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Thursday, 10 November 2016
Page: 2512

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (15:51): I too rise to take note of the answers provided by the Attorney-General to Senator Watt's questions. That does take us to the heart of the inquiry report that was tabled this week into the Legal Services Amendment (Solicitor-General Opinions) Direction 2016. I do not say this lightly, but I say it with great regret. The inquiry and the majority report, I think, shame us all in this chamber. The facts in this case, despite all the bluster from those on the other side, are very simple. The inquiry was established by Labor and by the Greens to king hit the Attorney-General. Instead they knocked out the Solicitor-General. After the Solicitor-General unexpectedly fessed up—somewhat inconveniently to those opposite who had set up the inquiry—that he had actually himself breached caretaker conventions by having a previously undisclosed secret conversation with the shadow Attorney-General during the election campaign period where he arguably communicated privileged information to the shadow Attorney-General, he had no choice but to resign.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Gallacher?

Senator Gallacher: This is taking note of answers. The senator is reading a prepared speech. I thought we were having a debate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I will just remind all senators that we can use notes.

Senator REYNOLDS: Words matter in this place, and this is a very important issue—one of law and the reputations of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. If that is the best those opposite can do so that I get the details precise—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! That is a debating point. The standing rules say that we can refer to notes but you cannot read speeches.

Senator REYNOLDS: Is that the best you have got? I mean, really. So you might not like the fact that you inadvertently knocked out the Solicitor-General with this inquiry, but the facts are very clear. He had a conversation with the shadow Attorney-General during the caretaker period in breach of the caretaker guidelines which he was clearly obliged to follow, and he had absolutely no choice but to resign. As a barrister, the Solicitor-General must have known it was a breach of professional conduct and ethics to have ex parte discussions and breach client privilege. Consequently, the Solicitor-General had no choice but to resign. He was a senior legal adviser to the Commonwealth government, and it would be impossible after he had those conversations with the shadow Attorney-General which he did not disclose to either the secretary of the department or the Attorney-General. He had to go.

The shadow Attorney-General himself, as a previous Attorney-General and as a barrister, must have known better than to have made the call to the Solicitor-General, and certainly the Solicitor-General, a barrister himself, must have known better than to take the call and provide the information to the shadow Attorney-General that he did. Any objective analysis of the Solicitor-General's testimony will find it riddled with contradictions and unwarranted hubris. I am not surprised the Solicitor-General refused to answer a single one of my 34 questions to him after his bombshell revelation that he had in fact breached caretaker guidelines and breached privilege on information provided not only to the Attorney-General but also to the Prime Minister and potentially to the Governor-General as well.

Since when has it been discretionary for a witness in any Senate inquiry to flatly refuse to answer questions on the feeble excuse: 'There were too many questions' or 'I sort of, kind of, answered the questions before'?

An opposition senator interjecting

Senator REYNOLDS: No, he hadn't answered those questions. They were carefully crafted questions. Each question was linked to his testimony, mostly in relation to his bombshell revelation at the inquiry that he had breached caretaker guidelines and his professional duties as a barrister. But that is not the point, and those opposite know that.

Two issues that occurred in this inquiry should be of great concern to all in this place: firstly, the contempt the Solicitor-General has shown for all senators in this place by refusing to answer a single question on notice as a result of his testimony; and, secondly, the Labor and Greens members of this committee allowed him to use those feeble excuses to not answer a single one of my questions. The majority members' decision is a shocking precedent to set for future Senate committee inquiries. I understand why the majority committee members did not want them answered. If I had just fessed up to what he did in the inquiry, I would not want to answer the questions either—but it was too late. That horse had already bolted. It was too late when Labor committee members failed to do their due diligence with the shadow Attorney-General before they set up the inquiry. It was too late when, despite the fact that the government senators on the inquiry offered to have the inquiry in camera so as to preserve the dignity of the Solicitor-General and also that of the Attorney-General—oops, you king hit— (Time expired)