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Stand with heroic Gillian Triggs



This damnable pursuit of Gillian Triggs must stop at once. The Human Rights Commission has called out the government's lamentable failure to protect the human rights of children in detention at an inconvenient time. No government likes watchdogs on the moral and legal limits on its power.

Gillian TriggsOur Attorney-General George Brandis does not understand the use of the law to protect fundamental human rights and freedoms. Nor does he respect such niceties as the constitutional independence of the solicitor general, Justin Gleeson, who has honourably vacated the field to preserve the rule of law.

Triggs is an outstanding independent statutory office holder, one of the many appointed by governments over decades to remind them of Australia's international human rights obligations and to oversee the functions of laws to mitigate social wrongs such as age, race, disability and sex discrimination.

This is an essential element of a representative democracy. Civil liberties and human rights must be protected from obstinacy, expediency and ignorance.

I have practised law for 45 years, as a partner and owner of my own law firm, as a full-time consultant in a now international law firm, and as a barrister.

I have also held statutory appointments set by governments to protect people from discrimination, persecution and corruption, among them commissioner for equal opportunity in Victoria and in Western Australia and hearings commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC or AHRC). None of these offices are ever popular with governments, or with those who wish to hire and fire at will or ridicule, despise and encourage detestation of unpopular minority interests.

Courts have limited or removed such bodies' power to determine complaints and grievances. For example, when I was AHRC hearings commissioner the commission had a statutory, quasi-judicial determinative power to hear and uphold or dismiss complaints, but this has now passed over to the judicial arm of federal government. The commission, having lost its decision-making power, is now pursued even if it expresses an opinion, for example, on Bill Leak's unpleasant Aboriginal cartoon in The Australian.


"The law has fallen short in protecting rights and freedoms in Australia. We need to do something braver and more fundamental. We must respect the moral core of the law which, until Triggs said it out loud, our federal governments comfortably overlooked."


All legislation has sharp edges that cut both ways, and the Constitution also has teeth to protect the Commonwealth's judicial power from encroachment or attack. We need balanced and sane discussion, both of which have been absent from public debate for far too long.

Protecting civil liberties and individual human rights and preserving the rule of law are the greatest challenges to the post-modern age. Waves of globalised investment and economic downturns and technological innovation create uncertainty, insecurity, and waves of workless people. Law provides for order, but democracy also requires that people feel they can influence and control of their personal circumstances. Resilience requires an internal locus of control.

The law has fallen short in protecting rights and freedoms in Australia. We need to do something braver and more fundamental. We must respect the moral core of the law which, until Triggs said it out loud, our federal governments have comfortably overlooked.

The function of judges and courts in developing the law by reference to human rights standards, where those rights are clearly and directly affected, is a legitimate and important influence on the rule of law. It is illegitimate to deny this role in even the AHRC's power to inquire and report. Yet this has long been a feature of Australian political life, particularly with regard to Australia's treatment of children, especially Aboriginal and asylum seeking children.

Children need adult champions to protect their interests and to claim their rights. Most often these are there parents. They are powerless in detention, on Nauru or on Manus.

There may be no effective remedy for the breach of a right, but as the late Scottish legal philosopher Neil MacCormack pointed out, sometimes a right is so clearly 'of such importance that it would be wrong to deny it or withhold it from any member' of our human society; that it must exist, a remedy must be found, and the person who ought to fulfil the duties attached to it identified and made to act.

John Stuart Mill argued it would be unjust to punish children for their parents' irresponsibility, poor judgment or poverty. The law must provide ways to ensure that children's rights are protected, not only through their families. Triggs, the Human Rights Commission and their state and territory counterparts are there to remind publicly those who are privileged or unthinking that there are important human rights claims to be considered.

Jailers know nothing about child welfare. It is not their business. Politicians choose to prefer the business of politics than the authority of the rule of law. Triggs offended Abbott and Brandis by speaking truth to power. Her verbal 'slip' under bullying last week about the accuracy of a headline in a small weekend paper was no lie, but provided an opportunity to incite hate.

Janusz Korczak wrote: 'Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with courtesy and respect, as equals. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be — the unknown person inside each of them is the hope for the future.'

Triggs, in speaking out for those rights, is a hero. Stand with her.


Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Gillian Triggs



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Existing comments

This government has to stop interfering with people who hold positions of responsibility beyond the parliament. Both the Human Rights Commissioner and then the Solicitor General have been bullied by this Government. It must stop. The Government is not beyond the law.

Genevieve Berenyi | 25 October 2016  

Well the ALP government never has to worry about the HRC watchdog, for despite the number of children in detention increasing to the thousands under Rudd & Gillard, Triggs held private discussions with a parade of ALP ministers before delaying her Inquiry. So perhaps the author can mention this odd matter of timing?

Joh | 25 October 2016  

And amazingly the record number of ALP women in the parliament have been utterly silent and not defended Triggs because they all voted to traffic those children to the torture of Nauru.

Marilyn | 26 October 2016  

joh, the report was spread over the last year of the Gillard lot and the first year of the Abbott lot and was equally critical of them all. What lazies forget is that when it comes to the torture of refugees, aborigines, gays and lesbians, the unemployed, sick, disabled and single parents the ALP/LNP are a cartel.

Marilyn | 26 October 2016  

I have not got a clue of what you are asking. Please re-install Justin Gleeson as soon as possible.

Len Heggarty | 26 October 2016  

Brilliant & so right Moira Gillian Is a great Australian & an devoted advocate for justice. Thank you Moira.

Ellen Crehan | 26 October 2016  

The Four Corners program on Monday last was a frightening look at what is being done to children in our name. However, let us not forget that the abusers of the refugee children on Nauru are also children; the Apex gangs now flourishing in Melbourne are (almost all) children; the detention centre for young criminals in Melbourne was recently destroyed by the children. Heaven help anyone who dares to suggest that society has gone too soft on children.

Frank | 26 October 2016  

How can we stand with the brave and intelligent Gillian? We have sent many emails etc, we have not voted for this government, we have tried to talk about human rights and especially those of children. We don't seem to be getting anywgere. Children affected by horrendous family law, child 'protection' and immigration decisions still have no voice of their own and not nearly enough support or understanding except from - occasionally - such courageous messengers as Gillian. Who are then shot. Justice for Children Australia

Ariel Marguin | 26 October 2016  

Agree totally with this article. It is good to know that there are Aussies like her as we hear so many negative, justifiable comments on human rights in Australia.

Noeline Champion | 26 October 2016  

Well said. When will the Australian people stand up for the independence of our watchdogs and their incumbents.

ray Cleary | 26 October 2016  

Thanks Moira for this article. I will send it around to others because it really describes the work and philosophy of Gillian Triggs which is not well known by the general public. Wonderful work by women in Australia is often hidden in our society and her situation is a sad example.Without her being in her current position, we are all worse off in Australia.

paula kelly | 26 October 2016  

The debacle affecting the Commonwealth Solicitor General’s office is evidence of a malignancy akin to the persecution of Gillian Triggs. In the 1976 Report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, the Solicitor General was linked as a high status office with the Auditor General, and the then office, Chairman of the Public Service Board as one of the three statutory officials to whom “officials concerned about ethical problems arising in their relationships with Ministers” should turn for guidance” through an established procedure; in cases where they considered it warranted, those officers could arrange for the official to see the Prime Minister. Sadly, the Solicitor General debacle reflects a pervasive disregard for values that underpin sound public administration in the public interest. Once, conservative politicians could be relied upon to preserve the integrity of public institutions generally; those days are long past. The treatment of the Solicitor General, the confused jumble of responsibility and accountability integral to the absence of machinery of government determinations for the Department of Defence triumvirate, the strange dismissal of Barnaby Joyce’s Departmental head, and the identification of the Australian Public Service Commission appointee, John Lloyd, as a “workplace reform warlord”, reinforces the point.

Paul Munro | 26 October 2016  

Good summary of the frightening sight of the Government hounding people doing their job and being publicly and disrespectfully attacked till they presumably crack and go.

Jean Morris | 26 October 2016  

I totally agree with your comments Moira. Sadly both sides of politics are complicit in this trend. I believe we as a society have lost our moral compass in recent decades. Sadly the influence of the Churches has declined with the outbreak of the scandals involving some clergy and our young people. We need to be aware that it is not just Australia but western society in general that is facing this crisis . We need to address this issue as a matter of urgency. Gillian Triggs has attempted to make the wake up call to her credit .

Gavin | 26 October 2016  

Moira is correct that Gillian Triggs needs to be supported. She has taken a very important stand to defend asylum seekers. Comments by others that the ALP has been as poor on the human rights of asylum seekers as the Coalition are very true. Both major parties have been appalling on this issue. It seems to me that Gillian Triggs is taking a moral stand on policies that the Australian Human Rights Commission should be taking a stand on, but has not done so previously. Years ago, I approached the very respected lawyer, judge, former SA governor and founding Chair of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Roma Mitchell, to ask her to sign a petition against the Indonesian illegal and brutal occupation of East Timor and Australia's dreadful acquiescence. She felt that she could not do so because the Commission only dealt with human rights in Australia. Mark Oliphant, the nuclear physicist and former SA governor did sign it however. I feel that the Commission should be able to speak out on human rights issues when our leaders are not acting appropriately. Other issues that the Commission could be advocating on are West Papua, Acheh, the Middle East and other regions of the world where our leaders just go along with US policy.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 26 October 2016  

Successive Australian governments treatment of asylum seekers is a source of the dis-ease we now suffer because of the denial of human rights. This disease now manifests itself in many aspects of our society. We can resist if everyone, in their own place, in their own way makes their voice heard. Hail the Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children - one group doing just that.

Rod Horsfield | 26 October 2016  

Thanks Moira for stating my exact thoughts. I just hope Gillian Triggs knows that many thousands of people respect and appreciate her, despite the blatant efforts of publications such as the Australian to dictate to readers that they should have a negative opinion of her. Today marks the 9th day in a row that there has been a negative headline in the Australian about Gillian Triggs. Relentless. I think there should be a campaign to nominate her as Australian of the Year, similar to 2007 when Tim Flannery had that honour despite similar negative media about him and the then PM (Howard) refusing to meet with him during the whole time he held that honour. Perhaps people can trump a vocal minority on this one and show leaders that Human Rights matter.

Kate Hook | 26 October 2016  

With all the right intentions, Ms. Rayner's plea will fall on the deaf ears of a government that is in danger of falling into the abyss of Right extremism; a rising global phenomenon. The domination of a Trump-like political movement in Australia may seem unlikely, but the reality is that it is already among us; vis a vis the rise of One Nation as a political force is just one example. If the Coalition could pressure the solicitor General to resign, under a cloud of dodgy circumstances, it could easily get rid of our Human Rights Commissioner. A change of government is urgently needed. And so is a more effective political education for the masses.

Alex Njoo | 26 October 2016  

I agree Kate. Let's have a huge campaign to nominate Professor Gillian Triggs as Australian of the Year.

Janet | 26 October 2016  

Thank you Moira Rayner. This article needs to be screamed from the roof tops! Our government and opposition turned their backs on morality and the rule of law to justify their cruelty to innocent people fleeing from danger. They both used the pragmatic argument that " the end justifies the means." Never is this true. And never should it be allowed to escape the criticism it deserves. I agree: to the name Gillian Triggs add that of Justin Gleeson.

Ern Azzopardi | 26 October 2016  

Thank you Moira for your latest ever sensible remarks regarding Gillian Triggs. Two wonderful women. I stand with you both.

Rosemary | 26 October 2016  

We live in a society which makes it so much easier to understand the frustration that leads to popular rebellion! Gavin's comment sums up the current situation precisely. Unfortunately, however, history tells us that the human being rarely responds to a "wake up call". It's too hard and impinges on comfort!

john frawley | 26 October 2016  

Thank you for your article I totally agree with you Gillian Triggs is an outstanding Human Rights advocate. It is sad that the rule of law has been politicalised and changed. Human Rights is an absolute in any civilised society.

Margaret Campbell | 26 October 2016  

A simple question, emanating from my utter respect of and admiration for Gillian Triggs - an amazing, honourable, principled and compassionate person - and in complete agreement with you that we should stand with her. How? How best can we stand alongside and advocate for her?

Jan Stead | 26 October 2016  

Thank you Moira, encouraging to hear an independent analysis from someone with your broad and relevant experience. Are you aware of a current website or FB page to circulate for community members to show support for Ms Triggs? Whether it be Labour or LNP who began, perpetuated, expanded the policies, we view them today as causing harm and a policy of any govt that causes harm is unacceptable and anathema to their oath of office. Is there benefit in rehashing what's happened and by whom, or more to gain from opposing policies and advocating for change, now. As do you and Gillian Triggs, and many others. Write to your MPs and Senators and express your opposition.

Susanne Weress | 26 October 2016  

The pursuit of Gillian Triggs by elements within the Coalition and sections of the print and electronic media is a disgrace!

Trevor Robertson | 27 October 2016  

I admire Gillian enormously and thank her for her work on behalf of all concerned Australians who deplore the inhumane and heinous actions of this government.

Francesca Peel | 27 October 2016  

Yesterday's E.S.described how Fr. Sturzo in Italy organised small groups of young people into persuasive forums for political change. We , as Church(it's not only the clerical leaders who are Church,) have access to the Internet these days. While acknowledging that not all things that pass along the net are positive, I'm sure we could rally to spread the word about those who stand up for our disadvantaged and powerless brothers and sisters. Daily we are inspired by groups and workers , like the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project workers ,Jesuit Social Service leaders and other unselfish people in our world who work , speak out and provide support to different members of our community either in Australia or off shore. Let's promote the good they do , write the letters , band together to get recognition for them. Go Gillian Triggs as Australian of the year. You are one of the splendid people who would have my vote if I had a "captain's pick".

Celia | 27 October 2016  

Moira, ABSOLUTELY I stand with Gillian Triggs and ALL others who stand to uphold rights fundamental to our legal system and the separation of powers.

Elizabeth O'Connor | 27 October 2016  

"The law has fallen short in protecting rights and freedoms in Australia. We need to do something braver and more fundamental. We must respect the moral core of the law which, until Triggs said it out loud, our federal governments have comfortably overlooked." This government obviously believes it is above the law. For a Senator to say that he has not read a Human Rights report by Gillian Triggs but condemns it is scarcely credible, but an ignorant disgrace. The idea of nominating Gillian Triggs as Australian of the Year sounds great. How about we each write to our local member requesting it? If both sides of the duopoly want to neglect fairness, justice and the professional nature of a statuary appointment we need to demonstrate that we do not.

Michael D. Breen | 27 October 2016  

After Gillian Triggs' tour of duty as Human Rights Commissioner is over, let's give her a year or two to find out what comes next, then let's nominate her for Australian of the Year.

Lis Walker | 27 October 2016  

I am ashamed of my country where a woman does her job and they send in pig dogs to tear her apart. Watching estimates with the LNP acid twins, made me want to get in my car and drive to ACT and smack them both over the head. They see her as very powerful for doing the right thing.

Lee Wilmott | 27 October 2016  

It is people like Gillian who make a difference in this world. Decency and conviction are her tools and her intelligence outshines any of the Govt. I stand proudly with her knowing it is the only choice.

Linn Gould | 27 October 2016  

It is OUR LAW and we can't let it be hijacked. Gilliam Triggs is supported and commended

NOLA | 27 October 2016  

Jillian Trigg for PM. The ethic less government is way off the rails and needs to hire her conscience in absence of its own and give her due respect.

Margaret Cooper | 27 October 2016  

And it continues. Eric Abetz reported on the ABC today questionning Gillian Triggs' integrity. Give me a break! I don't know which is bigger, the black comedy or the hypocrisy of these people who are so clearly out to get her. Every day they line someone up to criticise her and she maintains her dignity. The truth can be uncomfortable but I hope Gillian Triggs continues to hold a mirror up to us for a long time to come.

Brett | 27 October 2016  

Gillian Triggs has let herself and her high office down. Despite a brilliant career in law, she has overstepped the power vested in her as President of the AHRC and instead of facilitating reasoned debate about human rights issues she has pushed partisan views, told differing stories according to her audience, mishandled the Leak case and the QUT students' case and generally brought this important office into disrepute.

Anna | 27 October 2016  

I add my voice to Anna's as one who declines to "stand with" Gillian Triggs. As Graham Richardson wrote of her, "Given her record of resorting “upon further reflection” to ­explain her (Trigg's) repeated failure to tell the truth, just who would, could or should have a good relationship with her?" I further note the number of posters here who are dyed in the wool statist. It's almost a religion with them. The trust and faith that was once put in the Churches to guide and care for us has now been transferred to government. The state, with its ever increasing pseudo-judicial committees, will protect our ever expanding series of human rights. Yes, sir, whether you are discriminated against or have your feelings hurt, one of these angels will come to your aid. The fact that all this authority, backed with the coercive power of the state, can be corrupted just does not seem to register with some. And if university students face fines of $250,000 for expressing an opinion, then that is just collateral damage we have to suffer so that our rights can be protected.

Gerald Lanigan | 27 October 2016  

It is pleasing to see someone with experience, understanding and authority in this area speak the truth clearly. Sadly, not enough people do this or listen to those who do. Thank you Moira Rayner and Eureka. Street.

James Depiazzi | 27 October 2016  

A human rights advocate must be able to detail how government policy or inaction threatens the human rights of any persons of any age. Speaking out IS the job - Triggs has spoken for many of us who have no voice to be heard by those in power. The attempts by Brandis and others at character assassination is evidence that she has upset those with the powers to reverse the injustice and torture of children. She can be bullied & pushed aside but the truth of the treatment of children she has put on the international stage condemns our government & they know it.

Allie Dawe | 28 October 2016  

Our government should be above 'witch-hunts'

Margaret Butcher | 28 October 2016  

Thanks Moira, really good article. Gillian is a shining light and a good woman. I stand with her totally against this despicable government. I cannot imagine the mind that would treat children in such a way as this . So appalling.

Prabhuta | 28 October 2016  

Thanks Moira for this enlightening article. Yes I will stand with Jillian Triggs.

Diane Johnstone | 28 October 2016  

Thank you Gillian Triggs for speaking out and for doing your job with diligence and courage. Australia needs your moral strength and I'm standing with you. Thank you. Eleni Nanos. Balmain Sydney.

Eleni Nanos | 28 October 2016  

If Eureka readers are looking for balance - see this (but I suspect they're not) https://www.9now.com.au/a-current-affair/2016/extras/latest/161019/the-truth-about-nauru

Paul | 28 October 2016  

Heroic steadfastness at great personal cost - a wonderful moral compass to the nation.

Anne | 28 October 2016  

Both shades of Govt should stop trying to discredit and bully people like Triggs and Gleeson. Enough is enough.

Jocelyn McGahey | 29 October 2016  

Great words Moira. Injustice is so blatant now. It doesn't even feel the need to be hypercritical. What kind of a world have we created? Or allowed to be created?

Kim Power | 29 October 2016  

Gillian Triggs is a woman of great honour, integrity, ethics and compassion and she deserves all our support for doing her job so very well. The same cannot be said for most of the slippery immoral elected representatives who go out of their way to malign her. Shame on them. All of them

Dai Jones | 31 October 2016  

Gillian Triggs is being persecuted for upholding the law. Amazing that she's been able to hold firm. Thank you for supporting her.

Eden Liddelow | 31 October 2016  

I support Gillian Triggs. A lot of people do not properly understand the role of the HRC and unfortunately this is not reported on in the MSM.

Noelene | 23 November 2016  

Rights are important and the Government introduced Anti-discrimination legislation, however there are no police on the beat enforcing it, hence discrimination is rife in society. Gillian has her hands tied.

Cam BEAR | 17 March 2017  

Triggs has been proven to be a liar to the Senate and should have been sacked for this alone

Dave | 04 May 2017  

Wonderful. Just keep on ignoring the reason these people are incarcerated at Manus and Nauru in the first place. Keep ignoring the fact that the majority of Australian citizens support the actions taken by this government. Keep denying the uncomfortable truth that is epitomised in Bill Leak's cartoon. Shame on pathetic do-gooders who refuse to accept reality. We have, for very good reasons, laws rules and ideologies that protect our Australian way of life. For the life of me, I cannot understand those who rush to protect and support the blatant disregard of what protects OUR rights and safe guards. Gillian Triggs is one such offender in this area, and the sooner she is gone the better.

Paul Oxenham | 10 May 2017  

Prof Gillian Triggs has been outstanding in her work. Thank you Moira. Recently Prof Triggs articluated well the ongoing concerns and discrimination of the NT Intevention, and joined in calls to end what she termed "disgraceful legisaltion" referring to both Intervention and Stronger Futures Acts. She was one of over 200 Eminent Australians calling for it to end. I urge readers if they have time to view her speech from 7- 25minutes at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwgX4h-uJx8&feature=youtu.be The Eminent Australians statement is found at http://www.concernedaustralians.com.au/media/Eminent_Persons_Statement_Aug_2017.pdf I too, stand with Prof Triggs.

George | 27 October 2017  

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