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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1455


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:24): Once again we have on display by Senator Brandis ample demonstration of what we have known for so long on this side of the house: that he does an awful lot of slippery talking, says nothing clearly and that this is a pattern that is repeated day after day. I did note today, however, that he has got himself into such a mess this week he began his answers with some discipline and a little reading from notes. The problem is the slippery story is getting so slippery now that even the enormous brain of Senator Brandis is having trouble hanging onto the storytelling that he is undertaking. This slippery storytelling has now become a feature of what we expect from Senator Brandis every day.

He admits to absolutely never making a mistake. Even though he has actually been censured here by the Senate, no-one would know because we have this self-aggrandising persona: 'I am perfect. This is the truth. You should never question me. Just trust me; it'll all be fine.' People are over the hubris and arrogance that is embedded in the kinds of answers that are being given to the Senate by the first law officer of the land. The Attorney-General is contemptuous in the way he has responded to questions that were put to him today—we could not call them answers.

I do note that at one point today Senator Brandis said, 'I am very careful in my use of language'. I believe that was in response to a question that was asked by Senator Gallagher regarding the Don Dale matter. 'Very careful in my use of language.' We also had him claim, once again, 'I have been a barrister for 33 years'. This appeal to the superiority of having such a wonderful education is not something that should be trotted out as a veil between him and the truth that the Senate deserves. 'Don't question me. I'm a barrister; I'm beyond reproach.' The senator, by the quality—or lack of quality—of his responses to questions today reveals that he should not hide behind that sort of a defence in future, that he is bringing disrepute to that profession by the way he is contemptuously not responding to questions properly here in the Senate.

The only person, it seems to me, who is clearly communicating on the issue of advice and access is the person who has flatly rejected the claims of the Attorney-General—that is, the Solicitor-General. He has expressed concerns that are widely held now, and the level of these concerns continues to grow because of the sorts of answers we are getting from Senator Brandis. The Solicitor-General is very concerned that processes were not followed; that he was not consulted on what he has called 'matters of high legal importance'. Indeed the Attorney-General had a nonresponse to my question today where I cited Professor Gabrielle Appleby, who said is it possible that in not seeking the Solicitor-General's responses the Attorney-General is in fact:

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

That is the concern that is alive and well right now amongst the legal fraternity, that this Attorney-General is changing legislation, which we have heard referred to by the new senator for the Liberal Party over on the other side, that parliament as long ago as 1916 set up, which, with some wisdom, allows people, senior ministers, to go and get advice from the Solicitor-General. But this Attorney-General has decided that he knows better, that he should put himself—his barrister's experience of 33 years, his hubris, arrogance and sense of ascendancy—between ministers of the Crown and the advice that, up until he decided to put this order in, they were entitled to have. That is what we are seeing on display every single day.

The Senate is told constantly by Senator Brandis: 'Leave it to me. There's no problem here.' But we are not getting detailed and proper answers. The Attorney-General's response to Senator Gallagher's question in particular was shameful: arrogant in tone, lacking in transparency and denying accountability. When he was simply asked for a date, he refused to give it. This Attorney-General— (Time expired)