Interview on Sky News with David Speers - 24th February 2015

Speers: You say you haven’t read the Human Rights Commission report The Forgotten Children, I was just wondering as Chair of the Committee looking at it though, whether you have an obligation or responsibility. You read all the media commentary bagging the Commission and not to read the report itself?

Macdonald: I had the evidence yesterday from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.  They quite clearly go through a lot of evidence that shows that the report is just partisan, it ignored factual evidence given by the Department.

Speers: But surely you should know yourself if you had read it.

Macdonald: I’ve got better things to read.  I’ve never had much confidence in the enquiry.   When the Prime Minister read it, the Attorney read it, they made a point and look I don’t waste my time reading documents that I am going to take no notice of because, as I said a year ago, I thought the enquiry was partisan, so naturally the report would be and I have to say from bits and pieces that have come up in the last couple of days, that’s been an accurate expectation.

Speers: What do you think about one of the key things that was discussed this morning.  Gillian Triggs confirmed that she was asked to resign by the Attorney General through his Department Secretary.  Do you think that was appropriate?  We’re talking about the politically the Commission is a Statutory Authority they’re appointed for a 5 year term the President inaudible political interference is it appropriate for the Attorney General to ask someone to inaudible

Macdonald: It’s important to get your facts right.  As it turned out, I mean Professor Triggs didn’t happen to say this but the Secretary of the Department put a whole new light on it when he said Professor Triggs actually asked him to ask the Attorney what the Attorney thought about her leadership.  She instigated it and the Attorney said, I think, this may not be his words but, the Attorney said, I’ve lost confidence in her.  I respect her as an international lawyer and she’d always get a job in the government but if you listen to the Attorney’s evidence and he’s been very clear and forthright and up front as he always is, you’ll see that there’s nothing in that.

Speers: I don’t think there is any doubt that he wanted her to go

Macdonald: He indicated that he had lost confidence in her. 

Speers: Do you think that’s appropriate?

Macdonald: Well it’s a matter of fact.  I mean quite frankly whilst I’m very low in the tree and my views don’t really count, I have the same view as the Attorney.  I’ve lost confidence in MsTriggs.  I think she is a lovely lady and a competent international lawyer but anything the Human Rights Commission does from now on will, in my mind be tainted.  Now others have different views I can only talk of my view but my view is the Commission is tainted, it destroys the good work it has in the past done and you know one would hope that, something obviously needs to be, done that restores the bipartisan faith in what should be a completely bipartisan balanced Commission. 

Speers: And you would put in a new President.

Macdonald: Well I just don’t think it’s going to recover if it continues as it is.

Speers: That’s one part of it.  Professor Triggs also said today that she was offered through this meeting, that there was discussion of offering her a different government job.  She did say that she didn’t consider it an inducement, but do you think that’s how it looks?

Macdonald: No but again you really have to see what the Attorney said.  You said what Professor Triggs said but when you hear what the Secretary and the Attorney say, it puts a pretty different light on it.  I think you’ll find the Attorney’s evidence is that no inducement, no offer was made but he did indicate, and in speaking to the Secretary, he conveyed this apparently to Professor Triggs that the government had lost confidence in her and if she were to go, he was sure that her skills would be put to use in other ways.

Speers: You probably didn’t make it to the Party Room meeting this morning, you were in this Committee but a couple of your colleagues I understand did raise concerns about the attacks on Gillian Triggs and felt the fact should be on getting kids out of detention.  Do you think they’ve got a point?

Macdonald: Well no.  Look again this is one of the concerns I have with this report and the approach of the Human Rights Commission.  At the heyday of Labor’s rule when the boats were arriving hourly, there were about 2000 kids in detention.  No big song and dance made at the time.  When this government took over they immediately set about releasing kids from detention and to date most of those children have been released.  I think the figures are, don’t hold me to them, but only about 126 out of the almost 2000 remain in detention.  Even the title of the report Forgotten Children is misleading.  The children have been anything but forgotten by this government.  There’s been an enormous effort put in by the Department, by the specialist medical people, by phycologists, and enormous effort, enormous money, forget about the money but enormous effort put in to do the right thing by these children.  This didn’t happen under Labor I might say and yet the report seems to be a critique of the Abbott Government.  Very little mention of what happened under Labor.

Speers: Let me ask you separately the news today that the Liberal Party’s Federal Treasurer Philip Higginson has written this email that raises real concerns over the fact that Brian Loughnane as Party Director and Peta Credlin as Chief of Staff.  He says that the most serious current dilemma facing the Party is conflict of interest, how this Party ever let a husband and wife team into those roles is beyond him.  Do you reckon he’s got a point?

Macdonald: Look I’ve made that same point to Tony privately but I’ve also said it publicly, so I’m not disclosing anything new or anything that was at a secret conversation.  I’ve long had that view, I don’t think it works.

Speers: So which one should go?

Macdonald: Oh well again it’s not for me.   In previous days, if you had a problem with the Prime Minister’s office yourself, you’d go to the Party organisation, the Federal Director and say look mate can you go and sort this out with the Prime Minister.  And vice versa.  If you had a problem with the Secretariat that you couldn’t resolve with the Secretariat, you’d go to the Prime Minister’s office and say look Prime Minister or your staff, can you sort them out, we need a new director, or we need a different approach or something. But that’s pretty difficult when husband and wife exercise the two roles.

Speers: You don’t think that they keep the roles separate?

Macdonald: Oh look I’m sure they try to.  I’m sure they are very conscious of the fact but it just makes it very difficult.  Mr Higginson said it wouldn’t happen in the corporate world.  It’s just uncomfortable.  I mean both people are talented people, both people could go a long way in private industry and probably in the media but you know.  I just don’t think it’s a good way to run something as complex as government.  I have to add and repeat, I think both people are very competent in their own right.  I just don’t think it works here.  Now you may well ask me about Ms Credlin and again I haven’t commented on Ms Credlin for some time.  I made some very public comments in the Chamber, I might say, 15 months ago.  I don’t talk about people behind their back, if I’ve got something to say I’ll say it out there but having said that 15 months ago I have nothing further to add.

Speers: Senator Ian Macdonald thank you very much for that

Macdonald: That’s my pleasure.

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