Interview with Media on Tuesday 23rd February 2015

(first question missed) 

Macdonald:    Now with hardly any children in detention, the Commission releases this report which they started after the election.  After the time Labor had all of those children in detention and the new government comes in and quickly started getting rid of children in detention so that by the time the Commission’s enquiry, I don’t have the figures on me, but I think it was down below 1000, it’s now practically nil and you just have to ask yourself, why is the Commission highlighting this when this government has done everything possible to get children out of detention.  The previous Labor government kept putting children in detention and quite frankly, despite of what Professor Triggs says, there was no major focus by the Commission on that during the time of the Labor government.  So you’re led to a conclusion that I’ve come to, that is that this is a partisan report.

Journalist:     Yes but Senator isn’t the point of an independent Commission from government, that despite what the politicians think it is partisan, needs to remain independent and that politicians shouldn’t bully it, should leave it be.

Macdonald:    Well that’s your view

Journalist:     It’s not a view, it’s an independent Commission for that view.

Macdonald:    Now hang on, you have your view of that report, I have my view.

Journalist:     It’s not of the report, it’s of the standing of the Commission was my question.

Macdonald:    Can I mirror the Attorneys words, and he says it much more clearly and succinctly than I, but I haven’t had any confidence in the Commission since about this time last year when these questions were first raised.  Now for that reason I choose, I’m not asking you to, you can read it and believe it if you want to, but I choose not to.

Journalist:     inaudible that asking for the resignation of the Chief of the Commission, isn’t that the point and isn’t that inappropriate.

Macdonald:    Well you’ve heard the evidence and if you want to ask the government’s view, I am not the government, I’m a backbencher, I’m the Chairman of a Senate Committee

Journalist:     You’re a Liberal backbencher

Macdonald:    I’m a Senator for the State of Queensland but I’ve long had this view, going back to the Estimates of a year ago that this was a partisan exercise, I’ve made my views quite clear.  Now I choose not to read the report, you read it, that’s great.

Journalist:     Was the government right to seek the resignation of the President of the Commission?  That’s the point I’m getting at.

Macdonald:    You’ve heard the evidence as I have.  Apparently Professor Triggs asked the government what the government thought of her and Senator Brandis, with his typical frankness and honesty, has indicated through an intermediary of Professor Triggs’ choosing, that he didn’t have confidence in her and again he’s made a very, very clear statement today.  You don’t need to ask me about that, just have a look at the film clip of it. 

Journalist:     Do you believe Senator that Professor Triggs should resign now?

Macdonald:    It’s not a question for me.  I think what the Attorney said makes a lot of sense.  The Human Rights Commission has to be beyond reproach and I have, not for twelve months now, had much confidence in the Commission.  So anything the Commission does now is, in my mind, my mind as an individual Australian, a backbencher in this parliament, anything the Commission does, in my mind, is tainted.

Journalist:     Given that the Attorney and the President of the Commission just slung mud at each other from two seats away, can the two of them work together now?

Macdonald:    You’ll have to ask them that.

Journalist:     Do you think it was right for the Attorney to express, through an intermediary of Mr Moraitis, that although he didn’t have confidence in Ms Triggs as the Chair of the Commission but that she should still obtain a job of high legal standing within the government.

Macdonald:    You guys were there and heard the evidence and what you’ve just asked is not what was said, as you know.

Journalist:     Senator surely you must admit that despite the politicising that’s going on and partisanship that you’re accusing Gillian Triggs of, one child in detention is one too many and while you outlined that your government has done a lot to get them out, clearly there is a bigger issue here and yes they’re out but they outlined the greater mental health issues that stay with them once they are out.

Macdonald:    This government, unlike the previous government which Professor Triggs didn’t seem to bother about, this government has done everything possible to get children out of detention and the indication was given in evidence yesterday that, within a very short period of time, all but some who, for reasons given had to remain in detention, sometimes because of their parents, those children will be out of detention.  The government has spent a enormous amount of money on mental health support for children in detention, and those who have been in detention.  What more can this government do?  Labor created this mess but do you or do any of Professor Triggs comments suggest that if the Labor Party had have handled this properly, this wouldn’t be a problem.  But see that doesn’t seem to be an issue for Professor Triggs.  And that’s why I’ve always thought, since a year ago when she was first questioned about this, that this was a partisan exercise that I don’t want to be part of.  I have better things to do than reading that report.

Journalist:     But it shouldn’t be an issue for Professor Triggs to score points between Labor and the government, the current government and the previous government surely.

Macdonald:    But don’t you understand the point.  Huge increases in the number of children in detention, very little serious work done, change of government, the numbers start falling but suddenly you have this very serious, lengthy and, as has been pointed out by the Department’s evidence, quite inaccurate report by the Commission.  It only leads to the impression, the understanding, certainly in my mind, that the Commission is tainted …..

Journalist:     They’re playing for the Labor team.

Macdonald:    Well they’re certainly not balanced, they’re certainly not neutral.  And the action of calling this major enquiry when it did, when the numbers were being addressed by the current government, some of the evidence given yesterday and a little bit of it that I have referred to today, is just plain wrong.  I have no confidence now in anything the Commission does because of what I’ve seen in this. 

Journalist:     Senator you’ve referred to the report as a waste of time which means perhaps this Committee is a waste of time as well. 

Macdonald:    Which Committee?

Journalist:     This Senate Committee that we are hearing from now 

Macdonald:    This is the Estimates Committee which has been going since time immemorial and many times people say it’s a waste of time and money, but it’s not my ruling.

Journalist:     But some people suggest it is a witch hunt of Gillian Triggs would you agree?

Macdonald:    No

Journalist:     Do you think that this Senate Committee considering this report is a waste of time if the report itself was a waste of time, do you think we should be here today asking these questions?

Macdonald:    Well do you understand what Estimates is about?  Estimates is supposed to be looking at expenditure of taxpayers money and any aspect of government and we happen to be dealing with the Legal and Constitutional Affairs area which it the Attorney General and the Immigration Department and these questions are all legitimate questions for Estimates.  I mean it’s up to people to make what they will of them but …

Journalist:     But do you think Estimates should have to be asking these questions considering the report is, in your words, a partisan report?

Macdonald:    Well I think it’s partisan, I’m sure most members of the Labor Party will think it’s a wonderfully accurate and unbiased report but that perhaps demonstrates my point.

Journalist:     Have you lost control of your hearing Senator?

Macdonald:    Well do you think I have?

Journalist:     I thought it was looking a little ragged in the last few minutes if you’ll excuse me a personal insult.

Macdonald:    No that’s fine.  I’m very happy with the way I Chair the Committee.  We always get there, I always give everyone an opportunity.  I try to be fair to all, to witnesses, to other members of the Committee. I must say there is an orchestrated litany of yelling from the Labor Party and the Greens that I find sometimes a little difficult to handle to make sure the witnesses get a chance but no I’m very happy about it. I think it’s everyone has their say, everyone fairly is able to put their points and the witnesses are fairly able to answer them.  That’s my role as Chair

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