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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1449

Attorney-General


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:59): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Can the Attorney-General confirm that he sought advice in relation to the government's proposal for a marriage equality plebiscite from a lawyer external to the government? Was advice sought former Solicitor-General Dr David Bennett or someone else?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:00): Senator O'Neill, it is the established practice of Australian governments of both political persuasions that we do not comment on legal advice or the fact of legal advice. But I can tell you, Senator—and this is also an entirely common practice—that legal advice is sought for the Commonwealth government from a variety of sources.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, a supplementary question.



Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:00): Was advice also sought from the Solicitor-General in relation to the government's proposal for a marriage equality plebiscite? And what was the cost of the Attorney-General choosing to shop around for legal advice? And on how many other occasions has external advice been sought?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:00): The government did obtain from the Solicitor-General advice on the plebiscite proposal. In relation to the rest of your question, I refer you to my answer to your first question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, a final supplementary question.



Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:01): I am assuming the Attorney-General will find that information for us.

I refer to the Law Officers Act of 1964 which states that the Solicitor-General 'shall be the second law officer of the Commonwealth'. Aside from the Attorney-General, who does the Attorney-General consider to be the primary legal adviser to the Commonwealth government? Does the Attorney-General agree with Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby, who said there was a risk that governments seeking opinions from lawyers other than the Solicitor-General might be:

… shopping around for politically convenient opinions and not accepting the opinion of the statutorily independent, apolitical Solicitor-General.


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:01): Senator O'Neill, although I have not read Professor Appleby's remarks, I am generally aware of what she has had to say because I saw her interview on the 7.30 program the other night.

Might I say, Senator O'Neill, that I am completely confident that any lawyer, barrister or solicitor, who advises the Commonwealth government does so with integrity. They do not give politically convenient advice; they give honest advice in relation to the law in accordance with their professional obligations, as they should. The Commonwealth of Australia is entitled to the best legal advice available. I have complete confidence in those, whether in my department or elsewhere, from whom the Commonwealth obtains legal advice—in their professionalism and in their integrity.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.