half with all of the dreadful consequences that is outlined in this report.
SPEERS: Let me ask you this Mark Dreyfus, do you think this Government is doing a better job when it comes to kids in detention than Labor did?
DREYFUS: I think that this Government needs to be getting children out of detention more quickly.
SPEERS: But is it doing a better job than you did?
DREYFUS: Not in the sense of length of time in detention.
SPEERS: But in terms of the number of kids in detention, the number of people, number of children affected psychologically by this?
DREYFUS: There were many more people arriving. Let's be clear about that. Many more people, many more children were arriving. So in absolute terms, at certain times-
SPEERS: You acknowledge some fault here, some blame for Labor?
DREYFUS: I think - well, we don't have time to go over why that occurred, the external factors, why people-
SPEERS: I don't want to. But I'm just saying is there some blame on the part of Labor?
DREYFUS: We should look at the offshore regime that Labor put in place before leaving office which has been continued by the Coalition. And I don't think attributing blame here, I want to talk about the children and talk about what the current government - I can't get those children out of detention - but the current Government can. The current Government ought to be expressing concern, not just engaging in some numbers game, but expressing concern about the length of time that some of these children have remained in detention. It's urgent. That's what the report says. It's urgent and, of course, in talking about now, which is what the report does up to the time it was delivered, November 11, it is going to be talking about the current government. It can do nothing else. I think the attack that's been made is simply disgraceful.
SPEERS: One final question, the Prime Minister again today attacked Gillian Triggs over her recommendation of compensation of $300,000 for an Indonesian refugee who had beat to death his Australian wife. Is that legitimate criticism to make in this context?
DREYFUS: No. It's a failure to understand what the Human Rights Commission does. The Human Rights Commission is our conscience. It measures the actions of the Australian government. The actions of Australians against human rights standards which are part of the Human Rights Commissions Act. I want to hear the Attorney-General say that publically.
I want to hear the Attorney-General explain that Gillian Triggs, Professor Trigg and the whole of her Commission, are carrying out the task that the Australian parliament, for 30 years, since Fraser's Government, has given to the Human Rights Commission.
SPEERS: Doesn't this case put a question over her judgment?
DREYFUS: No. It's to look at - you can differ with her conclusion about what the human rights framework means, but let's have that difference. Let's just not behave like a shock jock or tabloid journalist which is what the Prime Minister perhaps would be better suited to than his current role, because that's what it sounds like when he's launching this sort of attack for his own entirely partisan reasons.
I want a Prime Minister and Attorney-General who respect the rule of law. At the moment we don't have that. We need to have, from the highest levels of government, a respect for the rule of law, a respect for our institutions and proper engagement with real criticism. There is real criticism in the Human Rights Commission's reports. Let's hear the Government's response, not this sort of personal attack.
SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, thank you.
DREYFUS: Thank you, David.