Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has defended the organisation’s handling of a complaint that lasted 14 months after coming under fire from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then ABC’s 7.30 program.
Leigh Sales’ interview with Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs was not one of her better efforts
The case in question was thrown out on Friday after Federal Circuit Court judge Michael Jarrett ruled three Queensland University of Technology students had no case to answer in response to a $250,000 compensation claim by indigenous staffer Cindy Prior over comments they made in May 2013.
The attacks from Turnbull, the right wing of his party and sections of the Australian media a part of a long campaign against Professor Triggs and the Commission.
Professor Triggs appears to the undeterred by the attacks from the right and has said that she backs a proposal to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Professor Triggs said removing offend and insult and inserting “vilify” would be a strengthening of the laws.
“It could be a very useful thing to do,” she told ABC radio.
She said the Human Rights Commission was “open to seeing what the inquiry might suggest. Whether the language could be clarified and in our view strengthened that enables us to support the multicultural society that we are”.
One of the sad aspects of this sorry story is that the Australian government abrogates the rights of humans on Nauru and Manus Island and at the same time attacks the Human Rights Commission.
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Commission does. This was obvious in Leigh Sales line of questioning on the ABC’s 7.30 program and later from the talking heads of the right on Q and A.
Georgina Downer Adjunct Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs and Coalition Senator James Paterson
The role of the Commission, and many other commissions like it, was explained by the Commissioner, it is to seek reconciliation between parties who are in conflict.
People make complaints to various commissions about the way they have been treated by government, by their employers, by other citizens, by the mental health system etc. It is the role these commissions to give everybody a fair hearing to the extent that their resources will allow.
Many of the people who complain of people who need a large powerful and sophisticated organisation, such as the Human Rights Commission, to defend the rights.
Commissions generally then endeavour to mediate between the two parties. Sometimes mediation is achieved, sometimes it is not.
It is this point that the commissions’ role ends.
If a private citizen, as was the case of indigenous QUT staffer Cindy Prior, decides to take further legal action in courts, that is their right and prerogative. The various commissions are not responsible for the actions of complainants or defendants when they make this decision.
To suggest otherwise is to demonstrate a lamentable lack of understanding of the role of the commission.
As a lawyer, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should be able to see this.
He should also realise it’s not a good look for the Prime Minister of a democracy to attack government bodies that are appointed to defend the human rights of its citizens.