Attacks on human rights watchdog are dangerous for human rights and for democracy

Confirmation that the Attorney-General sought the resignation of the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission reveals the depths of the Government’s willingness to undermine Australia’s independent human rights watchdog, said the Human Rights Law Centre.

“This is a blatant political attack to punish the Commission for doing its job reporting on the harm being inflicted on children in detention,” said the HRLC’s Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser.

“The Commission’s report is thorough and balanced. Its criticism of the policies of successive governments is fair. The allegations of bias against the Commission are totally unfounded and have been answered by the Commission in evidence provided to the Senate committee,” said Mr de Kretser.

The Government received the Commission’s Forgotten Children report on 11 November 2014 but waited until the last possible day, 11 February 2015, before publishing it. In the meantime, it slashed the Commission’s funding by 30% in December. In January, the Prime Minister and senior Ministers condemned a ruling from the Commission and criticised its President. In early February, the Attorney-General sought the President’s resignation, offering her another legal position if she resigned.

“An independent, properly funded national human rights watchdog is vital to protecting the rights of vulnerable people in Australia. The political attacks must end. The Government should focus on stopping the severe harm being caused to children in detention and legislating to ensure it never happens again,” said Mr de Kretser.

The UN body responsible for accrediting national human rights institutions has written to the Prime Minister expressing “grave concerns” over the “public attacks” on the Commission and its President. A copy of the letter is here:

“Not only are the political attacks damaging for our democracy and the protection of human rights, they are damaging our international reputation,” said Mr de Kretser.

More information:

Hugh de Kretser, Human Rights Law Centre: 0403 965 340