Government piles pressure on Human Rights chief

Government piles pressure on Human Rights chief Source: AAP

A simmering row between the federal government and Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs has boiled over, with the government once more demanding her resignation.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

A simmering row between the federal government and Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs has boiled over, with the government once more demanding her resignation.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has urged Ms Triggs to consider resigning, saying she has debased her position by pursuing a political agenda.

It follows comments by Professor Triggs last week criticising the the government's policy of turning back asylum-seeker boats and its plan to strip the citizenship of Australians the government thinks might be terrorists.

The outspoken Human Rights chief is showing no signs of backing down, and federal Labor is accusing the government of bullying her.

Amanda Cavill has the details.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Gillian Triggs and the government have been at loggerheads since last year after her review into children in immigration found the Government's policies were causing significant mental and physical illness and breached Australia's international obligations.

Professor Triggs was under pressure to explain the timing of the release of the commission's inquiry which was conducted during the former Labor government's last term in office, and the Coalition's first term.

The government said the Commission report's release was timed to damage the Abbott government, despite the number of children in detention dropping from 2,000 to 200 under its rule.

Now Professor Triggs has linked Indonesia's refusal to negotiate on the death penalty to the government's "turn the boats back" policy.

"Have we thought about what the consequences are of pushing people back to our neighbours, Indonesia? Is it any wonder that Indonesia will not engage with us on other issues that we care about, like the death penalty?"

Professor Triggs last week also accused the government of passsing laws which pose a growing threat to democracy.

She cites the planned expansion of discretionary ministerial powers that may be exercised with limited or no judicial scrutiny, such as stripping citizenship from foreign fighters or their supporters.

"The overreach of executive power is clear in the yet to be defined proposal that those accused of being jihadists fighting against Australian interests will be stripped of their citizenship if they're potentially dual citizens. This proposal strikes at the heart of Australia as a largely migrant country - not only may this idea violate Australia's international obligation not to render a person stateless, but also the detention may be at the discretion of a minister without recourse to judicial processes."

Immigration Minister Dutton told reporters last week Professor Triggs is a complete disgrace for what he claims is her linking of boat turn backs to the executions of the Bali Nine pair in Indonesia.

He continued the attack on Sunday with Andrew Bolt's on the Ten Network.

BOLT: "You'd like to see her gone wouldn't you?"

DUTTON: "Well when you reduce the position to basically that of a political advocate I think it is very difficult to continue on. And these are issues for Professor Triggs to contemplate. But I think very strongly that we are doing the right thing when it comes to stopping these boats."

Labor MP Chris Bowen says the Human Rights Commission chief is being responsible in criticising politicians for possibly over-reaching their powers, but that doesn't mean politicians have to agree with her.

Mr Bowen says Professor Triggs' views should be respected.

"The Human Rights Commissioner plays an important role in Australian politics, in the Australian body politic. We respect the office of the Human Rights Commissioner as well as the individual and the Government should too. When we were in office, the successive Human Rights Commissioners did and said things we didn't agree with but that their right, it's more than their right, it's their responsibility. Professor Triggs, the Human Rights Commissioner is exercising her responsibilities and her views should be respected."

The Human Right Commission is a statutory body.

The Commission President is appointed for a period of five years and cannot be dismissed by the government of the day, unless he or she is declared bankrupt or commits a serious crime.





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