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Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair

The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the:

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

(documented in the recent AHRC report).

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:

If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency, they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.

This article was first published on Jennifer’s blog, No Place For Sheep.


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  1. PennTCJ

    I saw the ALP intently defending Triggs for a report which condemns them as well as the LNP as a potential part of them accepting blame and heading towards reform.
    I mean, I know it’s not as shiny and perfect as I’d like to be – this is thin ice, and the Labor members of parliament need to be legit at this point, and use the time in opposition to develop solutions (which honestly, I think Tony Abbott wouldn’t be likely to listen to, let alone follow, even if they found the perfect mythical catch-all panacea to solve the problem). The only ‘moral high ground’ there is right now is in accepting the report and its condemnations, defending Gillian Triggs, and developing and implementing policies that do something about the problem.
    I don’t think Bill Shorten’s ALP opposition has condemned themselves just yet. They need to be pressured to follow through and act on their defense of Gillian Triggs and the report and the implications of such – not flatly dismissed straight up.

  2. Francis

    I don’t recall Labor claiming to be the ‘winner’ in this. They have simply condemned the appalling way Tony Abbott (and co) have treated Gillian Triggs.
    He has definitely lost ground on this, so if you want to say Labor has won by default that is your call.

  3. mars08

    QUOTE: …Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency, they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

    What disturbs me is the lack of imagination in our society and corporate meeja when it comes to this basic concept. Martin Niemöller warned us many years ago.

  4. stephentardrew

    Love the reference to Dickens. Nothing more clearly describes the abnegation of moral responsibility by both the Coalition and Labor than Gillina Triggs’ report. In my early years we went on strike, as unionists and Labor party stalwarts, to protect the right to a fair and sustainable existence. Work conditions in those days were still appalling. I know I worked in Chrysler’s foundry pouring molten metal and working on the blast furnace. Where oh where has the Labor party of old gone? True some unions were corrupt however the Vehicle Builders Union was a great and ethical union who did their best for the workers. The idea that we could ever treat children, women and men in such an appalling manner was just unthinkable.

    Shame, shame, shame on both political parties.

  5. Itsazoosue

    Both the government and the opposition are to blame for children being held in detention. In my mind that makes it a bipartisan issue. I feel like locking the pouters and the gloaters in a room together and not let them out until they have read the report and addressed the findings therein.

  6. guest

    It was the Coalition which made the opening gambit in this board game. They could have made deep inroads against Labor by trying a different approach; which is, to point out that there are fewer children in detention now than under Labor.

    Even then, Labor could point out that children were in detention for a shorter time than they have been under the Coalition. But of course there is no surprise in that since the Coalition has stopped the boats.

    Labor inherited the Coalition’s Pacific Solution in 2007. They tried to find another way, but could not. Why was that? Why did Labor not send the Navy in to battle the little boats? Why is the Coalition’s Cambodia solution approved but not Labor’s Malaysia solution?

    So we play the numbers game. My team has fewer children in detention than your team had.

    But it is too late for the Coalition to wheel that out. They committed themselves to an attack on Professor Triggs. They relied on their usual modus operandi: to attack the messenger and not the message.

    There is no kudos for anyone in this scenario. Indonesia was happy to see refugees off their shores.Labor floundered around with no real solution. The Coalition went back to its old solution plus boat tow-backs plus no boat-people here ever. The Oz population was divided about what to do and took up positions based on political allegiances.

    Life is too short. No wonder people take chances with leaky boats. And at least a couple of thousand children did not drown.

    What a mess. So where are the refugees dying now?

  7. Kerri

    Yes Stephen Tardrew where is the Labor Party of old. They have very much abandoned their roots.
    As for the Shorten Labor Party? They are using this issue to point out the poor and corrupt treatment of an independant Government official. I would like them to use the Forgotten Children Report further, to admit the prior failings of both Governments and the widespread harm refugeee detantion has caused and announce new policies for treating the whole asylum seeker issue with more compassion and progressive thinking. I have bleated many times that the ALP would do themselves an enormous favour by taking a GREAT BIG step to the left. Or should I say back to the left. But they are so pantswettingly scared of browning off the rednecks and islamaphobes who don’t want to help other human beings in trouble they fail to miss the point of exactly how many groups of society the Abbott Government has now pissed off. The disabled. The elderly. Unemployed. Uni students and future uni students. Migrants and refugees. Car manufacturing employees. Fruit canning employees and their townships.The Armed forces. Education workers including pre school staff. Health industry workers including every GP in the country. And I am sure there are more. Can’t Bill, Tanya, Tony, Chris and the others works out that that is a hell of a lot of voters in those groups alone, not to mention their families and friends. They are pretty gutless. The further they step away from the LNP the less likely Abbott will be to try to copy their policies and the more likely voters will turn back to them.

  8. oldfart

    There are no winners in this, the refugees have not won, the political parties certainly have not won for knee jerk reactions to a vocal minority and we as a nation and a people certainly have not won because of the disgraces perpetrated in our name and the sullying of our international reputation. the only solution is to treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect. A respect all these shallow people who enacted this in our name have lost and will take a long time to recover.

  9. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    For Labor to earn any kudos at this stage they need to acknowledge that their decision to send refugees to an off-shore location was a mistake, that there is a need to remove children and their families out of detention immediately, that the whole assessment process has to be speeded up substantially, that the Egyptian currently in indefinite detention should be immediately released (since his assessment was based on evidence obtained through torture) and that Australia should demonstrate that it is abiding by its Human Rights commitments. A government cannot be ruled by ASIO and children must never be victimised.

  10. Geraldine


    I still maintain that much of this Griggs affair, is to stop any commentary about the Welfare Package that Morrison announced 2 days ago.

  11. diannaart

    I am completely disgusted with both parties on the issue of refugee detention – always have been.

    Indeed, Shorten has been very vocal on the uncalled-for attack on Triggs, while keeping his head down on Labor’s part in the detention of children.

    F*cking disgraceful.

  12. Jexpat

    “They committed themselves to an attack on Professor Triggs.”

    Malcolm Turnbull didn’t, which was a canny move on his part.

  13. John Fraser


    " it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens."

    That moment passed a long time ago.

    Cockeys budget.

    And then on the international level.

    Stop the boats.


    Children overboard.

    Currently commanded by a moron …. its the fools who follow.

    A very good Article.

  14. Sir ScotchMistery

    As Shakespeare would almost definitely have said, in the same situation, hear, hear.


  15. Lee

    I agree with everything posted thus far. Although it is important for Prof Triggs to know that she has the support of most Australians, we also need to ensure that we don’t allow our politicians to take the focus off the children.

  16. Pamela

    Labor has a chance now to use the evidence in this report to say mea culpa and change their policy. This is a golden opportunity to redeem themselves. If not they will become another lame dog Australian government so riven from within and without by moral despair that no one will take them seriously.
    Australians are in despair at their political leadership and are showing it by dumping govt’s which smell.
    Sadly Shorten and co are being advised by some characters masquerading as human rights experts who advise the hurt harm and deter response to asylum seekers and whose minds are closed to the largest movement of human beings in history.
    Did we really think that we could make war at will, allow arms dealers free rein, destroy economies and not expect that people would not seek survival elsewhere when life in their own land became untenable?
    This is a global problem needing a global conversation not just erecting barriers and pushing people away and savagely punishing those we cannot drown.
    Europeans have their heads in the sand but don’t harm people just ignore them – USA outsources border control to their gun lobby and ignore the deaths in the desert while praising themselves to a multitude of gods- and exploiting the cheap labor on offer from starving people
    Can’t we do better?

  17. silkworm

    “There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those…” This is untrue. While there have been far fewer children put into detention under the Libs, Labor only incarcerated the children for a couple of months, while under the Libs children have been detained for years, and have suffered far more psychological and physical damage, including sexual abuse.

    Turnbull is no cleanskin on this. He may have defended Gillian Triggs, but he still continued to defend the Libs’ “stop the boats” programme.

    I also think we have to put the report aside for a few moments and address other serious issues that have come up surrounding this issue, and that is the misogynistic attacks by Senator MacDonald on his fellow senators, Senator Brandis’ attempt to bribe Prof. Triggs, and Julie Bishop’s lying to parliament over this.

  18. Lee

    If anyone has not yet read the report and would like to, it can be found here:

    Commencing on page 46 is a listing of the Commission’s previous work concerning children in detention and the years the reports were released. It quite clearly states they have raised concerns previously about human rights abuses during the ALP’s time in government.

    In March 2014 there were 1068 children in detention in Australia, Christmas Island and Nauru. There’s a graph showing the number of children in detention from February – August 2014. Numbers in detention dropped in Australia during that time, but elsewhere the numbers remained fairly steady or increased.

    Other data (e.g. assaults and self-harm incidents) include the time frame that the data relates to. The start date is during the ALP’s time in government.

    On page 74 it states

    “The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of international human rights law.

    Both current and former Ministers of Coalition and Labor governments stipulate that the detention of children is (and was) not intended as part of deterrence policy. They confirm that the detention of children would not, in fact, be a deterrent.”

    Elsewhere throughout the report there are references to Coalition and Labor Ministers and it is clear that both parties are to blame. I really cannot see where this report is partisan. Surprise, surprise Abbott and Brandis are lying again.

  19. paul walter

    Largely, along guest’s lines.

  20. David

    Labor may well be ‘bellowing self-righteously’ in their ‘defense’ of Prof Triggs, because they do hold the high moral ground when it comes to their treatment of women generally and particularly those holding office. Yes I know, Julia was treated disgracefully when Rudd was foolishly returned as leader and blew it big time. But thank God there were many honest, loyal Labor MPs who backed her.
    If II recall the ‘rebels’ were mainly of the right and a good few like Shorten went for self preservation, with long term goals which he has achieved.

    So full credit where it is due regarding their defense Of Prof Triggs, since the monstrous attacks on her by the Torys. That defense has been full on because Labor believed she was being treated badly and unjustly. Lets not fools ourselves, that defense has hurried the dumping of Abbott and hopefully with him will see the demise of some at least, of his thugs. Pyne and Hockey for starters, I’m looking at you.

    I agree labor has been as guilty re sending Asylum Seekers off shore. Had Julia been given a fair go and survived another term however my gut feeling is, she would have changed ground and we would have seen a different softer approach from Labor, debatable but its my opinion.
    So attack them by all means but I defy anyone to convince me a Labor Immigration Minister has been or would be as bloody minded, cruel, heartless and murderous as the bastard Morrison. Two like that sewer rat in a lifetime, is unimaginable.

    it is also our responsibility as Labor Party members and/or supporters to keep at the Political arm of the party. Tell them how the great majority of supporters require them to change. So far from my perspective, its a minority beating the drum and the beats are not loud enough.
    I have written, emailed, tweeted and will continue to do so.Need a lot more doing similar.

    Also as a non Green Party supporter I want to acknowledge Sarah Hanson Young’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of Asylum Seekers and in particular children in detention. She is not so ‘Green’ when it comes to sticking her head above the trenches. Pity we in Labor didn’t have more like her.

  21. MarkH

    The breathtaking nature of this as an issue that parties seem to want to score political points over is reprehensible in the extreme. Real people suffering for doing something that is established in international law as NOT illegal, namely seeking asylum.

    The currency and rhetoric surrounding ‘deterrence’ is the license for fear, loathing and xenophobia to be transmogrified into public policy. To be enacted even.

    The theatrics of day to day politics is the grounds for so much of this. Only a wholesale dismantling of mandatory detention as a policy framework can fix this….no tinkering around the edges will stop the kinds of abuses reported by Professor Triggs form reoccurring in my view.

    Australia MUST take on the challenge of truly following it’s international obligations. Instead of enacted laws to rewrite them as ‘we’ understand them and continue these violations of basic human rights.

    It’s obscene to me also, that this government be pontificating to Indonesia re possible executions of accused drug smugglers, yet wants to continue to prosecute the most egregious and regressive policy re asylum seekers/refugees in the world. (Yes I am against the death penalty, but surely a ‘send and forget’, ‘lock em up’ approach in terms of off shore processing is tantamount to delivering a death sentence itself?)

    It says SO much as to where our political class has taken us as a nation really.

  22. Florence nee Fedup

    The losers are Australia’s democracy, Westminster parliament and assumption of innocence, separation of powers. All have been trashed. For what, one must ask?

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    One must admit, any solution that Labor attempted was blocked by both Greens an Abbott.

  24. Terry2

    The ongoing problem we have, created by Rudd, is that none of the families and children on Nauru (and the children currently in Australia but to be transferred to Nauru: 68 I think) and none of the single men on Manus are going to be resettled in a humane manner.

    By saying that none of these people would ever be resettled in Australia, Rudd effectively bound the coalition to follow that policy.

    We need a human rights commissioner to bang politician’s heads together and get then thinking logically. Instead we have a very silly Prime Minister saying that the Australian government has lost faith in the Commissioner ; rather, the Australian people have lost faith in this Prime Minister.

  25. stephentardrew

    Ya gotta laugh at the ridiculous circus. Two excellent links Kaye and Lee.

  26. Kyran

    Can’t help but note the stolen generations report regarding our First People and the political treatment it got. Howard refused to say sorry because it may expose a legal liability for past mistakes. Rudd said sorry and, ultimately, only succeeded in applying a band aid to a gaping wound. When the first spill was on, our First People were demonstrating in Canberra and were completely ignored by MSM, who had an army of reporters covering the spill – it was far more important. The “Closing the Gap Report” was tabled and both alleged leaders said sweet FA about actually doing anything. As most posters have already stated, both sides have form. I concur with Sir Scotch, 30 Independents. As long as IQ tests can be done, so we don’t end up with 30 Lamb(ie)s to the slaughter. Halal, naturally. Thank you Ms Wilson. Take care

  27. mark delmege

    Was it Keating who started this rubbish? Now if they had just offered Ms Triggs an OBE or even a Madamship and moved her on it would all be koshe, yes? Isn’t that how it is normally done? (bastards)
    And this week we had the ABbloody C try and tell us repeatedly that (NATO member) Turkey has no real role in Syria and the fleeing of sheds loads of refugees. And never any criticism of the Yanks who more than anyone helped create ISIS, destroyed Libya, Afghanistan and bankrolled and armed Israel or have any responsibility for millions of refugees. Nothing, zip. Zilch, nada. Lying propaganda bastards.

  28. mark delmege

    If you wanna get serious about refugees look at the causes.

  29. Lee

    “And this week we had the ABbloody C try and tell us repeatedly that (NATO member) Turkey has no real role in Syria and the fleeing of sheds loads of refugees. And never any criticism of the Yanks who more than anyone helped create ISIS, destroyed Libya, Afghanistan and bankrolled and armed Israel or have any responsibility for millions of refugees. ”

    Earlier this week there was an article in the MSM about a Muslim leader in Australia who was very unhappy with Abbott saying that the Muslim community is not vocal enough in condemning the actions of terrorists. Apart from the Anglican Church of Gosford, the Christian community is not vocal enough about the un-Christian behaviour of the Christians in government either.

  30. mark delmege

    Lee funnily enough the only program on the ABbloodyC who has come close to reporting events in Syria with any honesty was a Christian show and this week they named Qatar and Saudi Arabia as supporters of terrorism – though I haven’t noticed them name the USA who of course is the main backer and instigator of war in Syria. They don’t go near far enough but I do find it interesting this is the only program that seems allowed to express such an opinion. That *&^%$*& Fran on Radio National seems to put on her ‘Stupid’ hat whenever she talks foreign news. You’d think after all the failed wars destruction and deaths caused by Empire in the last 30 years they wouldn’t be using the same people as goto experts to report on the latest US inspired atrocity. That they do is to the shame of every ABC staff member – many of whom do a first rate job but this propaganda reflects on them all and affects us all. (BTW I am not religious)

  31. Lee

    “Lee funnily enough the only program on the ABbloodyC who has come close to reporting events in Syria with any honesty was a Christian show and this week they named Qatar and Saudi Arabia as supporters of terrorism – though I haven’t noticed them name the USA who of course is the main backer and instigator of war in Syria. ”

    Mark, interesting but this is still Christians blaming Muslims. The United States has been at war for 218 of its 239 years of existence. Where is the widespread Christian condemnation of that? The biggest support base for war in the US comes from people who claim to be Christian.

    Where are the Christians in Australia, who readily and publicly identify themselves as Christians, standing against the human rights abuses being committed by our government? Where do they point out that Ministers who claim to be practising Christians are not behaving like Christians should behave? Two of our larger job agencies are run by the Salvation Army and Catholic churches. They’ve been caught stealing millions of dollars from the government and now have to pay it back. Where are the Christians that are condemning that?

  32. mark delmege

    Yes Lee I agree.

  33. mars08

    The ALP might, possibly be the lesser of two evils when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers… but they are still undeniably evil…

    ‘Young-looking’ refugees sent offshore
    31 Jul 2014 – 6:04 PM

    Young-looking children were chosen to be transferred to the harsh Manus Island refugee detention centre to discourage other refugees from coming to Australia, an inquiry has heard.

    And children detained in facilities on Nauru are suffering illnesses and mental conditions caused by unsanitary and inhospitable conditions on the island nation while all refugees are subjected to a broad “intention to dehumanise”.

    Former officials, charity workers and doctors who worked in the immigration system have given at times distressing evidence to an Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) inquiry into the fate of children caught in Australia’s detention centres.

    Gregory Lake, the former director of offshore processing and transfers at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, told the inquiry he was directed by a ministerial staff member to choose the youngest-looking children from among those eligible for the first transfer of detained people from Australia to Manus Island in 2012, when Labor was in government.

    “Because they wanted to send a deterrent message, it was important to send some children, to say that children are not exempt from transfer,” Mr Lake said…

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