Tony Abbott is resisting calls to sack his attorney-general after the Senate censured George Brandis over his treatment of the nation’s human rights chief.
Most non-government senators supported a Labor move to condemn Senator Brandis for failing to defend Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs from “malicious attacks” and seeking her resignation.
Labor immediately called on the prime minister to demand the Senator Brandis’ resignation, while the Australian Greens want him sacked.
Mr Abbott was having none of it, telling the lower house the attorney-general was right to express a loss of confidence in Prof Triggs over the timing of the commission’s inquiry into children held in immigration detention.
She was incapable of understanding it was “better to get people out of detention, than it was to put people into detention”, he said.
Mr Abbott also took aim at Labor’s “jeering, sneering and smearing” as he expressed an “abundance” of confidence in the judgment, competence and integrity of Senator Brandis.
Federal police are investigating whether Prof Triggs was offered an inducement to resign as commission president after she revealed an alternative position had been raised by the government.
Mr Abbott denies any offer was made even though Attorney-General’s Department secretary Chris Moraitis told a Senate estimates hearing last week a role had been discussed.
In question time on Monday, Labor in the Senate repeatedly quizzed Senator Brandis about his role in the matter.
“I have nothing to add,” he told the chamber.
Senator Brandis again offered Labor Senate leader Penny Wong a private briefing about the issue.
The censure motion also condemned the attorney-general for not fully owning up to his conduct before the estimates hearings, criticism he rejected as “entirely incorrect”.
Senator Wong said Labor was defending the commission’s right to present a report to parliament, while Senator Brandis wanted to defend the rights of bigots.
Labor won the support of the Greens, Palmer United Party and independent Jacqui Lambie for its censure.
Crossbenchers Nick Xenophon and Bob Day sided with the government, while Ricky Muir, David Leyonhjelm and John Madigan were absent for the vote.
Senator Brandis insisted he had never personally attacked Prof Triggs, maintaining he had great respect for her as an international lawyer.
But Greens leader Christine Milne accused him of being complicit in an “unwarranted witch-hunt” led by Mr Abbott.