The Australian Federal Police have be asked to investigate whether a job offer the president of The Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, says was made to her constitutes “corrupt and unlawful conduct”.
In a letter sent to the AFP late on Tuesday, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wrote:
“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 Australian Human Rights Commission to avoid political damage to the Abbott government may constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct.
“I request the matter be investigated by the Australian federal police as a priority and that it be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, if appropriate.”
In a fiery Senate estimates committee hearing on Tuesday, Professor Triggs said she had be asked to resign by a representative of Attorney-General George Brandis’s office and claimed she was offered a new senior role in a way that was “clearly linked” to her stepping down from The Human Rights Commission.
Triggs has come under sustained attack from the government following the publication of an HRC report which heavily criticised both the past Labor and current Coalition governments’ handling of asylum seeker children in detention.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has labelled the report a “political stitch-up”, accusing Triggs of only launching the investigation into child detention once the Coalition had assumed government. He told Parliament on Tuesday that the government had lost confidence in Triggs, a stance which he reiterated at a press conference on Wednesday.
At Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Brandis said he had lost confidence in Triggs after what he termed her “error in judgement”. The attorney-general said the commission’s investigation into children in detention opened the HRC to accusations of bias.
“I felt that the political impartiality of the Human Rights Commission had been fatally compromised”, Brandis told the hearing.
“I had reached the conclusion, sadly, that Professor Triggs should consider her position.”
“I would be glad for Professor Triggs to be of service to the Australian government but I am afraid that the reputation of the commission will not survive the reputation of political partisanship”.
Triggs told the hearing that she had been “very shaken and shocked” when, as she claims, a member of Brandis’s office asked her to resign earlier this month.
While refraining from using the word ‘inducement’, the HRC president said she had no doubt that the job offer and resignation request were “connected”.
“I rejected it out of hand. I thought it was a disgraceful proposal,” Triggs told the Senate hearing.
Chris Moraitis, a secretary in Brandis’s department, confirmed to the hearing that he had informed Triggs on 3 February that she had lost the confidence of the attorney-general but denied he requested her resignation from the HRC. However, he conceded that he offered Triggs another “positively a senior legal role” which, if she accepted, would necessitate her standing down from the HRC, just three years into her five year tenure.
When asked by Labor senator Jacinta Collins how it did not occur to him that taking that course of action would be regarded as an inducement, Moraitis replied: “I didn’t take it as an inducement. It was an explanation of the attorney’s perspective on the chairperson.”
Exasperated Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, put it to the rest of the hearing: “It sounds like a bribe, it smells like a bribe. What we’re trying to work out is whether it is.” She later confirmed the Greens would also be considering their own request to the AFP over the matter.
“The government is obsessed with shutting down dissent and, this time, may have gone too far,” she said.