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Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Page: 2339

Senator BILYK (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:27): Today we have heard more spin, more buck-passing and more confusion about what exactly has happened with the Gleeson-Minister Brandis affair. It is clear that not everything is going well for the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. His colleagues have rapidly lost faith in him and they are desperately scrambling to find a way to get him out of the country, whether that is to London or to Washington—I think he would like to go to Italy as well, but who knows where he will end up? Until that time, they have to defend him in this place or suffer listening to him trying to defend himself.

Whether it is funding for the arts or the performance of his role as Attorney-General, it is clear that the Attorney-General's arbitrary decisions cause problems. It is a little like the Midas touch in reverse. We all know incompetence and lack of consultation in the arts portfolio saw his removal from that area. Yesterday, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee handed down an important report into the nature and scope of the consultations prior to the making of the Legal Services Amendment (Solicitor-General Opinions) Direction 2016. Despite what those opposite claim about the nature of this inquiry and the conspiracy they claim has occurred, this inquiry was held at the behest of and reflecting the will of this chamber. The committee delivered a scathing judgement of Senator Brandis, the first law officer of this country, for endangering the rule of law in Australia. On 4 May 2016, the Attorney-General tabled the Legal Services Amendment (Solicitor-General Opinions) Direction 2016 in the Senate. This direction limited Mr Gleeson's role severely. The Attorney-General has repeatedly said that he consulted the Solicitor-General regarding the direction. The majority committee was of a differing view. The committee found that the Attorney-General acted improperly in his introduction of the direction. The committee also found that Minister Brandis misled the Senate by stating he had, in fact, consulted the Solicitor-General on the charges. It is clear from the evidence that the Attorney-General took no substantive consultation about the nature of the change to the Solicitor-General's work prior to amending the direction. Furthermore, the committee's view is that the Attorney-General has misled the parliament by stating in an explanatory statement that consultation with the Solicitor-General had, in fact, taken place.

The Senate must take account of these facts, just as the committee has, when considering the ramifications of this report. For the statement to be true that the Attorney-General had consulted the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General would have needed, at a minimum, to advise the Solicitor-General of his intention to introduce a new instrument and provide him an opportunity to comment on its contents. It is clear, that the Attorney-General had not. It seems like the Attorney-General's definition of consultation is not the same as everybody else's. That reminds of the time in estimates the Attorney lectured me that 'opinionist' was not a word. So, of course, I had to quote the Collins Dictionary definition to him to explain to him that it was. Although I know that he thinks he knows everything, he actually does not. There was no apology or acknowledgement that he was wrong.

I would like to remind people listening that the committee made three important recommendations: that the Senate disallow the amendment to the direction of the Attorney-General, withdraw it immediately and that guidance notes be revised accordingly; that the Attorney-General provide within three sitting days an explanation to the Senate responding to the matters raised in this report; and that the Senate censure the Attorney-General for misleading the parliament and failing to discharge his duties as Attorney-General appropriately. That is a very serious recommendation that any committee to make. They do not do that off the top of their hats. They make those recommendations after considered opinion. So, the fact that those on the other side want to claim that this is a conspiracy—we expect that to come from them, but it is a very serious issue.

From the report, it is clear that the Attorney is definitely out of his depth. Whether it is due to arrogance, his unwillingness to consult with others or his high opinion of his own opinion is irrelevant. Senator Brandis's incompetence cannot be allowed to compromise the role of a new Solicitor-General and the continued unfettered operation of the rule of law in this country. The Prime Minister, as he knows full well, must sack the Attorney-General before he has a chance to do any more damage.

I will finish on a couple of lines from 'King Midas in reverse' by The Hollies, which sadly reminds me of the Attorney-General: 'He's not the man to hold your trust, everything he touches turns to dust … he's King Midas with a curse, he's King Midas in reverse.'

Question agreed to.