Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has directly contradicted Prime Minister Tony Abbott's scathing critique of Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, heaping praise on the embattled professor and stressing the importance of getting children out of detention.
In question time on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said the government had lost confidence in Professor Triggs, declaring her report on children in detention a "stitch up".
But Mr Turnbull declined to echo the critique of Professor Triggs by Mr Abbott and other Coalition ministers on Wednesday, instead saying the "debate about Gillian Triggs misses the main point ... the main point is the children. Children in detention is something nobody wants".
"The issue is not Gillian Triggs, or personalities, or arguments about the Human Rights Commission, the issue is the children. All of us as parents in particular know how anguished it must be for children to be in these circumstances," Mr Turnbull said.
"I'm not going to buy into this discussion into Gillian Triggs. I've known Gillian Triggs for many years, she is a very distinguished international legal academic. I knew her when she was the Dean of Law at Sydney University."
Mr Turnbull also weighed into the debate about leaked emails from the Liberal Party's honorary treasurer, Phil Higginson, which allege a conflict of interest involving Mr Abbott's chief of staff Peta Credlin and her husband, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane.
Mr Abbott has described the emails as a "storm in a tea cup", but in a coded rebuke, Mr Turnbull said the Liberal Party should "set a very high standard in accountability and transparency".
While many Coalition MPs have been critical of the Human Rights Commission's report, Mr Turnbull's comments echo those from Liberal MPs Craig Laundy and Andrew Laming in the Liberal party room on Tuesday.
Both MPs advocated a less combative approach to the issue of children in immigration detention.
Mr Turnbull instead stressed the success of the Coalition's "stop the boats" policy, pointing out that the number of children in detention had fallen by 1400 to just 126 since the Coalition took office.
"The bottom line is this: one child in detention is one child too many. Everyone is anguished by having children locked up in detention," he said.
"The best way for children not to be in detention is of course for them to not get onto smugglers boats and of course we have effectively ensured that by Scott Morrison stopping the boats."
The opposition has asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate "serious allegations" arising from a Senate estimates hearing that Professor Triggs may have been offered the inducement of another another posting if she resigned from her position at the commission. That could constitute a breach of the criminal code.
On the leaked emails, Mr Turnbull said: "From what I've read of the recommendations, they seem pretty standard recommendations about corporate governance. Phil Higginson is a very experienced company director, he is a corporate governance expert, he is regarded as an authority in that field."
"So I'm sure the federal executive will pay very careful attention to his proposals," Mr Turnbull said.
Asked if he agreed with the Prime Minister's suggestion that the letter was leaked to damage him, Mr Turnbull said: "As I understand it, it was sent to the federal executive and presumably someone on the executive shared it with the media … there are about 30-odd people on the distribution list, it's a big one."
Mr Turnbull said that when he had served in the same Liberal Party role a little over a decade ago, he was "satisfied with the level of accountability and transparency when I was the honorary federal treasurer, but I had access to the management accounts".
"There was no financial information that I sought when I was federal treasurer of the party that was not available to me," he said.
"Clearly there are some issues that have developed in the decade-plus years [since then]."
Labor censure motion
Labor used question time on Wednesday to again pursue the government over whether an inducement was offered to Professor Triggs in return for her resignation.
Mr Abbott said the issue was nothing more than "Canberra insider nonsense".
Mr Abbott said he was not sure what Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was trying to establish by raising the matter in question time, "but all he is establishing is he is not interested in the real issues that concern the Australian people".
"Yet again Canberra insider nonsense that's all this is," he said.
"Canberra insider nonsense, all he is interested in, while every day this government is getting on with the job of looking after the Australian people."
Mr Shorten said "lying is not insider nonsense" as he tried to suspend standing orders and move a censure motion against Attorney-General George Brandis.
"One, for launching an unprecedented attack on the Australian Human Rights Commission designed to undermine its independence," he said.
"Two, for treating an independent statutory office holder with concept tempt.
"And, three, for directing the secretary of the department of Attorney-General to an offer or inducement to the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission in return for her resignation."
With Lisa Cox