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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 TONY SMITH (8:00 PM) —I frequently get submissions and comments made to me from my constituents of Dickson on the importance of ensuring that the government adopts initiatives and policies which exhibit a responsibility in the spending of my constituents' tax dollars. The Law Officers Amendment Bill 1997 is a small piece of legislation but, nonetheless, an important principle is contained therein.
We should bear in mind that the principal act itself was passed in 1964, a long time ago when conditions, especially in the legal profession, were very different from what they are now, and we should bear in mind that `the times they are a changing'—well and truly. That particular quote comes from the Peter, Paul and Mary song written by Bob Dylan back in the 1960s. The fact of the matter is that we are in the 1990s and we are almost at the turn of the century.
With this particular measure, the very small bill to amend the principal act is a responsible one. The bill moves on in its realistic apprais al of the legal profession and its operation, in particular the emphasis. In my view, it is a good emphasis to have eminent members of the legal profession, from whom appointees are drawn to a position such as this, be offered this position and then to take the position but, at the same time, it should not be seen as a position that is putting people out to pasture or really as a sinecure.
We do have some precedents on this position of Solicitor-General, where solicitors-general in the past have, in fact, gone back to the bar. I am not in any way, shape or form casting aspersions on them for doing so. Bob Ellicott comes to mind immediately as someone who, in fact, did that. This illustrates an important point as to how the electorate in particular is perceiving benefits, which are very generous, given to people who do go back to practising law. There is an overgenerosity in the present system, in my respectful submission, and I think we need to draw it in.
There is no agenda behind what the government is doing here other than that: it is a realistic appraisal of the act as it is in the context of the late 1990s, with a view to bringing back some realism—ensuring that those who take on this very important position do have a future in the legal profession, that it is not one where they can go to sleep, where they can ignore trends in the law, where they can basically avoid taking decisions of importance and, at the same time, carry out their due obligations in this very important job. The encouragement of a future beyond this job—that is, a future back practising at the bar—is an important one. For it does, I believe, ultimately draw far better candidates to the job.
We do have some precedent in that regard. In Queensland there was a special act prepared—I cannot think of it offhand—that related to the Solicitor-General being allowed to continue practising. Pat Keane QC, a very experienced senior member of the bar in Queensland, is the Solicitor-General and is practising as well in a private capacity. I think that is a very good precedent. I am not suggesting the government is necessarily drawing on that as a precedent, but it is a healthy way for the office to be looked at.
During the debate, the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham) raised a number of issues which I found difficult to follow in terms of where he was going with his argument. I think he was trying to say that somehow or other the government is making the Solicitor-General a puppet or a prisoner for the government with this legislation. He used the term `prisoner'. He made rhetorical statements about the government not being interested in quality advice and about the government sending the Solicitor-General to appear during the Hindmarsh Island case and being hidebound with instructions. There was a connection made that somehow or other the Solicitor-General making submissions before the High Court amounted to saying that the constitution should be interpreted as a racist document.
I really think there is a temptation, particularly in politics, to make these sorts of statements from time to time. But the facts to support those statements are not enunciated. In other words, we are making rhetorical statements but where are the particulars to support those statements?
Mr Melham —It's on the public record.
Mr TONY SMITH —Your particular contribution to this debate did not contain particulars. I was waiting for the particulars to support your argument. I was patiently waiting to hear what you were saying that was supporting it, but I waited in vain. All I got was a continual assessment that somehow or other the government is moving in this direction because it has some agenda designed to hidebound the Solicitor-General, designed to make him a prisoner of the Attorney-General and of the government in some way. I waited in vain to hear that; we did not get it.
The temptation in politics is to make these arguments full of sound and fury. The honourable member would perhaps remember something I said some time ago, that when you have really got nothing to say in an argument then do it loudly, do it aggressively, do it full of sound and fury and avoid really talking about particularity. That is the prob lem with the position that the honourable member for Banks takes on this issue. It is loud, it is entertaining and it is interesting, but it lacks substance. I enjoyed the honourable member's speech, but I really thought I was a member of a jury down in Bankstown or somewhere or other where they sit in the county courts in New South Wales listening to another contribution from the honourable member for Banks.
On a more serious note, it is important to touch a little on this notion of independence. It is important for law officers of the Crown to have that sort of independence that ultimately is part of acting in the task without being circumscribed, except to the extent that instructions are given by the government—and there is nothing wrong with the government giving instructions to the Solicitor-General who is appearing in a case. He does not go down there and make up his own instructions, as we used to like to do when we were in the profession, but we could not do. We probably would have won more cases if we could have made up our instructions.
The fact of the matter is he acts on instructions like any other ordinary barrister from the bottom right to the top. However, also in his role as a very senior lawyer he is not going to just meekly and lame-duckly wander down and raise no objection on any particular matter that he is asked to make submissions on. Like any barrister, obviously discussions are had. No barrister worth his salt would lamely go down and accept what he was told, unless it is a situation of such great importance to the government of the day that he is told to act in that way where it is necessary to submit on a particular point. However, I am sure he would do so after considering all of the arguments in the case and strongly submitting those arguments before going down.
The importance of independence was raised. The honourable member for Banks raised a number of matters here. I think independence is very important in the legal profession, in the judiciary in particular and in the numerous tribunals around the country. I do not think anyone would argue otherwise. The Solicitor-General's professionalism is never going to be questioned because the people who will be asked to do this job, the people to whom the job will be offered, the people who will be called upon from time to time to be appointed to this position, will be the top men and women around the country.
It is important to strip away some of the rhetoric but at the same time to try to inject some balance, to try to look at the points objectively and to ultimately consider that the context of this matter is the wider review of the officer's total remuneration package, including consideration by the Remuneration Tribunal whether there should be an increase in the salary payable to the Solicitor-General in the light of the earnings of members of the private bar. The bill does amend the principal act to remove the current entitlement for a judge's pension and payment in lieu of unused long leave in respect of future appointments to the office of Solicitor-General.
In other words, it is an important measure, which my electorate of Dickson applauds because, as I have said before, it is always asking me what the government is doing to ensure that there is not a double-dipping situation or that these sorts of offices are not used as sinecures or that the officers are not in other ways paid too generously to fulfil these offices in light of all of the circumstances prevailing in today's legal world.
So at the end of the day I am very happy to support this measure. I ask the honourable member for Banks to remember when looking at this legislation that the principal act was brought in in 1964 and we are now in 1998. I think it is about time that we look at all those sorts of things when we combine an appreciation of the current legal environment as well as the environment as far as the electorate is concerned—the cost to the people of Australia for some of these very generous schemes that are in existence. So at the end of the day I support these measures and commend them to the House.