Federal

Dec 13, 2016

Yes, world is fukt. No, Gillian Triggs is not to blame.

People are right to blame large institutions for their pain. They just happen to be blaming the least culpable.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

You wouldn’t be Gillian Triggs today for quids and a lifetime of free bus travel, would you? The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission has been making headlines for months now, due in large and inevitable part to the fact of her doing her job. The thing that really landed her in the poo was a thing she was employed to do. The release of her report on children in detention, one critical of ALP policy, was irrationally seen as pro-ALP. It was also irrationally seen as the sort of work that the HRC just shouldn’t do. Which was peculiar. Not so long ago, one of her predecessors delivered a similar report on kids, which you’d presume to be the world’s most apolitical population, and this was not perceived as dangerous. But Triggs is seen as dangerously political. Just how Triggs has come to be seen as “left” or in any way partisan is, in one sense, astounding. She helms a liberal institution that does what liberal institutions have long done. For centuries in Western democracies, we’ve agreed that our societies are imperfect and that laws must be made and upheld to address such imperfection. Human Rights, in particular, have been seen as inviolable; the right to rights is above mere politics, as Philip Ruddock’s commitment to this liberal belief made plain. In another sense, Triggs’ disgrace should not be as surprising to us as it is to many of her supporters. The belief in liberal safeguards is starting to crack. There are a few other reasons that Triggs in particular has copped it. Some have suggested that there’s an element of sexism at play, and this is partially true. Australians aren’t overly fond of lady bosses. [Pull the Triggs: conservatives petition against Human Rights Commissioner] Many, notably within News Corp, have said that her organisation has at times unproductively pursued unproductive ends. This is also true. Whatever your view of the QUT case, you can perhaps agree that the arduous way in which it was processed eclipsed all potential for public good. Even among those opposed or subject to racist aggression, there may be some irritated by the length of time a university computer lab became a site for conflict. Then, there’s the matter of Triggs’ refusal to speak accessibly. Many have observed that she’s awful at it, and they’re not wrong. Notwithstanding the frustrating standards to which women in public life are held -- a whisper can still be perceived as “shrill” -- she is a terrible advocate for herself. She has, apparently, no notion how to talk to media, and this is part of the gig. Even when communicating with those outlets best placed to give her an objective hearing, she screws it up. No one at The Saturday Paper compelled her to say haughty things about the ignorance of politicians, and no one, in my view, at that publication elevated these comments with malice, clumsiness or unconcern. Even so, she claimed she wasn’t given impartial review by a team that has offered her nothing else. Triggs' relationship with local press who wish to give her fair account is not unlike that we saw with Clinton and US outlets. This famous profile in Vox of Clinton is written in service to the idea of the “real” Hillary. The author is at pains to point out that Clinton, another genuinely awful communicator, is much better than she appears to us. If only we saw behind her impatience and her refusal to outline her policy goals in a coherent way! If only we understood that beneath all the refusal to explain what she believes, she believes something good! The Saturday Paper piece on Triggs was in no way this uncritical or propagandist, but there was a similar urge to interpret for readers the good the public figure herself could not articulate. Vox couldn’t translate for Hillary any more than Australian press can for Triggs. And this is not just down to either person’s gender or steadfast failure to speak the language of the people. In both cases, we can blame, in good part, the era. People, including ignorant politicians, know there’s something wrong. In recent years, a mistrust of establishments of all kinds has grown to critical levels. That people are turning on institutions that do a little work that is good rather than those that do a lot of work that is monumentally shithouse is, of course, frustrating. But social organisation appears to most of us as inscrutable, and so we turn to its fairly blameless institutions, or its entirely blameless peoples, for an answer. [Gleeson, like Triggs, has a quality Brandis simply can’t stomach: independence] We blame the poor and the brown for a time that is, in the experience of many, insecure. We then blame the institutions whose business it is to safeguard what remains of their rights. This is, of course, wrong. But it’s not like it hasn’t happened before. People are right to blame large institutions for their pain. They just happen to be blaming the least culpable. While it is true that the HRC can arse about doing stuff that seems unimportant to most, it is also true that this is the nature of organisations. Whether an organisation is dealing in the manufacture and distribution of smartphones or upholding anti-discrimination legislation, there will be some stuffing about. That we are unable to see that Apple’s elaborate “double Irish with a Dutch sandwich” method of tax avoidance is a stuff about of much greater consequence than a few months in consultation with students at QUT is our contemporary tragedy. It is, of course, a laugh that the politicians who would censure Triggs are currently able to posit themselves as anti-establishment. Triggs is not the cause of the era’s great unease with “establishment” figures. She’s just a victim of it.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions

18 comments

Leave a comment

18 thoughts on “Yes, world is fukt. No, Gillian Triggs is not to blame.

  1. Itsarort

    Triggs got my Crikey Person of the Year. You don’t have to look too deep to see how resilient this woman has been in the face of adversary. Well done Gillian.

  2. Robert Smith

    The way I remember it the govt released her report at the latest possible time they were required to. They had lots of time to consider how to respond – a brief press release disagreeing would have done and it would have been quickly forgotten like all the others but they chose to go after the person and persist on and on. One of my sources of disappointment with Turnbull is that he did not call off the dogs when he took over. The boys must have their sport.

  3. Reverend Owen

    Perhaps this “failure to communicate” is just a reluctance to stoop to the squalid bickering of the electric circus. She always strikes me as a model of courage, grace and eloquence.

  4. jmendelssohn

    Triggs spent her adult life working at university and in the law with some of the best minds of her generation. Then she had to deal with the Senate…

  5. klewso

    Surely it’s the case that what renders one “left” is ‘someone not of their Conservative Magic Circle Club having the temerity to crititcise them in public’ – ie bringing their infallibility into question?
    For those within their T-P, micturating on one another – that’s perfectly All Right?

  6. Saugoof

    Her treatment by NewsCorp and much of the government seems quite text book. Create something, more or less out of thin air, that you can be outraged about, then proceed to be endlessly outraged. It doesn’t matter whether what you’re getting outraged about either doesn’t exist or has been (purposely) misinterpreted just to give you a target. See political correctness, Gender Studies, Gillian Triggs, Duncan Storrar, Zaky Mallah, refugees, etc.

  7. 2bobsworth

    Murdoch wins, Australia loses.

  8. old greybearded one

    The other thing Bullfrog Brandis can’t take is ability. I am sick of these scum and scum is all they are. I would love to see the squawking and squarking if they were locked up with no rights.

  9. Dog's Breakfast

    It isn’t about women, but it does mean that the sights are more firmly focussed when one is in charge. I give you NSW ICAC. A tremendous force for good, undermined by the party that established it for decades, ultimately done down by some sloppy work and a belligerent female Crown Prosecutor, and a seething group of dickheads found to be corrupt, which every pub conversation had long since called corrupt. Just happens that a woman was at the helm at the time.

    I see it as a breaking down of anything that gets in the way of the rightards, truth being one of the latter victims. All institutions must die, except ours!

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details

Sending...