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Friday, 30 October 1964

Senator COHEN (Victoria) . - The Opposition supports this Bill, which is designed to reconstitute the statutory office of Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth, an office which was created by the SolicitorGeneral Act 1916. Apparently it has been the Government's intention for some time - as was announced last year - that upon the retirement of Sir Kenneth Bailey from the office of Solicitor-General the two posts of Secretary to the Attorney-General's Department and Solicitor-General would be separated. Up till the present time those two posts have been occupied by the one person. Indeed, honorable senators will recall that there have been only three occupants of the position of Solicitor-General. Each of them has made a distinguished contribution to the public life of the country and to the development of the Commonwealth interest in the law and of its position in the law ever since 1916. The first Solicitor-General was Sir Robert Garran, and later there was Sir George Knowles. Then there was Sir Kenneth Bailey, who recently retired and who is now Australia's High Commissioner in Canada. The standards set by those gentlemen in the discharge of the duties of this important post were very high indeed.

The Opposition supports the measure. We believe that it is in the interests of the administration of justice. It is proper that these offices have been separated and that h is now proposed to appoint the SolicitorGeneral to be the second law officer of the Commonwealth after the Attorney-General. Clause 12 of the Bill sets out the proposed functions of the Solicitor-General. They are -

(a)   to act as counsel for -

(i)   the Crown in right of the Commonwealth;

(ii)   the Commonwealth;

(iii)   a person suing or being sued on behalf of the Commonwealth;

(iv)   a Minister;

(v)   an officer of the Commonwealth;

(vi)   a person holding office under an Act or a law of a Territory of the Commonwealth;

(vii)   a body established by an Act or a law of a Territory of the Commonwealth; or

(viii)   any other person or body for whom the Attorney-General requests him to act.

(b)   to furnish . his opinion to the AttorneyGeneral on questions of law referred to him by the Attorney-General; and

(c)   to carry out such other functions ordinarily performed by counsel as the AttorneyGeneral requests.

It will be seen that this is a very challenging office and one that will carry heavy responsibility. It will provide an opportunity to the person appointed to it to carry out extremely important functions on behalf of the Commonwealth and to devote his full time to acting as senior counsel for the Commonwealth. He will not be bogged down in the heavy administrative duties that pertain to the position of permanent head of an important department of State. He will be able to concentrate on the office of senior Crown counsel.

The creation of this position is following the example of the States of New South Wales and Victoria, in which the office of Solicitor-General is separated from that of head of the Attorney-General's Department. In my own State of Victoria, the development was comparatively recent. It was not until about 1952 that Victoria appointed a Solicitor-General to carry out, in the State sphere, the type of functions that arc to be entrusted to the SolicitorGeneral appointed under this Bill. Sir Henry Winneke was the first occupant of that important position and he held it until his recent appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria. The creation of the separate office of Solicitor-General was certainly an important step forward in the administration of the law in Victoria.

I am not so familiar with the office of Solicitor-General in New South Wales, but it is my understanding that the position is completely separated from administrative duties, and that it is a comparable position to that now being created by this Bill.

Senator Murphy - That is right.

Senator COHEN - My colleague, Senator Murphy, informs me that I have stated the position accurately. I do not propose to delay the Senate with a detailed examination of the provisions of the Bill. Proper provision seems to have been made for pension rights and, in the event of an appointment not being renewed, for retirement at the end of the first period of appointment after seven years. Clause 16 provides for the payment of a lump sum equal to twice the amount of the annual salary as at the expiration of the term of the appointment. To my mind it is not clear whether that is a retiring allowance so that only a small portion of it would attract taxation, or whether it is to be regarded as money earned in the year in which it is actually paid. I do not know whether the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) is in a position to elucidate that point. The terms of the clause are not specific on that matter.

I note that, although under clause 17 the Attorney-General has the power of delegation of many matters to the SolicitorGeneral, it is not proposed to delegate to him the Attorney-General's powers under the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act 1960. That provision merely follows what was stated in the 1960 Act where there was a specific exclusion of the delegation under the Solicitor-General Act of 1916. I do not think it alters the position, but continues it as it was prior to the introduction of this Bill. We welcome the Bill and we support it. We trust that it will open the way for the appointment of a distinguished legal figure to this important office in the administration of law in the Commonwealth.

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