Through its attack on Gillian Triggs, the Federal Government has allowed Labor to avoid scrutiny for its own role in allowing children to suffer in detention, writes Annabel Crabb.
Of all the weird developments in the past week – and this is a period, keep in mind, during which Foreign Minister Julie Bishop conducted an interview communicating only in emoji – surely the strangest is this: the Australian Labor Party now fancies itself to be on the moral high ground, refugee policy-wise.
The airwaves were full this morning of Labor figures denouncing the Government’s treatment of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.
The Australian Federal Police, no less, has been invited by the Opposition to examine the circumstances under which the secretary of the Attorney General’s department, Chris Moraitis, came to wander past Professor Triggs’ office to let her know that the Attorney General had lost confidence in her impartiality, and would be open to her spending a little more time with her family, or at any rate in another part of the organisation (accounts differ as to the exact terms of this interaction, but it seems roughly agreed that Professor Triggs was in some way encouraged to pop her clogs).
This is the bipartisan miracle of the Government’s extraordinary attack on Professor Triggs: It’s given 95 per cent of the elected population of Parliament House something else to talk about besides children in detention.
Seriously, it’s hard to imagine that there is a person remaining in Australia who gives an actual toss about this stuff who has not at some point felt like stabbing themselves with a rusty fork to see the ugly and apparently endless permutations this policy area can inspire in our elected representatives.
Labor, in Government, opened the floodgates and then spent panicked months brainstorming increasingly unpleasant things to do to the hordes of desperate chancers who – not unreasonably – took up the earlier-proffered option of being treated humanely.
The Coalition, which has at least been roughly consistent while in Government, took an ugly swerve towards opportunism in opposition when it refused to support Labor’s proposed border protection measures, even where those measures were to all intents and purposes an echo of their own.
Ugliness is so deeply a part of our political memory in this area that the Government’s attacks on Gillian Triggs are like a fight scene in Godfather III: The violence of the exchange is sickening, but by this stage we’re used to it, to the point where we can consume popcorn while we watch.
In most of these sorts of dustups, everyone usually has some kind of a point. And this one’s no exception; the Prime Minister feels it’s unreasonable that his Government – which has presided over the net withdrawal of children from detention and quelled the arrival of replacements – has copped a full-scale inquiry and withering report from Professor Triggs, when his Labor predecessors didn’t. Fair enough.