The Federal Opposition has asked the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate if a job offer made by the government to Human Rights Commission (HRC) president Gillian Triggs was an inducement to resign.
The Opposition said the offer of another government position to Professor Triggs by the secretary of Attorney-General George Brandis’s department on his behalf could constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wrote to the AFP Commissioner seeking an immediate investigation and possible prosecution regarding the conduct of Senator Brandis.
“The Attorney-General’s offer to an independent statutory officer of an inducement to resign her position as president, with the object of affecting the leadership of the AHRC to avoid political damage to the Abbott Government may constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct,” he wrote.
“Professor Triggs said there was ‘no doubt in her mind’ that the request to resign and the offer of further work were ‘very clearly linked’.
“I request this matter be investigated by the Australian Federal Police as a priority.”
• Scroll to the end of this story to read the letter to the AFP in full
Professor Triggs said she preferred not to use the term “inducement”.
But Mr Dreyfus said that was because it had direct meaning in the law.
“She’s not wanting to characterise it herself, that’s a matter for investigation by the Australian Federal Police,” he said.
Tensions between the Government and the HRC have been on display recently, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying the commission’s damning report into children in detention was “a blatantly partisan, politicised exercise”.
Mr Abbott is unrepentant about the government’s criticism of Prof Triggs.
But the Prime Minister stopped short of demanding her resignation.
“What she does is a matter for her,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“She was not asked to resign and no inducement has been offered.”
Professor Triggs revealed on Tuesday during a Senate estimates hearing that Senator Brandis’s department asked her to resign during a meeting on February 3.
According to Mr Dreyfus’s letter, the Attorney-General’s department secretary, Chris Moraitis, did not offer a reason as to why the resignation was requested.
“Professor Triggs drew her ‘own conclusions’ that it was because the Prime Minister was unhappy with the AHRC’s report The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention,” he wrote.
Mr Moraitis said he did not ask Professor Triggs for her resignation but that he told her Senator Brandis had lost confidence in her and they discussed the possibility of her taking on another government role.
George Brandis, Tony Abbott confirm ‘lost confidence’ in Triggs
In Tuesday morning’s Senate estimates, Senator Brandis confirmed that he had lost confidence in Professor Triggs in mid-January and wanted her to resign, saying the commission “has to be like Caesar’s wife” and “beyond blemish”.
“It saddens me to say that because as Professor Triggs herself has said, our relationship has never been anything other than cordial,” he said.
“But after the November [Senate] estimates — when on any view Professor Triggs gave inconsistent and evasive evidence on the circumstances in which the decision was made to hold the inquiry which we have been discussing, in particular when Professor Triggs conceded that she had made a decision to hold the inquiry after the 2013 election and had spoken during the caretaker period, quite inappropriately, with two Labor ministers, a fact concealed from the then-opposition — I felt that the political impartiality of the commission had been fatally compromised.”
Senator Brandis later added: “As a matter of goodwill towards her and in earnest of my good intentions towards her, I did say to Mr Moraitis that I hoped Professor Triggs could be encouraged or would be willing to serve the Government in other capacities.”
Mr Abbott confirmed in Question Time the Government no longer had confidence in Professor Triggs.
“It’s absolutely crystal clear this inquiry by the president of the Human Rights Commission is a political stitch-up,” he said.
“All I know Madam Speaker is that this Government has lost confidence in the president of the Human Rights Commission.”
Professor Triggs told Senate estimates the purpose of the February 3 meeting “was to deliver a request from the Attorney”.
“And what was the nature of that request?” Labor senator Jacinta Collins asked.
“The nature of that request was to ask for my resignation,” Professor Triggs said.
She said she was deeply shocked by the request and rejected it.
“I rejected it out of hand,” she said.
“My answer was that I have a five-year statutory position, which is designed for the president of the Human Rights Commission specifically to avoid political interference in the exercise of my tasks under the Human Rights Commission Act.”
Professor Triggs also testified that Mr Moraitis told her she would be offered another job if she did.
“I thought it was a disgraceful proposal,” she said.
“I don’t recall the precise words but I know that he said that I would be offered other work with the Government.
“I said ‘this sounds like a bribe’.”
Sarah Hanson-Young, also at the hearing, replied: “Smells like a bribe, sounds like a bribe, what we’re trying to work out is whether it is.”
Senator Hanson-Young had to withdraw the word “bribe.”
Who is Gillian Triggs?
- Attended University of Melbourne, earning Bachelor of Laws (1967) and Doctor of Philosophy (1982)
- Earned Master of Laws from Southern Methodist University in Texas while working as legal adviser to Chief of Police
- Joined law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques in 1987, working as a consultant in international law
- Practised as barrister in Sydney and was Professor at Melbourne Law School (1996-2005)
- Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (2005-2007)
- Director of the Institute for Comparative and International Law at the University of Melbourne
- Became Dean of the University of Sydney Law School in 2007
- Retired as Dean in July 2012 to take up HRC appointment
- Was Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner from July 2012 to August 2013
- Launched National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in February 2014