Disagreeing with somebody’s professional decisions is one thing. Just leave their personal choices out of it.
But today, Daily Telegraph journalist Piers Akerman reached a vile new low in his column about Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs – because instead of just attacking her professional judgment, he criticised the way she chose to care for her late daughter.
Her late, profoundly disabled daughter Victoria.
Victoria was born in 1984 with a chromosomal disorder called Edwards syndrome and was “as severely retarded as anyone who is still alive can be,” Triggs told a Fairfax interviewer in 2013.
The syndrome is associated with characteristics including structural heart defects, intestines protruding outside the body, breathing difficulties, kidney malformations, intellectual disability, a small head, clenched hands, an abnormally small jaw.
Most foetuses with the syndrome die before birth, but Victoria “had this inner rod of determination”, Triggs said and lived until age 21. When Victoria was six months old, Triggs and her former husband found a foster family who were better equipped to care for their daughter’s complex needs.
Victoria lived with that family until her death at age 21.
Both the decision to have their daughter live with another family and her death were no doubt, heartbreaking for both Triggs and former husband Sandy Clark.
Akerman – a climate change-denying columnist renowned for his unfounded allegations about the sexuality of Julia Gillard’s partner – had a point to make about Gillian Trigg’s professional decision making today. So he decided to use Victoria as cheap political fuel.
Writing about Triggs’ work on the commission’s report into children in immigration detention, which was tabled in Parliament in Wednesday, Akerman wrote: “Triggs is the last person to lecture anyone on the human rights of children”.
He then described Victoria’s placement into care with another family as ‘proof’ that Triggs had total disregarded the rights of her own daughter.
If this parallel wasn’t bad enough in and of itself, Akerman’s conclusion was truly abhorrent and emotionally cut-throat.
“(Triggs) should resign,” he wrote.
“But that would require a conspicuous display of the sort of morals in which she is so apparently deficient.”
While Triggs has not directly engaged with the comments made by Akerman publicly, a colleague of hers told Mamamia that the Commission president was feeling “surprised and hurt that the attacks on her were of such a personal nature.”
And rightly so.
Akerman’s writing is personal, vindictive, opportunistic and completely misunderstands the private nature of a public person’s life.
Attacking somebody’s decision about how best to raise their child, particularly in circumstances involving a child’s profound disability requiring ongoing care, and the subsequent loss of that child, is nothing short of sickening.
Triggs and her former partner made a gut-wrenchingly hard decision 30 years ago – they made it in the best interests of their family – and it has absolutely zero bearing whatsoever on her work as Human Rights Commission president today.
There’s no doubt that in general, debate about policy and the effectiveness of political processes is part of a healthy democracy.
But the attack on Triggs by the right in recent weeks has been sustained and deeply personal. Akerman’s column brings that campaign into new, disgraceful territory.
It should never have been published. And it certainly does nothing to win us over to Akerman’s version of what ‘morality’ is.