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Triggs regrets any offence caused to MPs

AAP logoAAP 12/12/2016 Jennifer Rajca

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs says she regrets if any MPs were offended after she labelled her detractors "ill-informend and uneducated".

There were heated scenes as Professor Triggs squared off against committee chair Liberal senator Ian Macdonald on Monday during a supplementary budget estimates hearing in Canberra.

Repeatedly asked about the comments published in The Saturday Paper in April, Professor Triggs accepted the editor's claim they were an accurate reflection of what she told the reporter.

In the interview, she took aim at "seriously ill-informed and uneducated" politicians questioning her work.

Prof Triggs said she regretted offending any MPs and corrected the parliamentary record from an earlier estimates hearing in October when she claimed to have been taken out of context.

"After eight hours of questioning I was very frustrated that the questions being asked indicated that the statute had not been read and that our reports had not been read," she said on Monday.

"To the extent that my comments offended anybody, I regret them."

According to a transcript of the interview, Prof Triggs recalled her experience at a previous Senate hearing.

She said the Attorney-General "was writing the questions, which would be taken by his staff up to one of the senators, so feeding them the questions - an extraordinary experience".

Senator Macdonald asked whether she stood by that claim or wished to withdraw it and apologise to Senator George Brandis.

"I regret offending anyone," Prof Triggs said.

Senator Macdonald continued: "Is it your practice to look over the shoulder of the minister."

Labor senators interjected, telling Prof Triggs she didn't need to answer "stupid" questions.

"We're laughing at you senator ... that you're asking the head of the human rights commission, the former dean of Sydney University law school, whether or not it is her practice to read notes," Senator Sam Dastyari said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale also defended Prof Triggs.

Prof Triggs said she had been repeatedly questioned for four or five hours at Senate hearings during her term as commission president, with some sessions lasting eight hours.

She also revealed the Turnbull government didn't contact her before recently saying her tenure wouldn't be extended.

But Prof Triggs insisted she didn't want it to be extended and was happy to wrap up her five-year stint in July 2017.

She also said she had told Senator Brandis about her intention 18 months ago and that it was her understanding no president had served more than one term.

Senator Brandis arrived late for the morning hearing, after flying back from London.

Prof Triggs will later on Monday give evidence to a separate inquiry looking into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

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