The importance of independent national human rights bodies illustrated in Australia

June 16, 2015

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Gillian Triggs:”Were I to receive warm and congratulatory words from the government on a constant basis I think that taxpayers would be justified in asking for my resignation because I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

In March of this year the Australian government attacked Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), for having published a critical report on the presence and treatment of children in Australian immigration detention centres. Other differences followed. Gillian Triggs has refused to resign and vowed not to bow to personal “attacks” from senior ministers (Attorney-General George Brandis and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton), who have labelled her a partisan “disgrace” whose position has become untenable.  Gillian Triggs said that resigning would be the reverse of what she should do.

Michael Forst, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, wrote to the government calling on it to cease verbal attacks. [In a letter sent to Australia’s mission in Geneva in February 2015, he urged the government to “halt the alleged violations and prevent their recurrence“, saying the government’s response would form part of a report to the UN’s Human Rights Council. In its written response, dated April 24, the government insisted it had not “sought to remove any member of the commission” and “Though the government will not always agree with the Commission’s recommendations, it welcomes a vigorous and diverse human rights debate in Australia, and the Commission plays a constructive role in that debate.“]

This statement is in contrast to Mr Dutton’s continued attacks on Professor Triggs describing her conclusions as “a stitch up”, “lacking credibility”, “biased” and “hopelessly untenable”.. Professor Triggs delivered the keynote address at a human rights dinner in Melbourne only hours after his attack, warning that overreach by the Executive represented “a growing threat to democracy“. She was given a standing ovation by many in the room, with the president of the Court of Appeal of Victoria, Justice Chris Maxwell, declaring: “Tonight we have been privileged to have amongst us one of our foremost warriors. As we have been pleased to see, Gillian, you might be bloodied but you are certainly unbowed.”


The nation’s first federal human rights commissioner, Brian Burdekin, responded on ABC radio: “I’m not sure whether the Prime Minister is presiding over it or whether he’s orchestrating it but [it appears to be] a campaign to denigrate, debilitate and I think possibly destabilise or even destroy an independent commission“.

[Attorney-General George Brandis got a Canberra bureaucrat to offer her a nice job overseas if she decided to retire from AHRC. Labor and the Greens asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether this constituted bribery, but Professor Triggs refused to make a formal complaint.]

 CPA – The Guardian – #1689.

One Response to “The importance of independent national human rights bodies illustrated in Australia”

  1. […] August 9, 2019 On 8 August 2019,  Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that Austrialian Gillian Triggs [@GillianTriggs] has been appointed Assistant High Commissioner for refugee protection. He states that she will bring to #UNHCR substantial legal expertise, knowledge and experience of refugee issues and a passion for human rights. From the single blog post I have on her that seems indeed very likely:… […]

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