Radio National ABC AM

SUBJECT/S: George Brandis; Victorian preselection













SUBJECT/S: George Brandis; Victorian preselection


KIM LANDERS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus good morning.




LANDERS: The Attorney-General says since this change came into force in May there have been ten requests made to his office for advice from the Solicitor-General and ten have been approved, the majority on the same day. So what’s the problem here?


DREYFUS: This has destroyed the independence of the Solicitor-General, and no-one should, in particular the Attorney-General, should attempt to hide away from that fact. But the problem here is not merely the importance of what’s occurred, a destruction of the independence of the Solicitor-General, but the way in which Senator Brandis has gone about it. He’s gone about it by lying to the Parliament. And he’s been caught out. Since then he’s been scurrying around, slithering around, trying to pretend that he didn’t lie. And if I can just correct something in your introduction Kim, it’s not a question of adequate consultation, it’s a question of any consultation. The Solicitor-General has been crystal clear in his submission to the Senate inquiry that he was not consulted at all, and everything that Senator Brandis has said since has confirmed exactly that, that he did not consult the Solicitor-General.


LANDERS: You talk about the Solicitor-General’s independence. Senator Brandis has accused you of hypocrisy because a recently published book says that when you were Attorney-General, you sought advice from elsewhere. You’re quoted as saying that you might need to outweigh the Solicitor-General’s advice on politically significant issues. What do you say to that?


DREYFUS: I say again that Senator Brandis is misquoting and misleading the Australian public. What I said in full in this book, and this is the bit he didn’t tell the Senate about yesterday and I’ll read it out to you briefly. I’ve got it here. It says “Mark Dreyfus indicated that the Solicitor-General’s advice was given a high status within government, higher than advice from the Australian Government Solicitor or from the private Bar. It goes on to say nonetheless he would occasionally seek another legal opinion. My complaint about Senator Brandis is not that he has perhaps, and I don’t know if he has, sought a second or third opinion to the Solicitor-General’s opinion. My complaint is that he has sidelined the Solicitor-General entirely on really important matters, important legal matters for the Commonwealth and that is revealed by the Solicitor-General’s letter which we now have in the Senate inquiry where the Solicitor-General complained to the Attorney-General on the 12th of November last year, that he had been sidelined, that his advice had not been sought on important matters.


LANDERS: You talk about the Solicitor-General being sidelined, yet it’s clear is it not under the law that the Solicitor-General is independent from the government. He can only be removed if he resigns or becomes incapable of doing the job because of illness or guilty of misbehaviour. Do you really think, in practical terms, what does this mean for undermining the influence of the Solicitor-General?


DREYFUS: In practical terms, it means that the requirement that has been imposed here of the written consent of George Brandis being obtained before anybody in the Commonwealth can get the advice of the Solicitor-General. That’s the Governor-General has to seek George Brandis’s written consent, the Prime Minister has to seek George Brandis’s written consent, that is…


LANDERS: But the Attorney-General says he is giving that written consent, ten out of ten times so far.


DREYFUS: Well only ten, and as Professor Gabrielle Appelby has written a book on the subject, you mentioned it a moment ago, said in her written submission to the Senate, this will have a chilling effect on the seeking of advice. The Solicitor-General is meant to be independent. A former Solicitor-General who served the Commonwealth excellently for 14 years, that’s Dr Gavan Griffith, has also made a submission to this Senate inquiry. He says that what’s been done here by George Brandis brings to mind a “dog on a lead”. I appreciate that’s pretty colourful language but that’s how strongly Dr Gavan Griffith feels about this, and again this has not happened in 100 years of this office, that the Solicitor-General has been made subject to the direction of the Attorney-General in every respect. Previously, he has been able to advise Secretaries of Departments, ministers, and Prime Ministers without it needing to go through the Attorney-General. And what’s happened here – I’m sorry Kim – is a power grab by Senator George Brandis. He should be ashamed of himself. He’s lied to the Parliament and he should resign.


LANDERS: Government members are in the minority on this committee so regardless of what this committee recommends, the Prime Minister already yesterday said that he had confidence in the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. So will this just end up in a stalemate?


DREYFUS: If standards mean anything in an Australian government, if standards mean anything in the Australian Parliament, then this offense of misleading Parliament has to be given the effect which Malcolm Turnbull himself has said it has. And that is that the offense of misleading Parliament leads to a resignation. And if the minister concerned won’t resign, then he should be sacked. I am simply calling on Mr Turnbull to apply the same standards that he himself has espoused many times, and George Brandis as well knows very well that he has misled the Parliament and it’s about time he started being honest with the Australian people and the Parliament. He should resign in shame.


LANDERS: OK. If I can take you to another matter. There’s been an internal Labor party battle to sort out who will replace Victorian senator Stephen Conroy. Lawyer Kimberley Kitching has been preselected. Do you support that?


DREYFUS: I respect the preselection processes of my party and I will work with all of the Senators, and all of the members of the House of Representatives in the Labor caucus.


LANDERS: Did Bill Shorten have to intervene to ensure she was preselected?


DREYFUS: I’m not a member of the public office selection committee in Victoria. I’ve been very..


LANDERS: Are you aware of some of those Victorian right members boycotting last night’s preselection?


DREYFUS: I’m not a member of the public office selection committee in Victoria. I wasn’t in Victoria last night, I was here in Canberra preparing for today’s committee hearing of the intelligence committee which is occurring here in Canberra as well and I’ve been pretty busy this week here in Parliament.


LANDERS: Alright Mark Dreyfus thank you very much for speaking with AM.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Kim.