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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8479

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (19:06): I too rise to take note of the annual report of the Australian Government Solicitor and to echo the comments that have been made by Senator Brandis in relation to the conduct of this matter. As I indicated at estimates when Senator Brandis was questioning Mr Govey and Mr Wilkins in relation to this matter, I have never in my whole 20-year association with the Australian Government Solicitor witnessed something of this nature. To have 17, 18, 19, 20 lawyers involved in the case is absolutely exceptional and then to have the matter settled for a mere $50,000 deserves comment.

What was also very pertinent was when the Australian Government Solicitor read out the list of officers involved in this matter, it actually read like a who's who of the Australian Government Solicitor and the who's who of senior legal people in this country. They are very highly respected lawyers. It actually goes to show the extent of the advice that was provided in relation to this matter. It was exceptional. To see people like Robert Orr and Tom Howe, highly respected lawyers, and Simon Daly whom I have worked with and know and respect, being involved in this matter goes to show the extent of the advice that this government got, and they cannot say—

Senator Brandis: How vulnerable they felt—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: They felt very vulnerable, thank you, Senator Brandis. I was most interested to see that some of the lawyers involved were in the mediation area. It would be very interesting to know when those lawyers actually provided that advice, Senator Brandis. I would also invite Mr Govey to respond to my request to lay to rest any criticisms by providing to the Senate committee with the timesheets so that we can look at the work that was done in this matter and see how much of that work was necessary and how much was not done for legal purposes but for political purposes. Most importantly, we could see at whose instigation it was worked on and whether the instructions actually came directly from the Attorney-General, just to see the involvement that Attorney-General Roxon had directly in this case.

During my time as a government lawyer, yes, we did have highly political cases. Yes, we did have instances where there was political involvement. But it was done through a particular process. It was done through the department and through the appropriate areas of the department. Those timesheets would actually show the direct involvement that the Attorney-General may have had in relation to how she managed this case in what was really a personal attack on Mr Ashby. Senator Brandis has canvassed various aspects of the conduct of this matter.

How can the Attorney-General argue that they had a case and it was necessary to engage a raft of lawyers to continue to fight this case when they knew back in May about the text messages? Even if they had not read substantially all of them, it would have been sufficient to tell them that they had legal problems. So, as Senator Brandis has correctly said, a lot of that legal advice went to canvass all options including political options and the legality of those political options to see how far they could continue to try to create as much political advantage as they could. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted, debate adjourned.