Gillian Triggs’ contract with the Human Rights Commission won’t be renewed: PM

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs will be replaced with a new commissioner when her term expires next year.

Fairfax Media last month reported the government was already scouring for a replacement, with a senior source saying the selection process would be “well under way” by the end of the Christmas break.

The fractious relationship between Professor Triggs and the Coalition continued to sour after she wrongly told a Senate Estimates hearing in October she believed a newspaper had misquoted her in statements critical of politicians.

In remarks that were immediately praised by one of Professor Triggs’ biggest detractors, arch-conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz, Mr Turnbull on Wednesday confirmed to 2GB radio that there would be a new AHRC boss next year.

“There will be a new president, that’s right. There’ll be a new president after her term expires in the middle of next year,” the Prime Minister said.

“People cannot expect to have their terms renewed. In an office like this you serve your term, sometimes if people want to have it renewed it might be renewed, but in this case there will be a new president of the Human Rights Commission when Professor Triggs’ term expires.”

Professor Triggs has been targeted by the Coalition since 2014 when she commissioned a report, The Forgotten Children, into children in immigration detention. Then prime minister Tony Abbott questioned the timing of the report, labelled it a “political stitch-up” and said his government had lost confidence in the eminent lawyer.

She was subsequently subjected to highly aggressive questioning at Senate estimates hearings, and in October misled a hearing when she wrongly claimed The Saturday Paper had misquoted her in comments critical of the government. She later apologised and sought to correct the record.

Mr Turnbull on Wednesday declined to give his own assessment of Professor Triggs, saying it would not be productive.

“She holds an independent statutory office. She wasn’t appointed by me or indeed by the Coalition. Her term runs out in the middle of next year,” he told 2GB. “It’s not productive for me to get into a slanging match with her. She’s got to defend and justify her own conduct.”

Senator Abetz quickly welcomed Mr Turnbull’s confirmation that the “bumbling” Professor Triggs would not be reappointed. “The Australian people are fed up with the repeated incompetence displayed by Professor Triggs and this announcement by the Prime Minister will be welcomed by many in the community,” he said.

But Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the decision was the “final indignity” in a long vendetta against Professor Triggs for holding the government to account. “She should regard the way she has been treated as a badge of honour,” he said.

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