Doorstop at Parliament House, Canberra

SUBJECT/S: Senator Brandis misleading Parliament; Australia-US relationship



SUBJECT/S: Senator Brandis misleading Parliament; Australia-US relationship

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up a bit of the mess that Senator Brandis has made over the last week in his attempt to extricate himself from the terrible trouble that he’s now in because the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson, the second law officer of Australia, has explained to Australia in the course of a Senate inquiry last week that the Attorney-General has in fact misled the Parliament not once, but on several occasions over the last year. This is a very serious matter. The first example of the misleading is, of course, that Senator Brandis has claimed in a formal document tabled in the Parliament that a new law that he has made, the Legal Services Direction, is something that he consulted Justin Gleeson, the Solicitor-General, about. Justin Gleeson has explained that he was not consulted by Senator Brandis about the making of this Legal Services Direction and still less was he informed by the Attorney-General, that the Attorney-General was proposing to introduce a new requirement of written consent. That’s right, written consent of Senator Brandis before the Solicitor-General can give advice to anybody anywhere in the government from the Governor-General down.

How you can say you have consulted someone about a new law, about a new procedure when you haven’t told them anything about it is beyond me. And that’s the problem that Senator Brandis has.

The second example of misleading the Parliament is even more serious and this emerged in the course of the Senate inquiry. The second example is that Senator Brandis has misrepresented the effect of advice given by the Solicitor-General on the citizenship bill that was considered by the Parliament last year. This was a bill which of course was a matter of deep controversy, causing a split in cabinet and serious concerns were raised about the constitutionality of this citizenship bill. It’s now emerged, because Mr Gleeson has put before the Senate inquiry a letter that he wrote to Senator Brandis on the 12th of November last year, it’s now emerged that Senator Brandis never gave the Solicitor-General the final version of the bill that was introduced to Parliament. And any advice that the Solicitor-General had given was in respect of previous drafts of the bill. But Senator Brandis has represented to Australians, represented to the Parliament, and told me in a formal letter that is now attached to the intelligence committee report on this bill that in fact Justin Gleeson, the second law officer, the Solicitor-General had advised on the bill that was introduced to the Parliament.

Senator Brandis has been suggesting that I have overreacted in some way in this matter. I would ask everybody who is concerned with the government of our country to reflect on that. How is it possible to overreact to the formal position adopted in the Senate by the Solicitor-General, the second law officer of Australia, that has disclosed to the Senate and disclosed to every Australian interested in this matter, that the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth has misled the Parliament on several occasions. Misled the Parliament about the making of a law, misled the Parliament about the effect of advice received from the Solicitor-General, and it doesn’t stop with Senator Brandis. Mr Turnbull also has misrepresented the effect of the Solicitor-General’s advice. And that raises other questions. Did he rely on what he was told by the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis? Did he know perhaps that the Solicitor-General had not advised on the actual final version of the bill that was introduced to Parliament? These are questions for Mr Turnbull to answer.

What is absolutely clear is that the Attorney-General should resign. Misleading Parliament is an offence that carries a very direct, clear and long established consequence, which is that the relevant minister should resign. That is not my view alone, that is the view expressed by Mr Turnbull himself in 2009 when he was Opposition Leader. It’s the view that’s been expressed on a number of occasions by Senator Brandis. It’s a clear consequence for this kind of conduct because we have to take seriously what ministers say to Parliament, in particular when we should be able to take at face value what the Attorney-General, the first law officer, says to the Parliament about the making of law. We should be able to take at face value and trust what the Attorney-General says about the advice of the Solicitor-General. We have been badly let down. Australia has been betrayed by Senator Brandis in his duty, and if he won’t resign, Mr Turnbull has no option but to dismiss him from his office. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus, there is no mechanism by which Labor can force that to happen is there?

DREYFUS: It’s a matter for the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister to respect long established practice and convention in this Parliament, which is that if a minister is caught misleading the Parliament in the disgraceful way in which Senator George Brandis has misled this Parliament, he must resign, and if he won’t resign, he must be dismissed.

Labor has no - as you say in the question - no mechanism to force him out of office, but we have a number of Parliament mechanisms that we can and are using. One of them is the Senate inquiry that is now underway, which heard last week already from the Deputy Secretary of the Department, who said nothing whatsoever that in any way supported Senator Brandis’ claim that he didn’t mislead the Parliament. I am hoping that this week there will be a further hearing of this committee and that the committee will continue to look at what’s happened here. We’ve already got documentation and again I’d say that the documentation that’s been produced by Mr Gleeson to the Senate Committee in no way supports anything that Senator Brandis has said. Senator Brandis is now lying about lying.

JOURNALIST: Is Justin Gleeson’s job safe and will the Labor Party protect him?

DREYFUS: Justin Gleeson has provided exceptionally fine service to Australia as the Solicitor-General. He was appointed for a term of five years. His term is not up until 2018 and I’m hoping that Justin Gleeson is able to go on providing the exceptional service that he has provided to Australia in representing the Commonwealth in the High Court of Australia, in representing Australia in the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, as he’s now done excellently on several occasions.

No blame can be attached here to the Solicitor-General. The blame for what’s occurred here lies entirely at the feet of George Brandis.

JOURNALIST: Does Labor support Gina Rinehart’s bid for Kidman and Co?

DREYFUS: The bid for Kidman and Co.’s property is now being considered by the Foreign Investment Review Board. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make any comment until that decision is made by the Foreign Investment Review Board.

JOURNALIST: Donald Trump’s comments?

DREYFUS: Donald Trump’s comments are abhorrent. They’re further confirmation of the type of person Donald Trump has shown himself to be, and the reaction that we’ve seen, in particular from senior Republicans in the United States, is confirmation of that.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison says monetary policy has exhausted its effectiveness. What do you say to that?

DREYFUS: It’s about time that the Treasurer of Australia himself stopped relying on the Reserve Bank, stop acting as a commentator, giving advice to the Reserve Bank, which does know what it’s doing, and took the actions that are available to him in the Parliament, to implement legislation to actually effect structural reform of the Budget. All that we’ve had in the 100 days since the election from the Treasurer of Australia is no real action in respect to jobs and growth. The only action that’s been taken in regard to structural repair of the Budget is that which was assisted by Labor, acting on in effect Labor’s suggestions last sitting week, when legislation passed through the Parliament, and there’s a few things that Scott Morrison could be doing right now. One is dropping the $50 billion big business tax cut. Another is introducing reform to negative gearing. We’ve got a long list. Labor’s put ideas forward. It’s about time that Mr Morrison start looking at those ideas as he’s clearly got none of his own.

JOURNALIST: With Mr Trump, the Australia-US relationship is strong, no matter who is US President, but surely having him as President would make it more difficult to have that bilateral relationship?

DREYFUS: Labor is very clear on this. We will work with whoever is elected to positions of authority, be it the President or any other elected officials, or appointed officials in the United States, because as you say, our relationship is now very longstanding. It’s a very strong relationship, and the relationship can survive whoever is elected to positions of office. One of the great charms of democracy is that people come and people go, but we’ll wait and see what happens in a month’s time in the American election.

JOURNALIST: The relationship would be surviving?

DREYFUS: Of course.