ABC RN Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: George Brandis misleading Parliament, Justin Gleeson resignation.




SUBJECT/S: George Brandis misleading Parliament, Justin Gleeson resignation.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, joins us in our Melbourne studios. Mark Dreyfus, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: Justin Gleeson has said he’s resigned to, quote: “bring about some resolution to the impasse.” George Brandis said that in the circumstances this was, quote: “the proper course of action.” He’s right isn’t he? This clear lack of trust between these two means it couldn’t go on.

DREYFUS: The wrong person’s gone. The circumstances mentioned by George Brandis in his media release were entirely created by him. He’s behaved dishonourably, disgracefully, and I’ve got no doubt that if Malcolm Turnbull had any strength, if he was able to lead at all instead of just floundering around, George Brandis would already have gone. He misled the Parliament, not once but several times, and Malcolm Turnbull himself said from when he was in Opposition, that the penalty for misleading Parliament - it’s a serious offence - he said the penalty is to resign or be sacked.

KELLY: Your problem is that you haven’t been able to prove the misleading. It’s very likely that the Senate will disallow the Direction that began all this, but these two people have different versions of events, and no one can prove the other wrong really.

DREYFUS: On the contrary, this is a matter of fact that George Brandis misled the Senate. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact. He claimed in a formal document, accompanying this Legal Services Direction, which we are going to seek to have disallowed, he claimed to have consulted Justin Gleeson the Solicitor-General, who immediately wrote to the Attorney-General to say you didn’t consult me. This is not a matter of opinion, and to say you had a meeting at which...

KELLY: Well, with respect…

DREYFUS: …You didn’t tell the person who you say you’ve consulted with anything about what you’re proposing to do is just a nonsense. It’s just not a matter of opinion Fran. George Brandis should hang his head in shame for the way in which he’s trying to lie his way out of the misleading of Parliament. And we could go on to the other misleading of Parliament, which is on a very important matter, where he simply misrepresented the advice of the Solicitor-General about the Citizenship Bill.

Now, again, utterly clear that he misled Parliament, and he’s trying to pretend that he didn’t. And both of these, and all of the times in which he’s repeated this misleading, are reasons for him to be sacked.

KELLY: So we’ve landed at this place where the Solicitor-General felt he had no option other than to resign. Do you feel any responsibility for this? I quote to you what Arthur Sinodinos, frontbencher, said on Q&A last night. He said: “people were forced into positions that made a potential reconciliation more difficult. It’s a bit like a marriage where it ends up being played out on the front pages of the paper and it’s much harder for people to retreat from certain positions.”

Now, you’ve tried to turn this into a political crisis for the government. Have you played a part in Justin Gleeson’s resignation?

DREYFUS: Not at all. The circumstances were entirely created by George Brandis. He had it within his power, as soon as Justin Gleeson wrote to him in mid-May, to turn this around and to say: “well actually, if you think you weren’t consulted, I’ll withdraw that Direction and I’ll consult you.”

This is symptomatic of everything about George Brandis’ Attorney-Generalship. How many more disasters do Australians have to endure before Malcolm Turnbull sacks this appalling Attorney-General? Everything he touches turns to ashes, it’s extraordinary. Malcolm Turnbull had a choice here between keeping one of Australia’s finest legal minds and George Brandis. And he chose George Brandis.

KELLY: Just to go back to your and Labor’s role in this. The government’s resolve on this issue was hardened when it learned during a Senate inquiry 11 days ago that Justin Gleeson spoke to you during the election caretaker period because you rang him to discuss the Attorney-General’s Direction, limiting his advice-giving. Why did you call the Solicitor-General during the election campaign? Did it occur to you that it might be improper?

DREYFUS: In no sense was this improper. Justin Gleeson didn’t think it was improper. The only people who think this was improper are those cronies of George Brandis in the Senate, Senator Ian McDonald and Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who remorselessly, rudely and boorishly attacked Justin Gleeson when he gave evidence, as they’ve done to other witnesses. There can be nothing wrong with a Member of Parliament, during the election campaign, and a campaign which we had high hopes of winning, ringing the Solicitor-General to enquire, two things: Were you consulted? Bear in mind that George Brandis in a formal document has told the Senate that he did consult with Justin Gleeson, so that’s a factual question. And I asked Justin Gleeson whether he’d been consulted? He said no. And I asked him did he support the making of this Legal Services Direction in terms of the effect of his job and he said no.

So that’s something for me to store away and think, if we win the election and I become Attorney-General, I will definitely be getting rid of this Legal Services Direction.

KELLY: So if there was nothing wrong with you during an election campaign, in caretaker mode, seeking those answers from the Solicitor-General, was there something wrong that the Solicitor-General didn’t alert the Attorney-General about that phone call, because the first George Brandis knew of your conversation with Justin Gleeson was when the Solicitor-General told the Senate inquiry 11 days ago. The Government said this was concealed.

DREYFUS: These were two simple factual questions, and it’s got nothing to do with caretaker. I talk to senior public servants quite frequently, and it is entirely appropriate that Members of Parliament, and indeed anyone in the Australian community be able speak to senior public servants or any public servants. Last time I looked Fran we were not running some kind of police state where ministers are not allowed to be criticised, where senior public servants are not allowed to talk to anyone without getting permission from George Brandis. That’s what’s at the heart of this problem in the first place. George Brandis imposed a requirement for his written consent, before Justin Gleeson could give advice to the Prime Minister. You only have to state it to see how ridiculous it is. It’s another major error by George Brandis, who is lying to the Parliament. It’s another major error in the administration of his portfolio and he’s got to go.

KELLY: Let me ask you this briefly and finally. Why do you believe that George Brandis, the Attorney-General, made that Direction, that legally binding Direction to limit who the Solicitor-General can give advice to without permission first?

DREYFUS: It’s a grab for power, pure and simple. He can’t bear the idea that anyone would be giving advice that he didn’t approve of. He wants to control the advice. He doesn’t have the slightest idea what an independent legal opinion looks like. We see the same thing in the attack on Paul Grimes by the Deputy Prime Minister, forcing him out of his office as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. We see the same thing in the attack that George Brandis has repeatedly made on the President of the Human Rights Commission. This is a government that can’t bear criticism, that attacks everybody who dares to speak the truth to it, and then turns around and says to anyone who raises this, like me, that you’re politicising this matter.

KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for joining us on Breakfast.

DREYFUS: Thanks for having me Fran.