Achieving a just, democratic, peaceful and humane society through upholding human rights and the rule of law.


Ill-Informed Comments on the Role of the AHRC

Media Release 8 November 2016

Recent attacks on the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, by Prime Minister Turnbull and Mr Tony Morris QC are ill-informed and disappointing.

Prime Minister Turnbull has blamed the AHRC for “bringing [a] case against the Queensland students”. Counsel for the Seventh Respondent, Mr Tony Morris QC, also blamed the AHRC, and specifically President Triggs, for the case being brought before the Court. The Australian reported claims by Mr Morris describing President Triggs as “incompetent”, and questioned her integrity. These criticisms are ill-informed. The AHRC had no role in litigating against the students in question; rather Prior v QUT [2016] FCCA 2853 (4 November 2016) is a case between a number of private parties. The case came to the AHRC for resolution through conciliation, which it is bound by the AHRC Act to do. When conciliation failed, the AHRC had no part in referring the matter to the Court.

Prime Minister Turnbull also misrepresented the words of Judge Jarrett of the Federal Circuit Court, stating that the judgment accuses the AHRC of wasting Court and government money. At no time has this statement, or any such similar sentiment, been made by the judiciary.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) is again being publicly debated.  That debate should be based at least on correct factual foundations.

These attacks seriously undermine the work of the AHRC.  All evidence suggests that the AHRC has performed its public duty within the correct legislative framework. Misinformation on the role of statutory bodies from our elected officials, officers of the Court, and the media, is damaging to our democracy, and undermines the rule of law.