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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2337

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (15:18): We have to remember here in the Senate that we are speaking about a man who has resigned from the highest office in Australia—

Senator Brandis: Terrible! Shocking!

Senator McCARTHY: and it is a very serious issue—

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator McCARTHY: certainly not something that should be made into a joke, spoken about as though—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk?

Senator Bilyk: Once again, Madam Deputy President, Senator Brandis is interjecting. He sat very quietly through Senator Macdonald's contribution, and I think it would be very nice if he could do the same now, especially as you have already made a request that he do so.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Bilyk. Senator McCarthy.

Senator McCARTHY: This is such a serious matter. A man, his family, his whole life, have been absolutely—no doubt—devastated by the experience that he went through in the committee hearings. It is so important that we maintain the respect of this Senate, this chamber, and give confidence to the people of Australia that, when examinations are taking place, they are being done in a manner that is respectful of those giving evidence. Clearly the relationship between the previous Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General did not have to get to where it did.

This whole situation involved the standing of two of our highest law officers. It involved Justin Gleeson, who had served in the role of Solicitor-General since 2013—a man with an impeccable legal reputation, an honourable man, forced to resign. This issue should not be the butt of jokes, certainly not from the Attorney-General. This issue is also about the independence of the office of the Solicitor-General, its freedom from political interference. As a former Solicitor General, Dr Gavan Griffith QC, said in his submission to the committee, he regards the direction given by the Attorney-General to the Solicitor-General as 'effecting the practical destruction of the independent office of second law officer' and leading to 'perceptions as to the integrity of the continuing office'. He said, 'The uncomfortable image of a dog on a lead comes to mind.' A number of past solicitors-general support the interpretation of the Solicitor-General, as do other eminent senior barristers who practise in the field of Australian public law.

As the report says, the dispute between the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General has raised serious questions about the Attorney-General's compliance with the rule of law in Australia. The committee found it was improper for the Attorney-General to have issued the Legal Services Amendment (Solicitor-General Opinions) Direction 2016, but the Attorney-General refuses to concede he has damaged and in fact threatened the rule of law in Australia. When I read the dissenting report and I listen to the members opposite, I know the reputation of an impeccable man has been severely tarnished. When you look at page 39 in the dissenting report, the reference to Mr Gleeson at 1.47 certainly does not give an indication of confidence that this dissenting report is anything but a tarnishing of his reputation. It is important to remind the Senate, including the members present—to give confidence to the Australian people—that all inquiries that take place are incredibly important and need to be dealt with respectfully, in particular by all the senators involved.