Melbourne Press Conference

Subject/s: Resignation of Justin Gleeson; appointment of new Solicitor-General





Subject/s: Resignation of Justin Gleeson; appointment of new Solicitor-General


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning. Yesterday the wrong person resigned. It should have been Attorney-General George Brandis who resigned from his position in disgrace after the way he has mishandled the situation involving the Solicitor-General. Make no mistake, George Brandis brought about the circumstances in which the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson has felt obliged to resign. It’s a sad and unnecessary resignation. George Brandis should have been the one to resign. And if he won’t resign, Mr Turnbull should sack him.

I say that he should be sacked on the simple basis that Malcolm Turnbull himself outlined from opposition which is that misleading the Parliament is a very serious offense and the penalty for that offense is clear, it’s that the minister should resign or be sacked. I’ve written to the Prime Minister today to ask him to ensure that there is a transparent process for the appointment of the replacement for Justin Gleeson as Solicitor-General, the person who will occupy the position as the 12th Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth.

The reason I’ve written to Malcolm Turnbull is that George Brandis – it is clear – cannot be trusted to conduct this process properly. He’s someone that has shown over the past several months that he has no respect whatsoever for the integrity of the office of Solicitor-General. There’s no respect whatsoever for the independence of the Solicitor-General and he has been determined to achieve a situation where the Solicitor-General simply expresses the view of George Brandis himself. It’s been a hallmark of this government that the government cannot accept criticism from statutory officers. Cannot accept criticism from Secretaries of Departments. We’ve got three examples currently before us.

We’ve got the disgraceful revelation in the letter that has finally been released after months and months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees spent by the government resisting - months of effort by my colleague Joel Fitzgibbon to produce the letter – an extraordinary letter written by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Paul Grimes, to his minister the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, in which Paul Grimes expresses his lack of confidence in the integrity processes surrounding Barnaby Joyce. And this of course arose from Barnaby Joyce having manipulated the Hansard, probably falsified the Hansard to produce a different state of affairs. He, Paul Grimes, was sacked. We can look at the position that the President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs has been placed in by repeated attacks by ministers of this Government, by the Attorney-General himself, and disgracefully on repeated occasions in a boorish and discourteous way by the lackeys of George Brandis, and I’m there referring to Senators Macdonald and O’Sullivan in the Senate Committee.

And then we come to Justin Gleeson himself, it’s become apparent over the course of the Senate committee hearing over the last several weeks that Justin Gleeson expressed extreme concerns about the way in which he was being treated by the Attorney-General, about the way in which his advice was being treated by the Attorney-General, about the way in which he had been sidelined, about the way in which the Attorney-General had misrepresented his advice, and in particular about the way in which the Attorney-General misled the Parliament in introducing this new restriction - unprecedented in the century-old history of this office - a new restriction on the way in which the Solicitor-General gives advice. So I have called on the Prime Minister in a letter today to make sure that the process is conducted in as transparent a manner as possible. I’ve suggested that the process should be overseen by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. That’s one way to do it. But it’s a whole of government position. It cannot be left to Senator Brandis to handpick the replacement Solicitor-General. We’ve seen the way in which Senator Brandis goes about appointments, with the way in which he appointed some 37 members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on the eve of the caretaker period just before the election without any selection process to very high-paying jobs in the order of $370,000 a year. Many of these 37, being people with Liberal Party connections. We need a selection process, it needs to be overseen, it needs to be seen to be fair and that process should provide a shortlist for the federal cabinet to make a decision on who is to be the next Solicitor-General. Only in that manner can we ensure that there is confidence in the office of Solicitor-General, a rebuilding of trust in the office of Solicitor-General and assurance of integrity of the office of Solicitor-General.

JOURNALIST: What’s wrong with the Attorney-General selecting the Solicitor-General or a Solicitor-General who he can actually work with?

DREYFUS: George Brandis has shown by his conduct that he has no respect for the integrity of the office of Solicitor-General. He’s shown that he’s someone who does not want to receive frank and fearless advice. What Australians deserve, what this country deserves, is an eminent lawyer as Solicitor-General who will give frank and fearless advice. Australians can no longer trust this Attorney-General to get that selection process right and he has demonstrated that repeatedly over recent months in the way he has treated the office of the Solicitor-General.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor work with the new Solicitor-General whoever that is?

DREYFUS: Of course, Labor will work with all statutory officeholders. All Secretaries of Departments who are appointed on contract and I would point to the way in which Labor governed over six years between 2007 and 2013 as a demonstration of the way in which Labor does govern with statutory appointees.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying there is a difference between the way the coalition deals with statutory appointees to Labor?

DREYFUS: Absolutely. This coalition, like the Howard government, has set out to attack people who are appointed by Labor, failing to reappoint people who are appointed by Labor, as if ridiculously somehow it was a disqualification from office for continuation in office that you had been appointed by Labor. That is not the way a Labor government operates but it has been regrettably the way in which this government has operated including the removal of secretaries of departments, the sacking of Paul Grimes, the attack on Gillian Triggs and now this attack on the integrity of the office of the Solicitor-General and there are other examples. But this government cannot take criticism, it does not understand that we are stronger as a community, our government is stronger if we learn how to accept criticism. Instead this government shoots the messenger every time.

Thanks very much.