24 Oct Libs lash ABC as calls grow for Triggs to go
By Sarah Martin
Liberal MPs are stepping up calls for Gillian Triggs to resign as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, as they hit out at the ABC for not adequately covering her admission that she gave misleading evidence to a Senate inquiry.
Victorian senator James Paterson took aim at the broadcaster yesterday, saying the ABC had failed to adequately report on Professor Triggs being forced to retract claims that journalists had published “inaccurate” quotes. Senator Paterson said it was a “major news story” that the ABC appeared to have ignored.
“It is disappointing that the news organisation that is perhaps the most well-resourced in the country, that has the most journalists, that has the biggest presence in the federal parliamentary press gallery, has seemingly missed a major story,” he said.
Professor Triggs was forced to write to the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee following her appearance on Tuesday to “correct the record” after she wrongly blamed journalists at The Saturday Paper for taking her “out of context” and publishing “inaccurate” quotes.
The ABC, which has long been accused of bias by conservative MPs, was unable to provide The Weekend Australian with any reports about the matter. Allegations of bias have also been directed at the ABC over a recent Four Corners story that aired claims of detainees held on Nauru.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the broadcaster had declined the offer of information and an interview, while the Nauruan government said the program was “racist” and “biased political propaganda and lies”.
Professor Triggs’s Senate appearance this week has fuelled calls for her to stand down from her $400,000-a-year position, with Liberal MP Michael Sukkar saying she was “unfit” for the role.
Senator Paterson said that Professor Triggs’s biggest failure was that she had been “missing in action” when it came to the defence of free speech in Australia.
“My view is that Gillian Triggs should not be the president because she has failed to defend human rights, she has failed to defend free speech,” he said.
The Senate committee’s chairman, Liberal Ian Macdonald, has requested an extended session of the inquiry, saying Professor Triggs needed to offer an “explanation and perhaps an apology” for giving inaccurate evidence.
Senator Paterson said she needed to explain whether she had knowingly misled parliament by blaming a sub-editor for inventing a quote and, if she was unable to offer an adequate explanation for the claim, she should resign.
“A statutory officer giving misleading evidence (to parliament) is incredibly serious, and unless there is some amazing explanation, then I am very sceptical about the appropriateness of her staying on as president,” Senator Paterson said.
Professor Triggs pulled out of planned media interviews yesterday following a speech in Port Douglas at the Australian Lawyers Alliance national conference. The AHRC refused to answer questions from The Weekend Australian as to why she was not available to speak to the media.
It has also emerged that Professor Triggs has complained to UN special rapporteur Michel Forst that human rights activists in Australia face an atmosphere of fear, censorship and retaliation, accusing the government of an “ideological objection” to advocacy.
“It’s essentially a violation of the right to freedom of speech and it has impacts on so many areas of the law,” she told CNN.