Out of the frying pan, into the fire

The legal community may have breathed a sigh of relief with the departure of George Brandis from the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

THE HON. MARK DREYFUS QC MP

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL

SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

MEMBER FOR ISAACS

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE

 

The legal community may have breathed a sigh of relief with the departure of George Brandis from the Attorney-General’s portfolio.

 

But in appointing Christian Porter to the role – Mr Robo-Debt – it’s unclear whether things have got worse or better.

 

As Social Services Minister, Mr Porter presided over one of the worst scandals in the history of Centrelink – causing unnecessary stress to thousands of vulnerable Australians, who were told to pay back debt they did not have.

 

He has failed to sign up one single state or institution to a redress scheme for survivors of sexual abuse, more than two years after the Royal Commission called for its establishment. He topped that off by going to the cricket instead of the Royal Commission’s final ceremonial sitting.

 

He has failed to manage the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in a timely manner.

 

As Attorney-General of Western Australia, Christian Porter made severe cuts to the availability of Legal Aid, and was criticised as “arrogant” by top Perth lawyer Tom Percy QC over increasing incarceration rates and treatment of prisoners.

 

We can only hope that Mr Porter brings a fresh perspective to the Attorney-General’s portfolio at the federal level. Labor calls on Mr Porter to consult closely with stakeholders in the legal community, including the legal assistance sector, peak legal professional bodies, and state and territory Attorneys-General.

 

There is much work to be done in the portfolio – not least the ongoing sweeping reform process in family law that Senator Brandis has begun, continuing funding pressures on the legal assistance sector, a national consultation on changes to Native Title legislation, and establishing functional relations with the new Home Affairs Department.

 

Let us hope Mr Porter finds a way to improve on the disappointing legacy of his predecessor.

 

TUESDAY, 19 DECEMBER 2017