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Stand with heroic Gillian Triggs

  • 25 October 2016


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.

Our 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