The Senate just gave Attorney-General George Brandis a rap over the knuckles

George Brandis. Photo: Getty/ Sergio Dionisio

The government’s pugnacious Attorney-General has been censured by the Senate over his attacks on Gillian Triggs, president of the Human Rights Commission.

Last week Senator Brandis told a Senate Estimates committee that the government had lost confidence in Professor Triggs as claims emerged that the Attorney-General’s department had offered her another role if she resigned as head of the HRC.

The Senate voted 35 to 32 to censure Brandis after Labor’s Penny Wong put forward a five-point censure motion against the Attorney-General, including being unfit to hold the office, failing to defend Triggs against “malicious attacks” and undermining Australia’s commitment to uphold human rights.

“I don’t think there have been any malicious attacks on Professor Triggs,” Senator Brandis said in his defence during the debate.

The motion was approved with support from some crossbench senators, including Jacqui Lambie, who described the Government’s attacks on Triggs as “vindictive”. South Australian senator Nick Xenophon voted against the censure motion,

Three independent senators Ricky Muir, John Madigan and David Leyonhjelm did not vote.

It’s rare for a government politician to lose a censure motion, especially when it holds a clear majority in the lower house, however because the Coalition does not control the Senate, with the balance of power residing with the independents, Labor’s motion succeeded.

A censure motion has no direct constitutional or legal consequences, but is simply the Senate’s way of expressing disapproval in the actions or policies of a politician.

It’s believed to be the first time in the history of the Australian parliament that an Attorney-General has been censured.

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