Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Over the past week we have seen an extraordinary and disastrous performance by the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, who has doubled down on his deception. Senator Brandis has misled the parliament and he has misled the Australian people. Australians already knew, before last week, that Senator Brandis had misled the parliament about the new law that he has made to require that his written permission is given before the Solicitor-General advises anyone, anywhere, in the Australian government. This is the law which a former Solicitor-General who served the Commonwealth for 14 years, Dr Gavan Griffith AO QC, said brought to mind 'the image of a dog on a lead'.
What is now clear is that Senator Brandis has misled the parliament on another occasion. And what is mind-boggling is that he continues to deny what he has done. What is mindboggling is that he continues to engage in these slippery acts instead of owning up to his own egregious behaviour. At a Senate hearing last week we learned that the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson QC, was not asked to advise on the final version of the citizenship bill that strips dual citizens of their Australian citizenship. He was asked to advise on a piece of legislation that was, to use the Solicitor-General's own words, 'materially different' from the bill that was introduced to the parliament. This means Senator Brandis misled the parliament, the intelligence committee and the Prime Minister on this matter as well. He has continued to say that the bill is constitutionally valid on the basis of advice from the Solicitor-General. We now know that that advice was based on an earlier draft of the bill.
It is astonishing that the Attorney-General is now doing exactly the same thing, and this time it is on another bill of the utmost importance. The Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016 is currently being considered by the parliament and by the intelligence committee. It will mean terrorist offenders can be detained after they have finished their sentence.
I wrote to the Prime Minister two days ago seeking his assurance that the Solicitor-General has advised on the bill. I got a response yesterday but it was not from the Prime Minister; it was from Senator Brandis. And he gave me the same slippery response he has been giving on the citizenship bill. He responded that the Solicitor-General advised on the original draft of the High Risk Terrorist Offenders bill—just like the Solicitor-General advised on the original draft of the citizenship bill. Advising on an original draft does not mean that you have advised on the final product—namely, the bill that comes to the parliament.
I would say to Senator Brandis that he can't just make up his own definition of the word 'advised'. Words actually mean things. You can't just make up a new definition of a word to suit your own purposes. What Senator Brandis is doing is putting the Solicitor-General in the freezer. He is effectively sidelining him and preventing him from doing his job—the job that the Commonwealth needs him to do, which is to provide frank and fearless legal advice on important legal matters. That obviously includes important pieces of legislation that are coming to this parliament—in particular, pieces of legislation about which doubts have been raised as to their constitutionality. And that certainly applies to both the citizenship bill and the latest bill that is now before the parliament, the High Risk Terrorist Offenders bill. And, of course, Senator Brandis continues to mislead the parliament about all these matters.
I have sought further assurances on whether the Solicitor-General advised on the final version of the High Risk Terrorist Offenders bill that has now been introduced to the parliament. It has been over 24 hours now and I still have not received a response—and this is in the context of the intelligence committee having been asked by this same Attorney-General to urgently consider and report on the High Risk Terrorist Offenders bill.
Labor wants to be certain that we have at our disposal as much reliable information as possible when making decisions about national security legislation. We must do everything within our power to ensure we do our jobs properly as parliamentarians. We must do everything we can to keep Australians safe. And that means making sure that the legislation we pass is workable, effective and constitutional. We must do our due diligence and, sadly, that means we have to call out the Attorney-General when he is being slippery about the advice he has received.
If the Attorney-General won't resign, Mr Turnbull must sack him. It is beyond doubt, as the Solicitor-General has made clear, that Senator Brandis has misrepresented advice and misled the parliament. Mr Turnbull has said that misleading the parliament is a serious offence and the penalty is resignation It is time for Mr Turnbull to act, and sack this disgraceful Attorney-General.