QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS;Australian Human Rights Commission – 02 Mar 2015

I too rise to take note of answers given today by Senator Brandis, specifically dealing with Professor Triggs, who is the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. The answers given today were completely unsatisfactory. I am a member of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. I sat there for hours of questioning of Professor Triggs by senators. Can I say that I have never seen, in the nearly seven years I have been here, such an attack on a statutory officeholder during estimates. We all know that through estimates things can get a bit uptight. In fact, I have been in some Senate estimates hearings where the chair has closed down estimates so that people could catch their breath. None of that was forthcoming through estimates. While he was chair, Senator Macdonald was taking points of order on himself and deeming them out of order. It was a pretty bizarre day, all in all.

One thing that confuses me is that the secretary of the department was sent along by the Attorney-General—who obviously did not want to do the work himself—to make three points to Professor Triggs. There seems to be a debate—the word ‘inducement’ has come up and been knocked back. Maybe it was an incentive. I am not sure what word people want to use. I am very concerned about the fact that the Attorney-General thinks you can say to someone, ‘I’ve lost confidence in you but here’s another role we think you’ll be good at’—and I would be pretty shocked if the general public think the two are not linked. In the Hansard, even the secretary of the department seems to think they are linked. I quote:

Senator WONG: I am suggesting to you that you knew perfectly well that the two propositions—the resignation and the offer of a new position—were linked.

Mr Moraitis : I did not know whether there was an express linkage. All I was asked to convey was that there was a lack of confidence.

Senator WONG: Sorry, what was your answer?—’I did not know if they were expressly linked’.

Mr Moraitis : I did not think there was an express linkage.

Senator WONG: Did you understand there to be a linkage?

Mr Moraitis : As I said, my view was that one could not fulfil the second legal role while doing the first.

Senator WONG: So, they were linked?

Mr Moraitis : One would follow from another, possibly.

It is all there in the Hansard. It is on page 54 if you are interested in looking at it.

Senator Conroy: Guilty as charged!

Senator BILYK: I think so, Senator Conroy; it is absolutely guilty as charged. It was quite disheartening to see through that whole estimates—and we have heard Senator Brandis say here today that he is not impugning the character of Professor Triggs—that the Attorney-General just sat there and let other people destroy Professor Triggs’s professional standing and impugn her motives and competence. Others set out to destroy her reputation and the Attorney-General did nothing to defend her. I think that is beneath the position of the Attorney-General. He came in here early today during the censure motion—which was won—stating that he was not attacking Professor Triggs’s character. Well, let me say that they were. It shows us what sort of a government we have got. It shows us that the government are the ones who are damaging the reputation of the committee. Minister Brandis and the coalition government politicised the whole Human Rights Commission and the position of the president. It was not the position of the president that did that, it was the government. They have used these unfounded and unfair attacks to save their own political skins simply because they did not like the report that came down. It is beyond belief. I have had so many people make comment to me since the estimates about the chair could just sit there having a go at what is in the report— (Time expired)