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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2634

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - in reply- I have heard what Senator Greenwood has said. He ended his speech by saying that some direction should be given that no preferment would be given to members of the Australian Labor Party. It is regrettable that he concluded his speech that way. Why did he not say that no preferment should be given to members of any political party? When the honourable senator first raised the matter he suggested that a direction had been given that only members of the ALP were to be briefed. He asked whether this direction had been given. I said: 'No. To my knowledge, the facts indicate that the practice is quite inconsistent with the suggestion'. He has been running around trying to make up something. He cannot get away from the central fact that my statement was correct; that no such direction was given and that the suggested practice is not happening.

I have called for a list of barristers who have appeared for the Commonwealth. I think it is called the monthly return on important litigation. It was prepared in November. It may have been prepared at the beginning or at the end of November. In any event, it covers a period which ought to reveal the position. I think that the list refers to future cases. As I read through the list of persons who are to be briefed, it contains the names of well known members of the Liberal Party of Australia. Some of them are extremely well known and are identified publicly with the Liberal Party. As I turn over the pages, I do not see one name which I recognise as the name of a member of the ALP. Certainly I am dealing with the Sydney portion of the list, but I still cannot see the name of a member of the ALP. I have seen, I suppose, the names of many persons who are identifiable as members of the Liberal Party. I am not as familiar with the Melbourne scene as is Senator Greenwood, but when I look at the names in the Melbourne portion of the list I see names of persons who are well known members of the Liberal Party appearing in important litigation of the Commonwealth.

I suppose that if one looked fairly at the matter, one would say that this reasonable approach of the present Administration was not pursued under previous administrations. I am concerned that at times in the past persons of limited ability were briefed solely because they were members of certain legal offices. I leave aside the AttorneyGeneral's Department, but in State areas it is very hard to ascertain how such persons could have been briefed on the basis of ability. I think that such a practice is to be deplored. I think that the policy over the years of preferring members of a political party ought to be altered. It will be. I will see to it that in this area no improper bias is shown in regard to members of political parties. I think everyone would agree that a person who has publicly identified himself against a particular constitutional view would, from a commonsense point of view, hardly be likely to be the person selected to present a case on behalf of the Commonwealth in favour of that view of the Constitution. That would be a matter of common sense. There may be other special considerations, but in general persons ought to be selected on the basis of ability. Where there are persons of equal ability and questions are raised, as the honourable senator has raised them and I suppose others have raised them, as to whether there is any bias in favour of the briefing of persons of a particular political party, I suppose some care ought to be taken to see that there is not such an improper bias.

As the honourable senator has raised the matter, any inquiry which would be made by any person in the Crown would, I assume, have a proper basis. I will endeavour to see that there is not any improper bias and that some balance is kept which will prevent the suggestions of bias in relation to persons of ability. I regret that these endeavours are made to deal with these matters in this way. The honourable senator started off, as I repeat, by alleging that some direction had been given, and he has to concede that the facts of the matter are inconsistent with that. Subject to what I have said, I will inquire into the matter. In the area where the test is the ability of the persons, insofar as persons are able and are being briefed consistently with their abilities I should think that there ought not to be any bias, whether in favour of any political attitudes, religious attitudes or other attitudes.

I should think that an investigation of the matter would disclose, if one were taking a statistical approach to it or taking the simple arithmetics of it and from the knowledge I have of it, that if there has been any bias it has been very much in favour not of briefing members of the Australian

Labor Party but of briefing members of the Liberal Party, and I would have hoped that the honourable senator's remark would extend that far. I will do my best to see to it that the matter is dealt with properly. I am not satisfied that it is not being dealt with properly. I will see to it that it is. I should have thought that, if any complaint were to be made, it might have been made under previous administrations.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

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