Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has slammed the federal government’s request she resign as “entirely inappropriate” and “disgraceful”.
Speaking at a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday morning, Ms Triggs said she was offered other unspecified work in exchange for her resignation, in a request from Attorney General George Brandis’ office.
The offer was made several weeks before the AHRC released its damning Forgotten Children report, which alleged widespread abuse of children held in offshore immigration detention.
“I rejected it out of hand. I thought it was a disgraceful proposal,” Professor Triggs said.
“I have a five year statutory position … which is designed to avoid political interference in the exercise of my tasks.
“It was an entirely inappropriate offer to make.”
“I’d been a practising lawyer for 46 years, I’ve never had any suggestion of impropriety or work that was not of the appropriate standards.”
Mr Brandis defended his position and told the Senate the impartiality of the human rights watchdog was “fatally compromised”.
“Professor Triggs embarked on a course of conduct in 2013 as a result of which, the confidence of my side of politics had in her impartiality … collapsed,” Mr Brandis said.
Later in question time, the PM said his government had lost confidence in Professor Triggs.
Labor leader Bill Shorten asked the prime minister in question time whether he was aware of the “inducement” offered to Professor Triggs.
“It is true that the government has lost confidence in the president of the Human Rights Commission,” Mr Abbott said.
He said the government wanted to see children out of detention and the way to do it was to “stop the boats”.
Mr Abbott said he did not know what matters had been canvassed with Prof Triggs.
But he said the commission president herself had declined to call it an “inducement”.
On Tuesday afternoon ‘#IStandWithGillianTriggs’ began trending on Twitter as people responded to Mr Abbott’s comments.
#IStandWithGillianTriggs because we need people still brave enough to report without fear or favour.
— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) February 24, 2015
#IStandWithGillianTriggs because doing one’s job competently should be an occasion for praise, not censure.
— Dr. Rock Hibernia (@Hippopeteamus) February 24, 2015
The Forgotten Children report found more than a third of children in detention during the first half of 2014 were assessed as having serious mental health disorders.
Mr Abbott told radio station 3AW the report was “blatantly partisan” and said the AHRC should congratulate Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for his work.
“Where was the human rights commission during the life of the former government when hundreds of people were drowning at sea?” Mr Abbott said.
“The most compassionate thing you can do is stop the boats. We have stopped the boats.”
– with AAP