‘George Brandis has now set himself above the law, above the PM, above the Governor-General and thus above the Queen of Australia.’
~ Tess Lawrence, contributing editor-at-large
JUSTIN GLEESON SC fell upon his own sword yesterday and resigned as the Commonwealth’s tenth solicitor-general.
There has been great public conflict and emnity between these two, ever since it was revealed that Brandis issued a secret – and perhaps illegal – edict that all requests for advice from the solicitor-general (SG) first be vetted by the Attorney-General (AG) — a ludicrous and intolerable impost upon the independence of the office of solicitor-general.
Revelations made during the recent Parliamentary Inquiry exacerbated the situation.
SABRA LANE: The hearing became turbo-charged when Justin Gleeson confirmed he took a phone call from the Opposition’s Mark Dreyfus in June, in the middle of the election campaign.
Mr Gleeson says it was a brief chat; that the shadow attorney-general asked if he supported the directive and was he consulted. Mr Gleeson replied “no” to both questions.
The media, myself included, have not sufficiently emphasised what the “Brandis Rule” means outside of the key players. It is, by any measure, a nasty bit of work and works to the detriment of democracy and we citizens.
By issuing such a rule/direction, Brandis is clearly intimidating everyone into thinking twice before seeking apolitical advice from the solicitor-general. There is an implied threat; an implied warning in the Brandis Rule. It ain’t a good look.
A formally signed letter of resignation will be given to Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove on 7 November. Ironically, under the Brandis Rule, even the Governor General and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are barred from first seeking independent advice from the Solicitor-General.
This means George Brandis has now set himself above the law, above the PM, above the governor-general and thus above the queen of Australia.
Disturbingly, it also means that should anyone wish to seek advice from the solicitor-general about the conduct of the Attorney-General, he or she would first have to seek permission from George Brandis himself. Preposterous. Next, Brandis will be crowning himself emperor.
What if allegations of corruption were made about an attorney-general? Under the Brandis Rule, those seeking confidential advice from the solicitor-general of the day would first have to consult the attorney-general. Stupid. One doesn’t have to have taken silk to see that.
Independent Australia has kept a watching brief on Brandis. In a recent article, headlined ‘Night of the generals: Gleeson and Brandis at war’, we detailed some of the disturbing elements of the Brandis regime. Our country deserves better than this megalomaniacal bully. Turnbull surely has a more capable and ethical AG aspirant within his ranks. Brandis should Braxit.
Months ago, we called for his resignation or sacking. He has left irreparable damage upon both offices and, quite frankly, is seen as a dangerous and conniving buffoon by many of his peers, and certainly regarded as a lesser legal brain than Gleeson.
The Brandis Rule has ominous connotations and consequence. It is more than an affront and power grab. It is a rule designed to suppress and control our laws and legislation and arguably dictate and censure the content of those laws.
This is untenable. The judgement and soundness of mind of the Attorney-General need to be urgently questioned and assessed — perhaps by the High Court.
Surely, some sort of challenge should be mounted against the Brandis Rule.
In his resignation letter to Brandis yesterday, Gleeson wrote:
I have come to this conclusion with regret, but the best interests of the Commonwealth can be served only when its first and second Law Officers enjoy each other’s complete trust and confidence within a mutually respectful relationship.
When such a relationship is irretrievably broken, as is the case here, and each Law Officer holds a term of office established by the Constitution or Statute which will not expire in the near future, there must be some resolution to the impasse.
Whilst standing down for the greater good, Gleeson refused to recant on his version of events.
He went on to write:
My decision does not amount to a withdrawal of any position I have taken in relation to matters of controversy between us, including before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee …
For the avoidance of any doubt, I also make perfectly plain that I reject absolutely each and every attack and insinuation that has been made in recent times upon me personally, or upon my office, by Government members of Parliament, including you, in Senate Committee processes.
The use of the phrase ‘including you’ is a categorical indictment of Brandis.
As a nation, we are fortunate that we have had a solicitor-general who is prepared to publicly take us into his confidence and to report what is clearly a violation of the separation of powers.
He has paid a high price for being a whistleblower, as whistleblowers often do.
Under the circumstances, where else was he to go? He came to us, the people. He has shown us that no matter how high one’s office we all have an obligation to speak truth to power — even when the power is one’s superior officer.
Around the nation, citizens have been saying that “the wrong man resigned”. And not just the Opposition:
Brandis should indeed resign. Turnbull should never have reappointed this Abbott flunky – this viper in the nest and stalwart of the Monkey Pod Cell – as the attorney-general.
He remains loyal to Abbott and IA has received information that it is Abbott himself who was behind the Brandis Rule.
Both men have wet dreams of an Abbott resurrection.
Tanya Plibersek calls for George Brandis’ resignation on Q&A.
Perhaps the legal profession could consider boycotting the position of solicitor-general and leave an “empty chair” — at least until the Brandis Rule is revoked or turfed by the Senate.
Advocacy group Liberty Victoria succinctly put it in this tweet:
Last night, an eminent group of former office holders, gathered to debate the importance of the role of solicitor-general — among them former Solicitors-General and later Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason QC and Bob Ellicott, later attorney-general.
Legal opinion aside, we are confronted with the reality that the nation’s first lawmaker may yet prove to be the nation’s most prominent lawbreaker.
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