Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Can the Attorney-General confirm that he sought advice in relation to the government's proposal for a marriage equality plebiscite from a lawyer external to the government? Was advice sought former Solicitor-General Dr David Bennett or someone else?
Senator O'Neill, it is the established practice of Australian governments of both political persuasions that we do not comment on legal advice or the fact of legal advice. But I can tell you, Senator—and this is also an entirely common practice—that legal advice is sought for the Commonwealth government from a variety of sources.
Was advice also sought from the Solicitor-General in relation to the government's proposal for a marriage equality plebiscite? And what was the cost of the Attorney-General choosing to shop around for legal advice? And on how many other occasions has external advice been sought?
I am assuming the Attorney-General will find that information for us.
I refer to the Law Officers Act of 1964 which states that the Solicitor-General 'shall be the second law officer of the Commonwealth'. Aside from the Attorney-General, who does the Attorney-General consider to be the primary legal adviser to the Commonwealth government? Does the Attorney-General agree with Associate Professor Gabrielle Appleby, who said there was a risk that governments seeking opinions from lawyers other than the Solicitor-General might be:
… shopping around for politically convenient opinions and not accepting the opinion of the statutorily independent, apolitical Solicitor-General.
Senator O'Neill, although I have not read Professor Appleby's remarks, I am generally aware of what she has had to say because I saw her interview on the 7.30 program the other night.
Might I say, Senator O'Neill, that I am completely confident that any lawyer, barrister or solicitor, who advises the Commonwealth government does so with integrity. They do not give politically convenient advice; they give honest advice in relation to the law in accordance with their professional obligations, as they should. The Commonwealth of Australia is entitled to the best legal advice available. I have complete confidence in those, whether in my department or elsewhere, from whom the Commonwealth obtains legal advice—in their professionalism and in their integrity.