Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stepped up criticism of the nation’s human rights chief, taking aim at her decision to recommend a $300,000 compensation payment for a detained murderer.
Mr Abbott goaded Labor in parliament on Wednesday as the opposition attempted to censure Attorney-General George Brandis over claims he sought the resignation of Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.
Federal police have been asked to examine claims a senior legal role was dangled in front of Professor Triggs to induce her exit from the commission.
Labor wants the AFP to determine whether the offer constituted a bribe. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the government’s treatment of Prof Briggs is tantamount to bullying, accusing it of creating a distraction to the commission’s report into children in immigration detention.
He peppered Mr Abbott with questions about the role Senator Brandis and his departmental head played in offering Prof Triggs an alternative government job if she quit the commission.
Mr Abbott reiterated the government’s lack of confidence in Prof Triggs and accused Labor of engaging in “dangerous nit-picking”.
“She thought it was somehow OK to recommend $300,000 … be paid to someone who murdered his wife and his child because the government had the hide to keep him in detention,” he told parliament.
Mr Abbott was referring to the case of a convicted Papuan refugee who continues to be held in immigration detention because of fears he poses a threat to the community.
Despite the government’s lack of confidence in Prof Triggs, the prime minister stopped short of demanding her resignation. “What she does is a matter for her,” he said.
Mr Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop both told parliament the government did not ask Prof Triggs to resign, nor did it induce her to quit.
Their cabinet colleague Malcolm Turnbull warned the debate about the human rights chief missed the point.
“The main point is the children. Children in detention is something nobody wants,” he told reporters.
“All of us as parents in particular know how anguished it must be for children to be in these circumstances.”
The Australian Greens are calling for the head of Senator Brandis while independent senator Jacqui Lambie has flagged a censure move against the attorney-general in the Senate, where the government lacks a majority.
In the lower house, it used its numbers to defeat Labor’s censure attempt. Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has dismissed a call to freeze the transfer of child asylum seekers to Nauru in the wake of unresolved sexual abuse allegations.
The immigration department this week confirmed there had been 19 reports of sexual abuse, five involving minors, on Nauru. Yet Mr Dutton rejected suggestions it would be dangerous to return minors there.
“I don’t accept that,” he said, adding he saw the detention centre first hand last week. The government is moving to reduce the number of children in detention on the mainland.
Of the 126 being detained, 68 are temporarily in Australia for medical reasons and will be returned to Nauru for processing. Another 116 children are in detention on Nauru.