Brandis surrenders on Legal Services Direction

After all of the blustering, posturing and lying, it has come to this – George Brandis has reversed his own Legal Services Direction, which limited the role of the Solicitor-General to such an extent that it forced Justin Gleeson to resign.

THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL

SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

ACTING SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE

MEMBER FOR ISAACS

BRANDIS SURRENDERS ON LEGAL SERVICES DIRECTION

 

After all of the blustering, posturing and lying, it has come to this – George Brandis has reversed his own Legal Services Direction, which limited the role of the Solicitor-General to such an extent that it forced Justin Gleeson to resign.

This is the Direction which George Brandis has been defending for months – arguing that he was simply bringing the Solicitor-General’s procedures in line with the law, that Mr Gleeson had asked for it, that it caused no trouble at all.

During the Senate hearing into his maltreatment of the Solicitor-General on October 14, Brandis was emphatic:

“In any event, as I said in my submission, my view was that the legal services direction was entirely routine in nature since it did not change the law in any way”.

“So this Legal Services Direction, far from being a grab for power, merely gives effect to the existing law”.

  • Attorney-General George Brandis, Hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Standing Committee, 13 October 2016

Now, just hours before the Direction was set to be disallowed by the Senate, George Brandis has backed down and removed it himself to avoid embarrassment. This is extraordinary.

It shows us one thing clearly - that this Direction was only ever about getting rid of Justin Gleeson. That’s right – George Brandis changed the law of Australia to get at a senior statutory office holder who he disliked. This is an extraordinary admission for the first law officer of this country.

It turns out that Andrew Laming was right two weeks ago when he said “you no longer need that regulation because Mr Gleeson is gone".

Senator Brandis is not fit to be Attorney-General. He has been lying about this affair for months. And his withdrawal of the Direction today proves that beyond doubt.

Senator Brandis must answer the following questions:

  • If he cared so little about the Legal Services Direction, why has he been defending it since May 4? Why didn’t he withdraw it as soon as Mr Gleeson raised concerns?

  • If he considered the Legal Services Direction necessary to improve the operating procedures of the Office of Solicitor-General, why does he now think it fit to withdraw?

  • Why did he wait until after Mr Gleeson resigned to withdraw the Direction?

  • Will he give a guarantee he won’t impose a fresh amendment to the Legal Services Direction once a new Solicitor-General is hired?

This has been one of the most unedifying spectacles Parliament House has ever seen. In the six months Senator Brandis’s Legal Services Direction has been in existence, he has damaged the rule of law, forced the resignation of one of the most prominent constitutional lawyers in this country, and destroyed the provision of independent legal advice to government. Now it is all, apparently, for nothing.

This country cannot afford any more dangerous stunts by Senator Brandis. Prime Minister Turnbull must sack him, today.

THURSDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2016