SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian government's woes deepened on Wednesday after the police said they were looking into claims a senior official broke the law by allegedly offering an inducement for the Human Rights Commission chief to resign.
The president of the government-funded commission, Ms Gillian Triggs, has been under heavy fire from Prime Minister Tony Abbott's conservative administration since releasing a report this month criticising the detention of asylum-seeker children.
In explosive parliamentary hearings on Tuesday, Ms Triggs claimed the government sought her resignation through Attorney-General's Department secretary Chris Moraitis two weeks before the report was released, and offered her another position. She said she rejected the request.
Labor opposition attorney-general Mark Dreyfus claimed it could constitute corrupt and unlawful conduct and referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, which said it was investigating. "The police will evaluate this referral as per usual processes," it said in a statement.
Mr Moraitis denied the claims, saying he "never sought her resignation" but confirmed the job offer.
Mr Dreyfus said the allegations "raise real questions about whether or not there's been a breach... of the criminal law".
"We've got criminal laws that prevent and guard against inducing, trying to affect commonwealth public officers in the performance of their duties," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr Abbott dismissed the allegations and repeated that his government had lost confidence in Ms Triggs, a respected international lawyer.
"What (Triggs) does is a matter for her but as the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department has made clear, she was not asked to resign and no inducement has been offered," he told reporters on Wednesday.
Australia has long come under international pressure over the detention of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, particularly in offshore camps in the Pacific.
The commission's "Forgotten Children" report hit out at both sides of politics over the issue and called for a national inquiry.
On Tuesday, Mr Abbott called the report a "political stitch-up" and said it should have released when the previous Labor government was in power as more children were held in detention at that time.
Mr Abbott, who survived a leadership challenge this month from within his own Liberal party and has been on the back foot ever since, has strongly defended his government's tough approach to dealing with boatpeople.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull - seen as Mr Abbott's main leadership challenger - said the furore "misses the main point", which was about the children being detained.
"Children in detention is something nobody wants. We certainly don't want that," Mr Turnbull said.
"Our policy has demonstrably resulted in children being taken out of detention so that's what we should be focused on."