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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Pyne, Chris, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Marek, Paul, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Baldwin, Bob, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Draper, Trish, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Sales Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Slipper, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Redundancy and Termination Entitlements
(Andren, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Evans, Richard, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Hollis, Colin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Skase, Mr C.
(Wakelin, Barry, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(O'Connor, Gavan, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Lloyd, Jim, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Gash, Joanna, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Hardgrave, Gary, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Small Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- PARLIAMENTARY SERVICE BILL 1997 [No. 2]
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY (PLANNING AND LAND MANAGEMENT) AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- LAW OFFICERS AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1997
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Social Security Payments
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Jones, Barry, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sirway Asia Pacific Contract
(Bevis, Arch, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism: Consultants
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Moore, John, MP)
- Japanese Economy
Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Mr MELHAM (5:50 PM) —I indicate at the outset that the opposition will be opposing the Law Officers Amendment Bill 1997 and we will be dividing at the end of the second reading debate. This bill is a disgrace. This bill is an attempt to basically diminish the office of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General. It is a bill that shows that the Attorney-General (Mr Williams) has now involved himself in the final capitulation—not only has he abrogated the role of first law officer of the Commonwealth; he has now basically downgraded the position of the senior legal officer of the Commonwealth. It is the view of the opposition that this bill strikes at the very heart of the independence of the Solicitor-General.
It is appropriate to go back to 1964 and look at the history of the current Law Officers Act 1964. It is appropriate because that gives the history of why the Solicitor-General has the particular remuneration and benefits he now has. The Law Officers Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 22 October 1964 and then became the Law Officers Act 1964. The second reading speech was given by the then Attorney-General, Mr Snedden, the then member for Bruce. At page 2,219 of the Hansard he states:
The purpose of this Bill is to reconstitute the statutory office of Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth, which was created by the Solicitor-General Act 1916.
So the bill was about separating the Solicitor-General from the permanent head of the Attorney-General's Department. It is worth quoting what is reported further on in the second reading speech because it goes to the heart of what the government is doing at the moment:
The Solicitor-General will hold a non-political office, and, as in New South Wales and Victoria, he will be kept free of departmental responsibility and administration so that he can concentrate on his function as permanent counsel for the Crown.
Further on it states:
The conclusion must be that the office of Solicitor-General should become a separate office.
. . . . . . . . .
. . . the Minister needs an officer in a similar relationship to him in regard to his functions as counsel for the Crown. The Solicitor-General will be that officer, taking precedence after the Attorney-General in Federal courts and discharging the function of second law officer of the Commonwealth.
He will retain the independence of counsel, because, although he will have only one client, he will during the term of his appointment, be assured of security of tenure.
. . . . . . . . .
The term of a Solicitor-General's appointment is to be a fixed term, not exceeding seven years, but he is to be eligible for re-appointment.
I repeat: this was an act put forward by a conservative government—it was a Liberal government. The trouble with the government that we have at the moment is that it is no longer Liberal; it is capital `C' Conservative. It is not interested in the separation of powers; it is not interested in the independence of officers. The second reading speech goes on:
In this way the Bill gives proper security to the Solicitor-General who will give up a greater income in private practice to become a non-political officer, outside the Public Service—
I repeat: outside the Public Service—
serving different governments in succession.
The Law Officers Bill at that time had the support of the then opposition. The then member for Werriwa, Mr Whitlam, on 28 October 1964 in the House of Representatives Hansard at page 2,445, had this to say—and I think he goes to the nub of the matter; and, I repeat, it was a bill that had cross-party support:
The new position will be the most significant and challenging legal post in Australia. The Solicitor-General to be appointed under this Act will have the opportunity of appearing in nearly all the constitutional cases and most of the administrative cases which will determine the rights of citizens and governments in this country. He will contribute more than any lawyer of his time to the making of the laws of the country. It is often thought that whoever appears for the government must be the Devil's Advocate. Governments, however, are not only oppressors; they are liberators; and the Solicitor-General will be rather the voice of the people in most of the cases in which he appears.
Unfortunately, the Solicitor-General who has recently retired, Dr Gavan Griffith, represented the Commonwealth in the recent Hindmarsh Island bridge case before the High Court. He retained the brief in that matter, even though he was at the private bar. Sadly, acting on instructions from this government, the former Solicitor-General submitted to the High Court, on instructions from this government, that the race power should be interpreted as if it were the power as of 1901. Frankly, that submission and those instructions showed that this government are not liberators; they are oppressors. There are a number of other matters that the Solicitor-General properly put. It is fair to say that the former Solicitor-General was also acting as devil's advocate. He made submissions to the court and responded, as was expected of him and as he has always done, truthfully and honourably. We await the decision of the court in that case, and I do not want to pre-empt that decision.
The position of Solicitor-General is an important one. We on this side of the House believe in the separation of powers. We believe in an independent public service, a non-political public service. We believe that the second law officer of the Commonwealth, the Solicitor-General, should be outside the Public Service and should have the remuneration currently afforded a Solicitor-General. It is that remuneration, that security of tenure and that independence of office that attract the quality of candidate that is required—indeed, necessary—particularly when you have a government of the current political persuasion, a cabinet full of bush lawyers and an Attorney-General who has abandoned the traditional role of first law officer of the Commonwealth and who, as is now becoming obvious, is being rolled by his cabinet consistently, submission after submission.
We on this side of the House are appalled at this amendment bill that is currently before the House, because it changes substantially the independence of the Solicitor-General and his ability to give independent, strong and vibrant advice to the government. Intentionally or unintentionally, it makes the Solicitor-General a prisoner. I repeat: it was not a Labor government that brought in the Law Officers Act 1964. I will repeat what the then Liberal Attorney-General said in his second reading speech of 22 October 1964:
In this way the Bill gives proper security to the Solicitor-General who will give up a greater income in private practice to become a non-political officer, outside the Public Service, serving different governments in succession.
But what does the current Attorney-General say in his second reading speech in terms of varying the conditions? The justification is a couple of paragraphs. He says:
The terms and conditions of service for the Solicitor-General are similar to those for a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and include eligibility for a judge's pension and payment in lieu of unused long leave on the same basis as for a judge.
Section 16 of the act applies the Judges' Pensions Act 1968 to the Solicitor-General as if he or she were a judge, albeit with some modifications as to entitlements. Section 16A of the act provides for a payment to the Solicitor-General on retirement in lieu of unused long leave.
And what does the government say, through the Attorney-General:
The government does not consider it appropriate that these arrangements apply to the occupant of the office of Solicitor-General.
Why not? The opposition believes they are appropriate. The opposition believes that those conditions will enable quality candidates to be appointed to this position to give fierce independent advice to this government. But this government is not interested in fierce independent advice. And it is interesting that this government, during the Wik amendments, did not appear to seek advice from the then Solicitor-General, Dr Gavan Griffith, as to whether its amendment bill is consistent with our international obligations or consistent with the Racial Discrimination Act. True it was that the Solicitor-General gave an opinion in relation to the race power and that is now before the court.
We in the opposition believe that this is an inappropriate bill to be bringing. It is inappropriate because it diminishes the office of the Solicitor-General. It diminishes the field of applicants for that position. One has to ask: why? Because this government is not interested in quality independent advice. This government uses code words. It says one thing when it means another. This government despicably—and I use the word deliberately—sends the former Solicitor-General down to the High Court in the Hindmarsh Island bridge case to basically argue that our constitution is still an inherently racist document and that our constitution might allow apartheid type laws—Nuremberg type laws—and might allow this parliament to bring in penalties for theft by Muslims that mean the cutting off of their hands.
I do not blame the Solicitor-General for those submissions. I blame this government—this mean-spirited government, this government with a Prime Minister who wraps himself around the flag, the constitution and the separation of powers. Since this Prime Minister has come into office, there has been no such thing as independence. The govern ment are price driven; quality is out the window. What you have are apologists. That is all they are interested in. They want people that conform with their point of view.
The day of reckoning will come for this government. It will be held to account for the sort of society that it is producing for a modern Australia. The sort of independent advice that it relies on is another example and is consistent with this government. When it comes to parliamentary committees, we now have a secretariat servicing two committees. This is a government without a soul. This is a government that does not listen. This is a government that wants to hear only what it wants to hear, and there is nothing more indicative of this government not wanting independent and fierce advice than this bill before the House at this time. This bill is going backwards, not forwards. This bill, if it is accepted by the parliament, will not produce an office that will attract quality candidates, will not produce an office that requires fiercely independent advice. Frankly, it is a backward step.
The Attorney-General should come into this House and do a little bit better than he did in his second reading speech. But perhaps the quality of the Attorney-General's second reading speech indicates his true feelings in relation to this bill. Is this another bill where he was rolled by his cabinet, where he has got the riding instructions of his cabinet and he does not have his heart in it? Because I have to say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the justification for this bill in the second reading speech is no justification at all. It is an appalling second reading speech for such a substantial change to such a high office. It is as though the Attorney-General is telling us in his own way that his heart is not in this bill, that this is not a bill that he genuinely supports, but that he is going through the motions for cabinet solidarity, for party solidarity, because this is the requirement.
This Attorney-General was rolled when it came to $120 million of legal aid cuts. Why? Because we had a Prime Minister who went on the Laurie Oakes program and did not know that there was a cabinet submission circulating in relation to legal aid cuts. The bean counters are in there, like they are in there for Dr Kemp, the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Why? This is a bean counters act. It is not about quality; it is price driven and it will drive down quality.
That is why we on this side of the House will be opposing it and we will be dividing. We will be reminding those in government that they are undoing an act of parliament that was sponsored by the then Attorney-General, Mr Snedden, and supported by both sides of the House and that the Solicitor-General since that time has acted honourably and nobly and according to the terms of that office. We believe on this side that the Law Officers Act 1964 as it presently is helped play that role, helped attract quality candidates to that position and gave that position prominence, as it should in the legal system, in the position of advocacy on the part of the Commonwealth.
I just cannot help thinking that what we now have is a government that really is—as the former member for Werriwa, Mr Whitlam, said back in 1964, `Governments, however, are not only oppressors; they are liberators'—not a government of liberators but a government of oppressors. This is a government that at every angle you turn, at every portfolio you turn, is ideologically driven. This is an ideologically driven bill that is before the House at the moment. It is a bean counter's bill.
This is a government without soul. This is another bill that shows it is a government without soul. It is not interested in quality. It is a government that in time the Australian electorate will form a judgment on. It is a government that is, frankly, unfit to govern. The sort of garbage that is being put forward in this bill is symptomatic of what is happening across other portfolios of this government. It is not about independence. It is not about professional advice. It is not about making our society a better society, a fairer society. It is about having people in positions who, when asked to jump, will respond, `How high?'
That is my summary of this particular bill. That is what I believe this bill does to the office of Solicitor-General should it be carried by this parliament and passed through the Senate. It diminishes the office of Solicitor-General. True it is that we have a Prime Minister who day by day is diminishing in office, but he does not have to diminish every other office in the country. I repeat: we will be opposing this bill strenuously, and we will be dividing on the motion for the second reading and opposing it in the Senate.