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Senator Penny Wong: "The Liberals' bullying of Gillian Triggs has no place in modern Australia."

As Labor’s leader in the Senate I don’t often get invited onto FM radio stations first thing in the morning. Especially not to talk about the arcane business of Senate estimates hearings.

But that’s what happened this week after the spectacle of Liberal Senators using the committee hearings to bully the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

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Senator Wong: “The Liberals’ bullying of Gillian Triggs has no place in modern Australia.”

Tony Abbott reckons the furore over his treatment of Professor Gillian Triggs is a mere “Canberra insiders” story. His Senate bovver-boys – who spent the hearings uttering gems like “I thought you might like to hear a man’s voice” and trying to expel me and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the room – seemed proud of their day’s work.

A Canberra insider’s story of no interest to ordinary Australians?

Tell that to Nova FM’s Meshel Laurie.

Here’s how she saw it: “Ordinarily we don’t hear enough of this stuff in our news, in our lives as we go about our business – plenty of stories about dogs that can surf, not enough about what is going on in our government.”

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Senator Wong appeared on Nova FM speaking to Meshel Laurie, who reflected: “Ordinarily we don’t hear enough of this stuff in our news.”
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So what is going on when the Prime Minister thinks it is okay to persecute the head of the Human Rights Commission? And what’s going on when Government Senators not only behave like this, but are evidently completely unaware of the antediluvian nature of their conduct?

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

The background to the story is that the Human Rights Commission recently completed a report on children being held in immigration detention in Australia.

The Forgotten Children report examines the treatment of children under both the current Government and the former Labor Government. It makes a number of recommendations designed to improve the welfare and protect the human rights of children.

The Government’s response has been to launch a hysterical attack on Professor Triggs, accusing her of political bias.

That was bad enough. But now evidence has emerged that the Attorney-General George Brandis tried to pressure Professor Triggs into resigning.

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Attorney-General George Brandis tried to press Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs to resign.

The Attorney-General is the first law officer of the land.

His job is to defend the courts and independent agencies like the Commission from political attacks.

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Instead of doing that, Senator Brandis sought to administer the coup de grace by trying to “encourage” its President to quit her statutory office.

Fortunately Professor Triggs – an eminent lawyer with expertise in international and human rights law – had the courage to stand her ground and defend the Commission’s independence.

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‘Fortunately Professor Triggs had the courage to stand her ground and defend the Commission’s independence.’

The welfare of children should be beyond partisan politics. No one wants to see children in detention.

Where that is unavoidable, we have to make sure the welfare of children is the first priority.

At the estimates hearings, Professor Triggs urged Senators to read the report and consider its findings.

I think that’s good advice – especially given that the Liberal Senators leading the attack have admitted they haven’t even bothered to read the report.

Senator Penny Wong.
Senator Wong: “The most disturbing thing about this episode is that it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour.”
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The most disturbing thing about this episode is that it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour.

This is a Government that seeks to intimidate people who don’t agree with their policies and to silence independent voices.

The Abbott Government has sacked senior public servants, axed the Climate Commission, defunded the Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia, and cut funding to the ABC. The Human Rights Commission is the latest in a long line of political targets.

Liberal Senators Barry O’Sullivan and Ian Macdonald. Senator Wong writes: “Their bullying of Professor Triggs and her staff, and of female Labor and Greens Senators, has no place in a modern Australia.”

Finally let’s deal with Liberal Senators Barry O’Sullivan and Ian Macdonald.

I’ve been in politics for more than a decade, and yes it is a robust and adversarial environment.

But their bullying of Professor Triggs and her staff, and of female Labor and Greens Senators, has no place in a modern Australia.

That was certainly how Meshel and her cohost Tommy Little saw it on Nova FM in Melbourne.

If Tony Abbott can’t see it, then it’s pretty clear he’s the one isolated inside the political beltway, not the rest of us.

Penny Wong was born in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Her family moved to Australia in 1976, when she was eight years old, and settled in Adelaide. Penny graduated in law and arts from the University of Adelaide and was elected to the Senate for the Australian Labor Party in 2001. She has served as Minister for Climate Change and Minister for Finance and Deregulation. In 2013 she was elected Leader of the Government in the Senate and, after the change of government that year, she became Leader of the Opposition in the Senate – the first woman to hold both of these roles. She is the Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment.

Related content: “If anyone should resign, it’s George Brandis”

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