Australian minister slams human rights commissioner for comments on treatment of refugees

A relative of asylum seekers, currently being held on the tiny south Pacific island of Nauru, cries during a media conference on Oct 18, 2016.
A relative of asylum seekers, currently being held on the tiny south Pacific island of Nauru, cries during a media conference on Oct 18, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian government minister criticised the human rights commissioner on Sunday (Oct 23) for comments on the treatment of refugees and reproof of politicians, saying she had politicised her position and made "substantial errors of judgment".

Under Australia's tough immigration policy, people trying to arrive by boat are intercepted and sent to camps on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru and on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. They are never eligible for settlement in Australia.

The head of the Human Rights Commission, Ms Gillian Triggs, has had an uneasy relationship with the government since she released a critical report on the treatment of children in detention in 2015, and she has criticised politicians over the treatment of asylum seekers.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne on Saturday admonished Ms Triggs in an interview with the ABC. "The human rights commissioner and her position, or his position, should be above politics," said Mr Pyne, who is also minister for defence industry. "Gillian Triggs has made substantial errors of judgement in commenting on the political process and commenting on politicians."

The Human Rights Commission is an independent body, which has statutory responsibility to investigate complaints and breaches of human rights laws and advise courts and the government on rights issues.

On Saturday, thousands of people rallied in 25 towns and cities across Australia to welcome asylum seekers.

Mr Pyne said it was matter for the prime minister and the attorney general to say if they had confidence in Triggs.

Neither Ms Triggs nor her office was immediately available for comment.