In the last week the Prime Minister has launched a scathing attack on Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, declaring the government has lost confidence in her. He cites two reasons for this:
1) the call for the release of a convicted manslaughterer;
2) the timing of the report into children in detention.
The Prime Minister’s first accusation, that Gillian Triggs displayed incredibly poor judgement in the recommendation that a convicted criminal be released from detention refers to the case of an Indonesian refugee by the name of Basikbasik. In 2000 Basikbasik was convicted of the manslaughter of his wife and sentenced to 7 years in prison. At the conclusion of his term Basikbasik’s visa was cancelled, but he could not be returned to Indonesia because of the likelihood that he would be subject to human rights violations. Nor could he be freely released into the Australian community given the assessment that he posed a risk to members of the community. So 7 1/2 years after his sentence concluded, he remains in immigration detention.
If this is the only information one has, the call of the human rights commission to release and compensate Basikbasik does seem ill founded. But what the Prime Minister neglects to disclose is that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal suggested that the reason Basikbasik would pose a threat of harm was that there was no management plan in place for his rehabilitation and he had no support group within the community. When his case came before the Human Rights Commission it became clear that the government had not considered whether a management plan could be put in place that would mitigate the risk to the community, something they were obligated to do. This meant that according to the law, Basikbasik was being held arbitrarily, which it is not within the power of the government. Moreover, the High Court had established that those who were arbitrarily detained should be compensated when released.
The advice of Commissioner Triggs was simply to apply the law, and for her to have done anything else would have been a dereliction of her responsibility. It may be news to the Prime Minister, but politicians don’t get to decide which laws they will follow and which they will ignore, nor do people surrender their human rights when they commit a crime.
The second accusation against Gillian Triggs is that the children in detention report was politically motivated. The evidence for this is in the timing of the report. Again the Prime Minister is being less than honest. The Human Rights Commission had signalled well in advance that it planned to do a report on children in detention as a 10 year follow-on from the report it produced in 2004. When the time came to commence the inquiry a federal election had been called and the government was in caretaker mode. Gillian Triggs made the decision that it would be inappropriate to commence her inquiry in the middle of an election campaign, and so waited for the campaign to conclude. I don’t see how she can be faulted for this, particularly given the report is highly critical of the previous Labor government.
Not only has the Prime Minister no grounds for losing confidence in Gillian Triggs, but he has been far from honest in the way he has presented his case. I guess it’s easier to do that than to face up to the damning reality that is described in the Forgotten Children report.
I haven’t lost my confidence in Gilllian Triggs. I have lost my confidence in the PM.
Scott, Thank you for your tireless advocacy for the poor and marginalised. However I feel I must challenge this article. My apologies for the length of my response but wanted to back up my response with quotes: Your comments, which simply re-iterate the commentary coming from the left of politics is notable for two reasons ; the very selective issues on which you have chosen to comment on, and, secondly, what you have therefore chosen to omit. You seem to minimize the nature of the offence committed by Mr John Basikbasik, or have chosen to omit details of that offence.… Read more »
Hi Andrew, Thanks for taking time to reply. The additional information you provide about John Basickbasick is helpful, and makes my comment about politicians presuming to be above the law unfair but it doesn’t substantially alter my critique of the PM, which was that Triggs was being attacked for doing her job. One may disagree with her interpretation of the law, but to demonise a highly respected lawyer on the basis of a contrary opinion on a single judgement is reprehensible. Re the number of children in detention i am pleased with the reduction in numbers and have expressed that… Read more »
Thanks Scott. Respectfully, the government did not “demonise a highly respected lawyer”. That just isn’t the case. They expressed that they did not have confidence in her as the President of the HRC. They are perfectly entitled to express that. You and many others have expressed similar opinions regarding Tony Abbott. You haven’t demonised him, you have criticised his performance.Perfectly justifiable and usually accurate in my opinion! They consider that they have justifiable reasons to do so. Is she untouchable in that regard? There is, at least, a legitimate case for the report’s timing being politically motivated, although the “he… Read more »
I guess we’ll have to agree to differ on whether the PMs declaration of no confidence in Gillian Triggs was justified/legitimate. I must confess I have been baffled by the political strategy, for the govt does have a good story to tell. I don’t understand why they didn’t simply receive the report, agree child detention is not good, highlight the reduction in numbers and commit to getting the remaining children out as fast as possible. By going after Triggs they ensured this message would be lost.
We certainly agree on that issue Scott. Baffling. But Mr Abbott does tend to baffle! Cheers mate.