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Sex Discrimination Commissioner selection process a joke

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The shocking revelation that Professor Gillian Triggs was never consulted about the imminent appointment of a new Sex Discrimination Commissioner makes a mockery of the “due process” the government has said it would follow, showing once again that the position has become captive to Liberal party infighting.

George Brandis has also confirmed that Malcolm Turnbull rejected his handpicked candidate for Elizabeth Broderick’s replacement in September, only then deciding to appoint a selection panel, holding the process up for a further five months. This government has seriously endangered the integrity of the Human Rights Commission with its wrangling over this position, instead of running a swift, open and transparent selection process.

Under questioning at a Senate Estimates hearing this morning, Professor Triggs said she was told by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull before Christmas that she would be included in the selection panel for the new Sex Discrimination Commissioner, but she was subsequently excluded.

Professor Triggs: I was consulted by the Prime Minister before Christmas about the process. He explained to me that he was very keen to have a proper process for selection and asked whether this would cause any difficulties to the Commission if it were to be delayed longer. Because it would be if there were to be a proper process. And I said that I understand and I was happy for the process to take longer in order for it to be a transparent, open and usual process. And it was left at that, I’ve not subsequently been consulted.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Whereas from your understanding in previous appointments you would have been consulted about the recommendation of a panel? Or indeed would have been on the panel?

Professor Triggs: Yes.

Collins: Did you think to make that point to the Prime Minister when he consulted you about what process should proceed?

Triggs: Yes, and the Prime Minister at that stage indicated that he would include me on the panel, but he did so really as a matter of good faith because he hadn’t been advised by anyone else I don’t think on that question. And so when I told him that normally the President would be included, he included my name in the list as he wrote it down. But that wouldn’t in any way constrain him, he was simply responding to what I was telling him. And it was obviously a matter for him in the long term whether he wanted me to continue to be on a panel.

Collins: But on the outset the Prime Minister indicated you would be on the panel?

Triggs: He did.

That the Prime Minister told Professor Triggs that she would be included in the selection panel, and then apparently reversed that decision, is extraordinary. What changed? Was Turnbull rolled by George Brandis? Has he apologised to Professor Triggs?

Senator Brandis now says that an announcement on the position will be made this week, after Cabinet approved a decision on Monday. That a candidate would be confirmed in such a senior role without any consultation with Professor Triggs is outrageous.

The government’s disgraceful and contemptuous treatment of Professor Triggs under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is clearly continuing under Malcolm Turnbull. The leadership may have changed but the party has not.