Ministers' misstep hurts independence
The legal and academic communities have backed Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, as she faces criticism from the Australian Government.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have all condemned a recent decision by the Human Rights body over which Dr Triggs presides.
Abbott, Morrison and Dutton slammed the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) president for her recommendation that refugee John Basikbasik be given compensation for the seven and a half years he spent detained without charge.
Mr Basikbasik was kept in detention up for years after completing a sentence for the manslaughter of his wife.
The Government had tried to send him to Indonesia, but an International Treaties Obligations Assessment such a move would breach Australia’s non-refoulement obligations.
The AHRC’s recommendation called for monetary compensation of $350,000.
Mr Abbott said he found the decision “pretty bizarre”.
“I think it shows what can best be described as extremely questionable judgment,” the Prime Minister said.
“The Human Rights Commission does have an important role to play, but decisions like this do tend to shake people’s confidence in institutions such as the Human Rights Commission.
“It was a bizarre judgment and not a judgment that is likely to strengthen confidence in the institution that she heads,” he said.
Mr Morrison said Dr Triggs “seems to be always arguing for a fair go for those who have forfeited that right by their own behaviour”.
“There seems to be no consequences for one’s actions in the system she seems to believe in,” Mr Morrison, now Social Services Minister, told News Corp reporters.
“As minister for immigration I took a very different view, where public safety came first and those who acted up or who sought to take advantage of Australia’s generosity would not be given the sort of rails run that Ms Triggs and other advocates were constantly calling for.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: “Suggestions that wife killers should be released back into the community with a cheque from the taxpayer are so far removed from the public view, it is just offensive.”
Independent news outlet New Matilda has now published an open letter from 25 key figures in the Australian academic community.
In it, the professors, deans and heads of schools expressed concern about the “relentless” criticism being slung at Dr Triggs, who they describe as “one of Australia’s most respected independent public office holders”.
“Independence and impartiality are undermined when a political leader publicly attacks holders of public office and when the media presents inaccurate accounts of the work of public institutions,” the letter states.
Dr Triggs criticised successive ministers in the contentious report on Mr Basikbasik, for keeping the refugee in detention with no cause
“There is no information before me to indicate that the Commonwealth considered whether any risk which Mr Basikbasik posed to the community could be mitigated by a management plan to assist with his rehabilitation or by a requirement to reside at a specified location, with curfews, travel restrictions or regular reporting,” she wrote.
In a column published by Fairfax media outlet the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Triggs pointed out that the AHRC did not wish to release Basikbasik unconditionally.
“It is understandable that some Australians find it hard to accept the recommendations of the Commission in cases where individuals seem undeserving,” Triggs wrote.
“This is especially so where a person whose freedoms have been denied has, in turn, egregiously breached the rights of others.”
“But those who commit a criminal offence, and serve the sentence provided by law, do not forfeit all their human rights for the future.”
“Indeed, it is a vital element of our modern criminal justice system that those who commit offences should have the opportunity to reintegrate into the community once their sentences have been served.”
While it is easy to take up the scorn of the ministers against Dr Triggs and the convicted wife-killer, the legal community says it must be through proper process.
“The most dangerous sex offender or murderer gets the opportunity to say to a court they don’t have a risk to the community and they should be released,” said Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson Greg Barns.
“These asylum-seekers don’t get that.”