Opinion: "If anyone should resign it's George Brandis, not Gillian Triggs."

If anyone is going to resign over Human Rights Commission’s report into the treatment of children in detention, it should be the Attorney- General George Brandis – not Professor Gillian Triggs, argues Greens Senator Penny Wright.

As the foremost law officer in the land, his job is to uphold the rule of law. Instead, Attorney-General George Brandis has come dangerously close to breaching the criminal code by directing his Department secretary to offer Professor Triggs another position in exchange for her resignation.

The Abbott Government’s attempts to shoot the messenger have backfired. Under the criminal code, it is an offence to offer “a benefit, or the promise of the provision of a benefit … with the intention of influencing a public official”. The Australian Federal Police have now been asked to investigate the evidence.

No matter the result, the Attorney-General’s job is now untenable.

Read more: Attorney-General George Brandis may be under police investigation.

From the evidence we already have, it is apparent the Attorney-General put undue pressure on an independent office holder to resign – simply because he didn’t like what she was saying. Because she was doing her job too well.

Attorney-General George Brandis.

Let’s run through the facts.

1. The Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body. It is designed to be separate from government and keep an eye on government. Part of its job description is saying things a government may not want to hear.


2. The President of the Human Rights Commission is appointed for a five year term, specifically to avoid political interference. In fact, under the law, Commissioners can only be removed on grounds of misbehavior or physical or mental incapacity. When I asked George Brandis yesterday if there had been any errors of law or breaches of the Act, he could not point to any.

3. The Forgotten Children report revealed institutionalised child abuse. It exposed sexual, physical and psychological abuse as a result of the Australian Government’s indefinite detention polices.

4. Revealing the shocking human rights abuses that are part of Australia’s immigration policy is not a biased or partisan thing to do. The Labor and Liberal parties have an almost identical position when it comes to the treatment and detention of asylum seekers, and the Commission’s report covered both the current government and the one before it.

Gillian Triggs is a fine woman and an exceptional lawyer. She maintained her composure and dignity as she was grilled for more than eight hours in Senate estimates yesterday in one of the most sexist and aggressive displays I have ever witnessed.

Related: Gillian Triggs recommended a wife-killer be set free. But hold your outrage, she deserves our support.

Between female Senators being called “my dear” and being told to “settle down” by Committee Chair and Queensland Liberal Senator Ian McDonald, we had charmers like Senators Barry O’Sullivan interjecting with “I thought you might like to hear a man’s voice” after he thought women had been speaking too long.


It was bully-boy behaviour at its worst, but I don’t think anyone who saw Professor Triggs stand her ground yesterday could fail to be inspired.

President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs.

It is a frightening thing when the Government believes it can attack the very institutions designed to hold it to account. Human rights and legal organisations from around Australia and overseas have come forward to defend the Commission and its president.

Law experts have warned that these attacks jeapordise our democratic system.

Related content: This attack on Gillian Triggs was a new low.

The thing about human rights is that we all have them. One day any one of us may need a champion that is willing to stand up against a government and defend them.

Sen Penny Wright.


Professor Triggs has done nothing worse than embarrass an acutely sensitive and vengeful government.

Nothing worse than put people before politics.

Nothing worse – in fact – than doing her job.

In comparison, the Attorney-General has undertaken an unprecedented attack on an independent officer. He tried to silence dissent by offering Professor Triggs incentive to resign.

If anyone is going to resign over this scandal, I know where I’m pointing my finger.

Senator Penny Wright is the Greens spokesperson for legal affairs and a Senator for South Australia. Before politics, Penny worked as a solicitor, university lecturer and was deputy president of South Australia’s Guardianship Board. She is a mother of three, loves reading, whipping up delicious desserts and riding her bike.