Wednesday, 7 February 2018
George Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Before I begin my valedictory statement, may I acknowledge the distinguished presence in the President's gallery of a number of visitors, including the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Hon. Susan Kiefel, and Justice Edelman of the High Court; the Acting Chief Justice of the Family Court and Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, the Hon. William Alstergren; the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Dr Stephen Donaghue QC; the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Rosalind Croucher, and members of the commission; two former Commonwealth attorneys-general, the Hon. Philip Ruddock and the Hon. Justice Robert McClelland; the former Premier of Queensland, the Hon. Campbell Newman; many former members of the Senate; and many friends and family members, who have travelled to Canberra for this occasion. I also mention that the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the Hon. James Allsop, has a longstanding court commitment in Perth today but has asked me to say that he would have wished to have been here as well.
Last December, shortly after my retirement from parliament was announced, Fairfax newspapers published a column assessing my political career. It was written by Waleed Aly, Australia's most philosophically literate celebrity—indeed, Australia's only philosophically literate celebrity. I have been accused of many things in the Fairfax press, but what Dr Aly accused me of is something I am glad to admit. He accused me of consistency. With a couple of qualifications, he wrote that the various positions I had taken over the years, sometimes in controversial debates like the section 18C debate, were best understood as a consistent adherence to liberal philosophy. I am glad of that, because for nearly 18 years in public life, for most of them on the front bench and for almost half of them in the coalition's leadership group, that is how I have tried to approach issues: by the conscious application of a set of values which I first outlined in my maiden speech, given from this very seat in 2000. In that speech, I quoted the philosophers—Mill, Burke, Isaiah Berlin, Immanuel Kant—who, in my view, represented the best of the classical liberal tradition. It is that tradition and its values that I came here to advance and defend.
There have been some notable successes, which I will mention in a moment. However, I am sorry to say that, after nearly two decades, I find those values under greater challenge than at any time in my memory. The parties of the Left have become even more authoritarian, particularly in their hostility to intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. Historically, parties of the Centre Right have opposed the Left's authoritarian mindset with arguments which elegantly balanced classical liberalism, with its belief in the freedom of the individual, with conservatism, with its respect for the integrity of institutions and the wisdom of evolutionary change. That is what the Liberal Party has always done, with reasonable success, over three-quarters of a century.
But increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism's concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism's respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them. If I might adopt a brilliant phrase of yours, Mr President, we have seen the development of right-wing postmodernism. A set of attitudes which had its origins in the authoritarian mind of the Left has been translated right across the political spectrum. This presents a threat to both liberalism and conservatism and a profound challenge to the Liberal Party as the custodian of those philosophical traditions.
Being a liberal is not easy because it means respecting the right of people to make choices which we ourselves would not make and of which we may disapprove. It means respecting the right of people to express their opinions, even though others may find those opinions offensive. It means respecting the right of people to practise their religion, even though others may find the tenets of that religion irrational. It means, in a nation of many cultures, respecting the right of people to live according to their culture, even though to others that culture may seem alien. It means respecting the right of everyone to marry the person they love, even though others may find their understanding of marriage confronting. It means rejoicing in the richness of a nation which accepts that every single person is unique and respects the right of every individual to live their lives in their own way, so long as they respect the equal right of others to do so as well.
It does not require us to be comfortable with those different opinions or beliefs or ways of life. But it does mean, as the minimum condition of a liberal society, at least that we be tolerant of them. A liberal society is not based upon any notion of moral equivalence. It is perfectly consistent for me, for instance, to denounce Senator Hanson's views while defending her right to express them. But it is based upon the principle of mutual tolerance, which demands respect for the equal right of every Australian to live their lives in accordance with their own choices: in the way they live, in what they believe, in what they say, in whom they worship, in whom they love.
Those are the values for which I have fought for nearly two decades in the parliament, in the media, in the party room, and in the cabinet and the shadow cabinet—sometimes with success, sometimes not, but always, I hope, consistently. I have also sought to defend the fragile institutions which enshrine those values: parliament, the courts and the rule of law. Just as liberal values are not always easy to defend, neither is the rule of law, for it means insisting upon the equality of all in the eyes of the law, not just those who live blameless lives in the mainstream of society. The rule of law applies equally to the guilty as to the innocent. As Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's greatest lawyer-statesman, said:
Do not let us begin to think lightly of the law. Its rule, its power, its authority are the centre of our civilisation.
I have not disguised my concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law: the courts and those who practice in them. To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself. It is for the Attorney-General always to defend the rule of law, sometimes from political colleagues who fail to understand it or are impatient of the limitations it may impose upon executive power. Although the Attorney is a political official, as the first law officer he has a higher duty: a duty to the law itself. It is a duty which, as my cabinet colleagues know, on several robust occasions I have always placed above political advantage.
For more than four years, I was the minister responsible for domestic national security. That period coincided with the escalation of Islamist terrorism at home and abroad. I believe that we got national security policy right. Certainly it was the view of almost every commentator that it was one of the areas of the government's greatest strength. In December 2016, The Courier-Mail concluded in an editorial:
Our state and federal governments, in the main, have successfully trod a difficult path, finding ways to lay down new levels of security while still allowing both privacy and liberty. … There's a vital balance needed between security and privacy, and for the most part, so far, Australia seems to have got it right.
Our measures to keep our people safe have been successful. While four innocent people have died in lone wolf terrorist attacks, which are almost impossible to anticipate or interdict, importantly, over the same period, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have disrupted and prevented 14 major terrorist attacks. In several cases these were intended to be mass casualty attacks on the scale we have recently seen in Britain and Europe. In July last year those disruption operations foiled a plot to bring down an Etihad aircraft bound from Sydney to the Middle East, which would have resulted in hundreds of casualties, most of them Australians. Of course, it is not politicians who should claim the credit for this success. It was the work of the outstanding professionals at ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the state police. But governments and parliaments do play an important role, by giving the agencies the resources and the powers they need.
In 2014, Prime Minister Abbott asked me to undertake a comprehensive review of Commonwealth law, which resulted in some eight tranches of legislation over the following years—significant achievements of both the Abbott and Turnbull governments. At his press conference announcing that the attempt to bring down the Etihad aircraft had been disrupted last July, the AFP's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, Michael Phelan, explained how the operation—Operation Silves—had been successful. Among other things, he said:
The other thing that's important is the legislation we have used in this particular operation. We have seen, in the last few years in particular, eight tranches of legislation that have been introduced by the government, and let me tell you that some of that legislation that was brought in was what we used to make this investigation get to the stage where it did. So we went from not much to the stage where we were able to charge people with admissible evidence in relation to a very significant terrorist offence.
The legislation to which Deputy Commissioner Phelan was referring, which gave police the powers they needed to make the arrests and save those lives, was legislation debated and passed in this chamber three years ago.
Beyond the obvious skill of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, there are other reasons why our domestic national security policy has been successful over the past four years. Let me mention three. First, we have not overreached. The eight bills I introduced each contained carefully calibrated measures designed to give the agencies the powers they needed, but not more. The public never had reason to fear that governments were using the threat of terrorism as a pretext for a grab for power. So public confidence in the agencies remained, and remains, very high.
Secondly, we have maintained bipartisanship. All eight tranches of legislation were passed with the opposition's support after scrutiny by the PJCIS. It was a fine example of government and parliament working hand in hand to protect the national interest. I have heard some powerful voices argue that the coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security. I could not disagree more strongly. One of the main reasons why the government has earned the confidence of the public on national security policy is there has never been a credible suggestion that political motives have intruded. Were they to do so, confidence not just in the government's handling of national security but in the agencies themselves would be damaged and their capacity to do their work compromised. Nothing could be more irresponsible than to hazard the safety of the public by creating a confected dispute for political advantage. To his credit, the Prime Minister has always resisted such entreaties.
Thirdly, we have respected the autonomy and independence of the national security agencies and of ASIO in particular. The ASIO Act, appropriately, subjects ASIO to ministerial authorisation and oversight, and accountability to parliament through the PJCIS, but it contains very strict limitations upon the capacity of the minister to direct ASIO on operational matters. The independence of ASIO from ministerial direction in relation to operational matters is a principle which has served Australia well for 70 years and it must remain sacrosanct.
I have had a very fortunate political career.
I have been fortunate in my timing. Of the 18 years I have served in this place, my party has been in government for two-thirds, which meant I had the opportunity to serve as a minister in all three coalition governments of the period—not, by the way, that the thrill of the chase of opposition was not enjoyable in its own way, particularly during the second term of the Labor government. But I never came into politics for the blood sport.
I have been fortunate in my timing for another reason. During my tenure as Attorney-General an unusually large number of members of the federal judiciary reached retirement age. Most Attorney-Generals consider themselves lucky to be responsible for the nomination of one High Court judge. It was my good fortune to be responsible for the nomination of three, together with the nomination of the Chief Justice, Australia's first female Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel. The new Chief Justice of the Family Court, John Pascoe, and the new Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, Will Alstergren, were also appointed on my nomination, as was the new President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Justice David Thomas. In all, about one-fifth of the entire federal judiciary was appointed in the course of the past four years.
Unless they are controversial, judicial appointments attract little notice from political commentators, yet the nomination of candidates to the judiciary is one of the most important things an Attorney-General does. Only he takes recommendations to cabinet for judicial appointments and, in that sense, is the gatekeeper to the third arm of government. I'm immensely proud of the calibre of the women and men who have become members of the federal courts in my time, all of them recognised by those best placed to judge them, their peers in the legal profession, as outstanding.
I have been fortunate in the timing of my departure. Most political careers end in defeat or disillusionment or, in some sad cases, disgrace. I had the immense good fortune to be able to bring my parliamentary career to a close at the very time I had seen the fulfilment of two things which, more than any others, I had made my priorities. Shortly after 6 pm on 7 December last, the last sitting day of the year, the House of Representatives passed the marriage equality bill. The following morning, the Prime Minister and I attended a special meeting of the Federal Executive Council at which the bill was proclaimed. That reform will be a legacy of this government and this parliament which will never be forgotten. In decades, indeed centuries to come, if the 45th Parliament is remembered for nothing else, it will be remembered for this. Many Australians worked hard for this reform over long years. Some of them, like Tom Snow and Anna Brown, are in the gallery today. It was my good fortune to be the Attorney-General in the government which achieved it.
Nobody who was in the House of Representatives that afternoon will forget the spontaneous demonstration which then erupted both on the floor and in the public galleries. Amid the joyous pandemonium, hardly anybody noticed what happened then: the Prime Minister, moving to the next item of business, introduced the foreign interference legislation and adjourned the debate. That legislation, upon which I, my officers and staff had worked with intense focus for most of the year, brought to completion the most comprehensive review of Australia's national security laws in more than a generation. So, by one of those remarkable coincidences with which politics is so replete, the two great pieces of law reform by which I had hoped to define my attorney-generalship: achieving marriage equality and reforming our national security laws—two issues that could hardly be more different—converged in the final minutes of the parliamentary year. The time to close the chapter on my parliamentary career, and so avoid the curse of Enoch Powell, could not have been more exquisite.
No political career is without regrets, but there is only one regret that I want to mention tonight. That is that I will not be able to see through the reform to the federal judiciary, which had also been a major project. Late last year the heads of jurisdiction of the three federal trial courts—the Federal Court, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court—agreed in principle upon a proposal for the fundamental restructuring of the federal judiciary, which would have seen a significant reduction in costs and waiting times, in particular in family law matters. It is the one large item of unfinished business I leave behind. But unfinished business is the lot of all attorneys-general who embark upon significant law reform. For instance, a large amount of the time and intellectual energy that was invested by Sir Garfield Barwick in his years as Attorney was devoted to legislation to deal with monopolies and cartels, but when he departed for the greener pastures of the High Court in 1964 it was left to his successor, Billy Snedden, to introduce the Trade Practices Act 1965. I trust that the reform of the federal judiciary will be carried forward by my successor, Christian Porter.
I have been fortunate in my mentors. Over the years a number of people took an interest in me and encouraged me. When I was a student I met and was befriended by Sir John Kerr, who encouraged me to pursue a career in politics. He was important in giving me the confidence, when I was young, to believe that I could do it; I want to conjure the treasured memory of that great Australian tonight. For most of my adult life, Canon John Morgan has given me much-needed spiritual guidance. Ever since I took over as the shadow Attorney-General in December 2007, I have had the benefit of the tutelage of the Hon. Philip Ruddock, who could not have been more generous in his guidance and advice. I'm honoured that both John and Philip have taken the trouble to be present this evening.
I have been fortunate in my opponents. For most of the time I was the shadow Attorney-General, Robert McClelland was the Attorney. He was a very good Attorney-General and we got on well. We would meet regularly, establish what we could agree on and identify the areas of difference, and then go out and have the argument. When he made his valedictory speech, Robert, now Justice McClelland, spent more time saying generous things about me than about any of his Labor colleagues—admittedly, it was a difficult time for the Labor Party—and I am honoured that he has come to my valedictory speech this evening. Nicola Roxon and I were ideological opposites, but she was always the soul of courtesy. Then, throughout my time as the Attorney-General, my opponent was Mark Dreyfus QC. This was also a stroke of good fortune. There were a couple of controversies over the last 4½ years, but I could always rely on the member for Isaacs to get me out of trouble. I will be forever grateful that Mark Dreyfus was my shadow. One of the many reasons that I'm cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the next federal election is that I believe the Leader of the Opposition is quite close to Mr Dreyfus and often seeks his advice.
I have been fortunate in my colleagues. Many of my House of Representatives colleagues have been good enough to come tonight, for which I thank them. The Prime Minister has done me the honour of being here, as have many of those with whom I served in cabinet and other friends from the House of Representatives. I thank them.
I want to dwell for a moment, though, in particular, upon my Senate colleagues, whom it was my honour to lead for almost 2½ years. I want to start with you, Mr President. You are a good friend who has increasingly become something of a political soulmate. There is no member in the Liberal Party room today with a better and more thorough grasp of the Liberal Party's essential values, its philosophy, its culture and its history than you. That is only fitting, since you are the protege of the great David Kemp, Australia's greatest contemporary Liberal theorist. You are his legatee and, more than any other person I know in this place, you are the keeper of the Liberal flame.
May I acknowledge the Father of the Senate, Ian Macdonald. We have known one another in the Queensland Liberal Party for nearly 40 years. We were not always friends—had Ian not beaten me in a preselection in 1990, I'd be retiring tonight as the Father of the Senate—but, with the passage of time, we have become so. There is no better person to have on your side than Ian, particularly in a Senate committee. There have been many memorable moments, but the one I will always remember best was in October 2016 when Ian confronted the former Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson. Mr Gleeson may have been the polished Sydney silk and Senator Macdonald the knockabout North Queensland solicitor, but there was no doubt who had the forensic triumph that day. When, Ian, your cross-examination exposed Mr Gleeson's secret conservations with the opposition, concealed from the government, his client, concerning matters to which an obligation of professional confidence plainly attached—that was the end of that. We may say of your cross-examination: it wasn't pretty, but it was pretty effective.
Allow me to congratulate the new Senate leadership. I am not going to detain the Senate by seeking to resolve the conundrum that is often the subject of speculation around the corridors of this chamber: is Senator Cormann a man or a machine? He certainly has the finest qualities of both. The years when we comprised the Senate leadership team were happy ones which coincided—due in no small measure to Mathias of course—with the government's most successful legislative period in the Senate since the election of the coalition. Mathias, of course, will be just as effective as leader as he was as deputy.
I want to congratulate Senator Fifield on his succession to the deputy leadership. A smoother, more suave political operator it would be hard to find.
And I want to congratulate my great friend Senator Birmingham, the new Manager of Government Business, who will be such an asset to the government's leadership group. It wasn't long after Senator Birmingham became a senator—a callow youth of 32, the youngest person in the Senate at the time—that people began drawing comparisons between him and the Liberal Party's longest-serving Senate leader, Robert Hill. With many years, indeed decades, on your side, I expect, Birmo, that in the long run, when others have departed the scene, the future of the Liberal Party in the Senate will rest upon your slender shoulders.
To my other ministerial colleagues. Marise, my oldest friend in the Senate—no, you're not that old, but you're my oldest friend in the Senate—I remember the days when, in the Howard government party room, you were sometimes the lone dissenting voice, usually on issues of human rights. At that time you were about as far away from ministerial preferment as it is possible to be. Yet you were never deterred, speaking truth to power. It gives me so much pride to see you now, Australia's first female Minister for Defence.
Michaelia—the one thing I will miss about parliament is question time, which has been nothing but pure fun. I'm sorry, Senator Wong. The thing I will miss most about question time, Michaelia, is you. Your performances are simply spectacular—stylish, fearless and lethal. Yet I know that, behind that steely exterior, you have the softest, kindest heart of all. Connie—yet another fearless, formidable Liberal woman. Our friendship is proof that different philosophical views are no barrier.
To the Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Nigel Scullion: we have been the best of mates, almost since the day you arrived, the oddest of odd couples. There might occasionally have been tensions between the Liberal Party and the National Party, but there have never been any tensions between us. Let me also congratulate Bridget McKenzie on becoming the Deputy Leader of the National Party. You have been a great colleague and will be brilliant in the role as was your predecessor, Fiona Nash.
And finally, Matthew Canavan—once again, proof that philosophical differences are no barrier to friendship. In fact Matt and I supported one another in our respective preselections in Queensland. I remember when you were first preselected. There was a gasp of incredulity in the Liberal Party room when the word filtered through: the new Queensland National Party senator was an economist from the Productivity Commission! It scarcely seemed possible. But your contribution in cabinet has been formidable, and, as one who stood by you during your difficult times last year, I know better than most that the old saying—the measure of a man is how he handles himself in adversity—applies in spades to you.
And, speaking of adversity, my only sadness tonight is that our greatly admired colleague Arthur Sinodinos cannot be with us. Arthur, too, has been a friend and guide to me at critical times. I know that all senators join me in wishing him a return to good health and in hoping that he will be able to return to the Senate before too long.
To all my other coalition Senate colleagues, you know that we have something in the Senate which our House of Representatives colleagues envy—not just collegiality but genuine friendship. That is rare in politics, and it was not always so. During the troubles of 2009, the Senate party room was bitterly divided, and those divisions took a long time to heal. But that was many years ago. In my time as leader, that spirit of real friendship has existed among the senators, which made my job such a pleasure and all our lives so much easier and richer.
On occasions such as this, there are so many people to thank, and I want to begin, of course, by thanking the people of Queensland who elected me to the Senate three times and the members of the Liberal Party and the Liberal National Party who preselected me—on two of those occasions, giving me the honour of leading the Senate ticket. Con Galtos, who is in the gallery tonight, was the president of the Liberal Party at the time I was first preselected and facilitated the democratic outcome. I owe him a debt of gratitude, as I do to two other state presidents: Mr Bob Carroll and our former colleague Dr John Herron.
I want to thank the four leaders under whom I served for the opportunities they gave me: four very different men; all of them, in their very different ways, great Australians. John Howard put aside early misunderstandings to take me from the backbench and put me in his ministry. Brendan Nelson, than whom I have not encountered a more decent person in politics, promoted me into the shadow cabinet as shadow Attorney-General, a portfolio I held, through opposition and government, for over 10 years, which I think is a record. Tony Abbott brought me into the leadership group as deputy Senate leader and made me Attorney-General. Malcolm Turnbull reappointed me as Attorney-General twice and promoted me to the leadership of the government in the Senate. And now, of course, he has done me the honour of appointing me to the one position which I made no secret I hoped to fill after I left politics. Conducting the relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom in the coming years will be a task, I expect, every bit as challenging and satisfying as any I faced as Attorney-General. With the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union and looking to re-engage more closely with kindred nations like Australia, there has never been a time more rich with opportunity.
Finally, let me thank my staff. All of us know how important our staff are to us. We spend so much time together, mostly away from home, we share so many experiences, that they become like a second family. Over nearly two decades, I have had relatively few changes in my staff. The Brandis office was well known to be a very happy place, and people never seemed to want to leave. And so tonight is really about them, and I'm immensely flattered that so many of the people I'm about to mention have travelled to Canberra to be here. Let me mention and thank Maureen Nagle, my first secretary; the late Bob Harper, my first office manager; Ross Vasta; Peter Catanzariti; Andrew Nguyen; Verity Barton; Brad Burden; Alison Kubler; Luke Walker; Nick O'Connor; Rohan Watt; Harriet Bateman; Lexi Sekuless; Bruce Lehrmann; Melissa Lam; Maggie Forrest; and Benjamin Nance.
As a minister I was served by four chiefs of staff, all of whom are here. Zoe McKenzie was my first chief of staff. She is a dear friend who decided to take me in hand, as the Howard government's newest and most unexpected minister, some 11 years ago. Initially, I wasn't quite sure who was the boss, but I soon worked that out. It was Zoe. When the Abbott government was elected, I had the great good fortune to be joined by Paul O'Sullivan, a former Director-General of ASIO and a member of a brilliant generation of Australian diplomats, who lent wisdom, gravitas and good humour to the office. He was succeeded by James Lambie. James was, for many years, in opposition and government, the soul of the office and one of the most popular people in the building, with his unique blend of uncommon erudition, happy cynicism, wicked humour and spectacular political incorrectness. Every day, he put us in a good mood. He was succeeded by Liam Brennan.
For almost three years, my deputy chief of staff was Josh Faulks. He came with the experience of having worked for two attorneys-general, Daryl Williams and Philip Ruddock. Josh brought to the office professionalism and energy in equal measure. Sometimes, it seemed to me that he lived life at a faster speed than anyone I knew. He was a wise counsellor and a very good friend.
The advisers who served me as a minister were, every one of them, people of the very highest quality. Dr Donald Markwell, a former Fellow of New College, Trinity College and Merton College, Oxford, and a former Warden of Rhodes House, is a constitutional scholar of international reputation. Of the many contributions he made to my office, none was more important than his meticulous preparation of the papers for the prorogation of the parliament and the advice to His Excellency the Governor-General on the double dissolution of 2016. The government was immensely fortunate to have him in its service. There is literally nobody in Australia with a more thorough, scholarly knowledge of the constitutional precedents.
Dr Susan Cochrane also brought to the office great erudition in her particular field, family law. All of the significant reforms to family law during the Abbott and Turnbull governments were directly the result of her work. She played a crucial role in the preparation of the exposure draft of the marriage equality legislation, which evolved into the bill introduced by Senator Dean Smith. And—I know this is an issue about which she feels very deeply—she was the key to the Commonwealth's submissions in the Kelvin case on gender dysphoria, which reversed the Family Court's decision in Re Jamie.
Justin Bassi, David Mason and Tim Roy served as national security advisers. They drove the comprehensive reforms to national security law of which I have spoken, and which are landmark achievements of the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Michael Napthali was a prince among arts advisers, while Jason Costigan, now a member of the Queensland parliament, added even further to my knowledge of sport.
I had the good fortune to be served by brilliant young lawyers—Daniel Ward, Jules Moxon and Sarida Macleod. Tom Fardoulys proved to be a brilliant speechwriter. I discovered in Tom the only person who could ever capture my tone of voice. The years 2016 and 2017 saw an unusually high death rate among former senators. Many of the most eloquent condolence speeches ever delivered in this place came from Tom's elegant pen. If all else fails, he has a brilliant career ahead of him as a professional obituarist. When ministerial duties kept me away from Queensland, Nina Schrinner nurtured the grassroots of the party with tender loving care—there is no more important task in a senator's office. Tanya Morgan, and then Martine Whitton, managed my program and did their best to manage my life.
My media team—Scott Bolitho, Gabriel Young, Rachelle Miller and Michelle Perks—performed their jobs with great skill. They also staunchly resisted frequent entreaties by one or two journalists to engage in transactional journalism: cabinet leaks or classified national security information in exchange for favourable coverage in the tabloids. I am reminded of Lyndon Johnson's advice to Richard Nixon about leaks from America's National Security Council:
Read the columnists, and if they call [somebody] thoughtful, dedicated, or any other friendly adjective, fire him immediately. He is your leaker.
We have seen a bit of that recently, but it never happened in my office—a fact that would be obvious to readers of The Daily Telegraph. So I thank my media team not just for their professionalism but for their integrity as well. I also want to thank my many DLOs. It says something for the spirit of the office that almost all of them are here tonight.
And, lastly, I want to acknowledge a particularly deep debt of gratitude to the two longest-serving members of my staff: Travis Bell and Liam Brennan. Travis joined me not long after I became a senator in 2000 and worked for me for almost 13 years. In my years on the backbench, we travelled the highways and byways of Queensland with the Liberal Senate team and in 2004 ran the campaign that elected Russell Trood and gave the Howard government its Senate majority. Travis was then my media adviser in the Howard government and through the six long years of opposition. Liam joined me in the most junior position in my office in our first year in opposition, when he was barely out of secondary school, and has been with me ever since. Through a combination of hard work, shrewd political judgement and precocious ability, he rose over the course of nine years to become last year the government's youngest chief of staff—and one of the best.
Through all the twists and turns on the long, winding road of politics, on the good days and the bad days, from early in the morning until late into the night, Travis and then Liam were there for me: to advise, to encourage, to caution, to scold, to sustain; to be exasperated, to be proud; to share the dramas and rejoice in the victories. Nobody has been blessed with more loyal counsellors. I recall the words of WB Yeats:
Think where man's glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.
And so now, as I close this, the longest chapter of my life, I leave as I arrived: an unapologetic, committed liberal, a little bloodied perhaps but nevertheless unbowed. So farewell to you all. I thank you for the memories. I thank those who gave me the opportunity to make whatever contributions I have been able to make to Australia. And, most of all, I thank all of those who have shared the journey with me.
Mathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It is my great privilege to rise to pay tribute to our dear friend and colleague—to my dear friend and colleague—Senator George Brandis. Senator Brandis and I have had the pleasure of working very closely with each other, both in opposition and in government, for many years now. I never thought that the question of man or machine was on his mind—I'm happy to explore that further with him later tonight over a drink!
Over the period of working closely with each other we have achieved many successes together. We have debated policy, talked politics and enjoyed each other's company over the occasional glass of red—the latter, it must be said, more often in opposition than in government. It was perhaps counterintuitively, after I lost what was most probably an inappropriate decision back in 2010 to contest the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party in the Senate against him, that George and I started to develop a very close personal and professional relationship. I think that we respected in each other the way we engaged in that contest, and, as I said, we very much enjoyed each other's company as we discussed policy and politics in the months and years that followed.
In the broad church which is the Liberal Party, George is a leading representative of the classical liberal tradition. I have heard him describe himself as a Deakinite. It won't surprise colleagues to hear me say that I approach policy and politics from a more conservative point of view, so there was always much scope for discussion about all sorts of policy and political issues—but always conducted with good humour and in a spirit of friendship. For that, I thank you, George.
It is often taken for granted when we hear someone say that politics, at its core, is a battle of ideas, but few have engaged more vigorously in the genuine battle of political ideas than Senator Brandis. From his student days to the high public office of Attorney-General of the Commonwealth and Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis has always brought incredible intellect, conviction, energy and well-considered philosophical principle to his engagement in the battle of political ideas. Senator Brandis has represented the great state of Queensland in this chamber for nearly 18 years—eight years as part of the coalition leadership group. Ten of those years were in the Attorney-General's portfolio, firstly for six years in opposition and then, since the election of the coalition government in 2013, as the Commonwealth Attorney-General. By any measure, that is an incredible achievement.
His political career started all the way back, as he has alluded to, at the tender age of 16, when he made the very wise decision to join the Liberal Party. At the University of Queensland he attained first-class honours in both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees. He was awarded the distinguished Sir Rupert Cross Prize for evidence. And his arts honours thesis, believe it or not, was modestly titled 'An Interpretation of the Ideology of the Liberal Party of Australia'. With a title like that for an arts honours thesis, it should have been obvious to all what was to come: an outstanding, distinguished career of public service, culminating in his becoming one of the most senior and most respected leaders in Australian politics.
But first, before pursuing his political career, Senator Brandis went on to study a Bachelor of Civil Law from Magdalen College at Oxford in 1983, joining a pool of alumni that includes many other distinguished current and former Australian public servants and members of the bar. Upon his return to Australia, Senator Brandis pursued a legal career with distinction. After a brief time as a solicitor in Brisbane he was called to the Queensland bar in 1985 and was involved in a series of significant cases before both the Federal and High Courts of Australia. Senator Brandis's years of eminent service would later see him appointed as Senior Counsel. I note that Senator Brandis, with the power vested in him as the Attorney-General, was able to change this to Queen's Counsel in 2013, an obvious reflection of his love of the English common law tradition, even in titles.
Senator Brandis entered the Senate, filling a casual vacancy, back in May of 2000. After a number of years of then Prime Minister John Howard carefully reviewing his performance, he was appointed to what all thought was the most suitable position in the ministry that he could be appointed to, his dream job: the Minister for the Arts and Sport.
By some analysis, considering his contribution as the Australian minister for sports on a time-served-to-impact ratio, there's no doubt in my mind that Senator Brandis was one of Australia's greatest sports ministers. In his mere 10 months in the portfolio in 2007 he worked with the Australian Football League and other codes to introduce what are now the world's most rigorous standards regarding the use of illicit drugs in professional sport. In his first successful foray on the global stage, George outsmarted the world's national sports bodies to get the first Australian appointed as president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Hon. John Fahey, an illustrious former finance minister of this parliament. And they say that the training we receive doing the numbers in the Liberal Party doesn't serve any purpose!
In the arts portfolio, no doubt Senator Brandis's greatest passion, he again made an outstanding contribution. In a short 10 months in 2007, he successfully shepherded a series of major reforms through the budget and the parliament to expand Australia's vibrant screen industry. He created our national agency, Screen Australia, and secured the sustainability of local production, including documentary and domestic filmmaking. When he returned to the arts portfolio in 2013 he took steps to make arts funding more readily available to the community arts sector and ensured new players were able to access funding to tour overseas, demonstrating the breadth of excellence in the Australian arts sector. His passion exceeded the boundaries of the portfolio. In 2015, after he had left the arts portfolio, he followed the Australian World Orchestra to Chennai on his own initiative and at his own cost to observe and celebrate their tour de force, led by maestro Zubin Mehta. He has been an avid proponent of Australian art and culture across the globe, a passion I am confident he will continue to pursue during his next endeavours in London.
Turning to his remarkable contribution as Attorney-General, I wish to pay foremost tribute to his tireless commitment to the safety of the Australian people. In the face of a deteriorating global security environment and the advent of a new generation of terror threats, Senator Brandis marshalled the full weight of his legal and political expertise and stewarded world-leading antiterrorism laws that have given the men and women of our intelligence and police communities the statutory tools that they need to carry out their vital work. Much of his most important work on security issues has been outside of the public eye, ranging across challenges like Operation Sovereign Borders; fallout from the conflict in Iraq and Syria; the rise of ISIL, including their surrogates in the Philippines; terrorist cells and lone wolves in Australia; and humanitarian crises in South-East Asia. In the three years since Australia's terror threat level was elevated, Senator Brandis has overseen the passage of nine tranches of national security laws—four of these in the last year alone. Thanks to these laws our police and security agencies are better placed to keep Australia safe. Australia has been very well served by having as Attorney-General a thinker steeped in the classical liberal tradition at a time when the right balance had to be struck in modernising antiterrorism laws and administrative arrangements to fight terror.
In his first speech in this place Senator Brandis cited as the most fundamental duty of government 'the obligation to protect the weak from the strong'. Be it via the measures that Senator Brandis helped pass that prevented the return of foreign terror fighters or the new anti-espionage and foreign interference reforms that he helped to craft in the closing weeks of last year, it is clear that this concern has remained front of mind throughout the course of his service. Because of Senator Brandis's efforts, the Australian people are today safer and more secure.
Senator Brandis has also played a particularly important role in national debates on data retention laws, family law reform and the reform of the court system at a time of constrained resources. Further, he has been influential over several years in the debate on the shape of potential reforms to marriage laws. I also wish to emphasise Senator Brandis's staunch advocacy for the protection of constitutional government and those liberties that underpin all others: freedom of thought, speech and expression. This, too, was central to the agenda that he outlined upon his entry into the Senate, and Senator Brandis's willingness to champion these causes should not be forgotten. As chief law officer of the Commonwealth, Senator Brandis has also been passionate about his core responsibilities for stewardship of the justice system, including recruiting the best minds to our highest courts and maintaining important laws for the administration of justice, family law, freedom of information, and bankruptcy.
It is in the role of Attorney-General, and also of Leader of the Government in the Senate, that we have best seen his raw and determined devotion to the principles of justice, fairness and liberalism. In recent times Senator Brandis's great oratory in this place at times of pressure and stress, whether relating to same-sex marriage or to equal opportunity and antidiscrimination, has made us as colleagues and legislators and the listening public stop and consider the full impact of our deliberations and decisions.
Senator Brandis's great grace and high principles are celebrated today by those of us in this place but also by the more than 90 of George's family, friends and former staff who have come from all over Australia to be in the gallery for this occasion. His staff have served him with loyalty and good humour, and Senator Brandis has touched on this in his remarks. They have felt part of George's family and his purpose in this place. He enjoys their friendship, which is not always a given in Australian politics. In fact, I spoke to one of the seasoned coalition staffers who have worked for a number of coalition ministers over the years about whether George might have been the best minister that particular staffer had worked for. She replied, 'Well, it depends on what you mean by 'best minister'. Was he the most intelligent, the most effective politician, the most capable legislator, the most dedicated team player, the most deft cabinet contributor?' She replied, 'He was all of those things but, above all, if I had to be stuck on island with one of you,'—that is, one of us—'George is the one I would take, for his good stories and great company, ideally over a bottle of champagne or an endless gin and tonic.' It is up to you to guess who I may have spoken to.
George will be missed greatly by all of us in this place. We will miss his brilliance, his wit and, above all, his great stories and his laughter, which on a good day can be heard from one end of this chamber to the end of the other place. I certainly was able to hear it from time to time in the office next door. As I observed earlier, Senator Brandis has been an insightful proponent throughout his life on the topic of political liberalism. I would not be surprised if over the years ahead we find he has a few more books on it still in him. I've got a few spots left in a bookshelf in my office! It is fair to say that with his departure, this place will come to miss that extra degree of intellectual depth.
George, over the past nearly 18 years as a senator, with five years as a minister—over three governments, as you said—you have made a remarkable contribution to the life of the Senate and Australia at large. Your contribution, George, to public life has been marked by a strength of belief, passion and consistency. It has been a real privilege to work with you in recent years, not only as your deputy leader in the Senate and a fellow minister but as a valued friend and colleague. However, your service is not over. The diplomatic post of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom is one of the most consequential that any Australian can occupy. Many of your predecessors remain some of our nation's most distinguished diplomats, and I have no doubt that you will pursue your new role with the same energy, intellect and love of country that has informed your time in this place. In these uncertain times, it is so valuable to both Australia and the United Kingdom that Senator George Brandis will be bringing his experience and talents to bear as a linchpin in the relationship between our two countries. We wish you, George, and your family all the best for your future endeavours and we thank you for your many years of service.
Penny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak on the valedictory of Senator the Hon. George Brandis, who has been a leader in this place for many years, serving as a senator for the best part of two decades since arriving to fill a casual vacancy in 2000. He's been a minister in two governments under—I thought it was three—four prime ministers. He has variously been a political warrior, sometimes hatchet man, a pedantic grammarian—I did so enjoy his corrections; at least he was ecumenical about it, so we all got it—but also, on important occasions, an extraordinarily eloquent advocate for liberalism and democracy. We saw this again today in the exposition in his valedictory of the philosophical foundations of liberalism and the importance of the institutions that safeguard our democracy. That's why it's sometimes interesting to be an opponent of Senator Brandis, because he does and says so many things with which you vehemently disagree. Occasionally, he is what we regard as unnecessarily personal, but then he'll say something extraordinarily important and eloquent with which we vehemently agree.
Born in Sydney—were you born in Sydney, George? There you go!—he recalled in an interview in 2005 that he first became interested in politics at the age of 14. He was educated by the Augustinians, I'm told, and so joins Martin Luther as a distinguished alumnus of their religious tradition. He joined the Young Liberals at 16—did you not have any fun?—and he found it was a good way to understand how the Liberal Party worked and to learn basic political skills and techniques. He became president of the Young Liberals in '81 and of course was a distinguished scholar both at the University of Queensland and while doing a Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford, subsequently practising as a barrister and solicitor. He nurtured his academic interest in liberalism, authoring Liberals face the future: essays on Australian liberalism in 1984 with Tom Harley—who I think was in the gallery—and Don Markwell and Australian liberalism: the continuing visionwith Tom Harley again and Yvonne Thompson in 1986. As he outlined, following the election of the Abbott government in September 2013, George Brandis became the First Law Officer of the Commonwealth, and after Mr Turnbull assumed the prime ministership he was promoted to be my opposite, the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
I want to first turn very briefly to bills concerning national security. The former Attorney Senator Brandis has rightly outlined that the passage of the various tranches of legislation in this area has led to an increased range of powers to prosecute and arrest foreign fighters, the disruption of money-laundering and terrorist-financing operations and increases in a range of the powers of Australia's intelligence agencies. I want to emphasise the extent to which legislation that the Attorney either introduced or spoke to in this place was supported on a bipartisan basis, and I want to acknowledge and thank him for his contribution today where he emphasised the importance of not, for political and partisan purposes, confecting a dispute with the opposition on these matters.
It is one of those few occasions where perceived short-term tactical advantage has been superseded by what I regard as a very important national interest consideration, as he outlined far more eloquently in his valedictory today.
Other actions taken by Senator Brandis included tasking the ALRC with reviews both of Commonwealth laws for their consistency with traditional rights, freedoms and privileges and of the family law system. And of course last year he supported the amendment of the Marriage Act to remove discrimination against couples of the same gender.
During his time as Attorney, as Senator Brandis pointed out, he has been responsible for quite a remarkable number of appointments, many of which have been supported across the political spectrum. These include the appointment of the new Chief Justice—the High Court of Australia's first female chief—three other High Court justices, Chief Justice Pascoe of the Family Court, a new Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court and numerous other judicial administrative appointments.
Obviously, one of the difficult periods of his time as Attorney-General concerned the breakdown of the relationship between the government and the President of the Human Rights Commission, and one wonders if they were both able to press the rewind button whether both Senator Brandis and Professor Triggs might have conducted that drama somewhat differently. Similarly, there was controversy surrounding the directions to the Solicitor-General.
I thought today, in his valedictory, the former Attorney-General articulated with great clarity the centrality to our democracy of the rule of law and of the institutions that safeguard those principles. And those are views which we perhaps don't hear often enough in this place.
Senator Brandis also served as Minister for the Arts from 2013 to 2015. He is certainly remembered for his championing of Australia's major performing arts companies. Although his approach wasn't universally applauded, it did generate some confronting artwork—some of which I've only recently become aware of, to be honest.
As Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis inherited a Senate of some challenging configuration from Senator Abetz, something that continued after the 2016 election. He also took carriage of the largest number of referrals to the Court of Disputed Returns under section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in the history of that provision.
I would say management of the Senate does require a large amount of work from many people, and my office always found dealings with his office to be courteous and cooperative. Of course, the friendship was tested a little when they called, as the bells were ringing for the commencement of the day one morning, to advise that he was going to move a motion of censure against me, which I'm pleased to note he lost.
As I noted at the end of last year, while Senator Brandis and I had a pretty competitive relationship across the table, I acknowledge and recognise the intellectual and personal qualities he brought to his roles both as Leader of the Government in the Senate and as Attorney-General. I again compliment him sincerely for two of the most moving, heartfelt and important speeches in recent months that it has been my privilege to hear. Respect for the freedom of all Australians to practise whatever religion they wish to adhere to and the right of people of the same sex to marry speak to the kind of Australia we are. That is something that Senator Brandis has reflected in his life and in the offices he has held.
Obviously, we didn't agree with Senator George Brandis on everything, but he has been prepared to advance liberal values. He has stood up against marginalisation of people based on religion at critical times in our national debate, and I do believe the cabinet will be poorer for the loss of his contribution, input and, most of all, his intellect.
In closing, I return to what he said in his first speech:
We do well to remind ourselves from time to time that, as the Prime Minister once famously said, the things which unite us as Australians will always be more important than the things that divide us.
So I wish Senator Brandis well for the next chapter in his life and, on behalf of the opposition, bid him farewell from the Senate.
Richard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
There's precious left for me to say, so I'll be brief. Let me start by saying: Senator Brandis, you have left an enormous mark on this chamber. We have mostly sat on opposite sides of the chamber, but there were several occasions where we sat on the same side. Indeed, there was that moment in September where, if somebody had told me at the start of the week that by the end of the week I would be standing up, giving a standing ovation to a speech that you'd given, I would have thought they were stark raving bonkers, but it was, I think, a moment of moral clarity. It was spontaneous. It was heartfelt. I assume it was difficult, because I'm sure those views weren't shared by all members of your own party, but it was a moment that meant a lot not just to those of us in this chamber but to people right across the country. I want to thank you for your leadership in that moment when a member of this place came in wearing a religious garment in an effort to offend so many people who are part of the Australian community. You chose to call that out, and I want to thank you for doing that.
Equally, on marriage equality, you again, despite some recalcitrance from members of your own side, worked very hard behind the scenes, and it was your contribution that ensured the final passage of the marriage equality bill. It was your exposure draft that served as the template for the Senate select committee's inquiry out of which emerged Senator Smith's bill. People may not know that, but your contribution right through that process, and particularly early on, was critical to the passage of that legislation, and I think you need to be acknowledged for that. Again, on behalf of the Greens, we thank you for that.
I must say I did take some joy in taking on one of the most pedantic people in this chamber by correcting you on the pronunciation of my surname! Perhaps we can take it a step further: it is actually Di Nataleh, which is a little closer to what I indicated.
George Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
That's what I was trying to say!
Richard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I know you were trying. You failed, but at least you know now!
Let me wish you well in London. Some people might unkindly say that you can now be at the helm of a London bus rather than a blunderbuss, but I would never say that! I figured, given the roasting of your opposition counterpart, you deserve one in return. I might also say to the embassy not to take your advice on matters constitutional given your role in the dual citizenship saga—but I wouldn't say that either!
Let me hope that you find joy in your coming endeavours. I think you're well suited to the role. I'm sure that they've found a beast as big as you to fill the spot. They'll be pleased with that. I know you get that reference. And I can only hope that the high commissioner's residence has a shelf large enough for your extensive collection of books and periodicals—or maybe DFAT might have a budget big enough to build you one!
Senator Brandis, all the best. You've been a big and imposing figure in this place. I wish you well in the future.
Nigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
As the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, I also rise to honour Senator George Brandis for his almost two decades of exceptional service to this place and of course as senator for Queensland. I'd also like to express that I unreservedly concur with the sentiments that were conveyed prior to mine. I will try to keep these as brief as I can; I know there are a number of other colleagues who'd like to make a contribution.
Senator Brandis, you and I have been colleagues for a very long time. You were elected in the year 2000 on a casual vacancy for the Liberal Party and I just over a year later for the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory. On top of working together for many years in the Senate, we've served as ministers together in several terms of government in the Howard years, the Abbott years and now the Turnbull government. In those unmentionable opposition years in between, we found ourselves on the front bench of the other side, keeping the government of the day to account as shadow ministers. Throughout it all I've always valued your advice and support as a colleague and as a mate.
It might come as a bit of a surprise to many that I as a fisherman and buffalo shooter from the Northern Territory and you as a lawyer and erudite statesman from Brisbane became such close mates, but you have been a great friend and someone who shares many of the same interests and passions as I do. Although hailing from opposite ends of the country and certainly from such different backgrounds, we continuously work hard towards the same goals for this country, and I think we're living examples of the broad church that is in fact the Liberal-National coalition.
On a personal note, I'd like to tell some stories of our time together, but I think that tales of sharing adventures of pig shooting with our children and that sort of thing are probably best left until we are out of this place! I say that also because I think many Australians may not actually understand who I think the real George Brandis is—the George Brandis that I know. I will relate a trip where the cabinet went to the Torres Strait. I remember leaving Thursday Island and going to the mainland for some work. There were ministers in a boat and, as things do on a sea trip, it got a bit left-handed and there was a bit of spray. You could see most of the ministers and the staffers cowering on the floor, wondering where this was all going to end. George didn't have his shirt off, but he was leaning out and just loving it! And there are so many parts of this man that you don't see when you see the man in the suit, so erudite and statesmanlike.
George, your contribution to parliamentary debate has been—words fail me! During the time I've been here, I've heard the way you're able to put your point forward: you are just such an incredibly good speaker. There is the way you've been involved in the development of every element of such important legislation that affects the freedom and fairness of Australian society. You've been such a valued member of the coalition, and you've shown us time and time again on both sides the importance of our right to speak our minds freely and to fight for what we believe in.
So I don't think anyone in this place would deny that you've been one of the most enthusiastic and somewhat colourful senators to grace the floors of this parliament. As the tenacious Leader of the Government in the Senate, you furiously and articulately rebutted those on the other side countless times. In those long nights that we all know well, debating until the early hours of the morning, you've displayed mighty endurance in the face, quite often, of absurdity about the time we were there. But you always spent time encouraging your colleagues to push on, to stick with it and to get the job done.
In your time as Attorney you fought boldly for issues that preserve the liberties of the Australian people and uphold the justice of our society. That was not without the occasional consequence, which, as I said, you dealt with absolutely head-on. In particular, I think that last year many Australians saw the true George Brandis—again, just a fair and compassionate man who is prepared to stand up immediately for values that make this country the great nation that it is. Your speech in response to the presentation of someone in a burqa in this place captured national attention and made us all proud to serve in this place, and your advocacy and your passion for same-sex marriage is part of your legacy in this place. There was also your approach to native title reforms last year and your engagement with me and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians on these very important issues of native title reforms that strengthen the rights of traditional owners to make decisions about the use of their land.
I'd like to finish by thanking you for working so hard for this government and for the betterment of Australia. We certainly need more courageous members and senators like Senator Brandis, who, when faced with opposition to what was clearly right, worked even harder to achieve the outcomes that we sought. George, it's safe to say that you'll be leaving a legacy of many things, but I think of your style of audacity and of zeal. Your absence will certainly be felt by those on this side of the chamber; we will miss your passion in debates.
I congratulate you on this new position and we wish you well in this new tenure. I'm looking forward very much to catching up in London. I want you to keep fighting for the things that you believe in, mate.
Stirling Griff (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to make a short contribution to the chorus of congratulatory comments acknowledging Senator Brandis's time in public life.
My experience of Senator Brandis has only been during this 45th Parliament. There have, as others have mentioned, actually been two significant moments during this parliament where I was pleased to see Senator Brandis rise above, to use his own words, the 'tawdry, day-to-day politics' and the 'ephemera' of debates about the economy and political intrigues and instead show the courage and conviction of his strongly-held liberal views. Senator Brandis, your thundering rebuke of Senator Hanson over the burqa stunt revealed in an unscripted moment your most authentic self. It was not only a moment of fine moral clarity but also demonstrated your compassion, intelligence and true liberal ideals.
That impassioned speech will forever be part of your legacy—and many speakers here tonight have mentioned that as well. You earned a standing ovation from your political opponents on that occasion and with good cause. It will live as a moment, frozen in time, when the Senate stood up against bigotry, stood up against ignorance and stood with you.
You've always been a fearless champion and defender of free speech. In your first speech to this chamber, you said, quoting John Stuart Mill:
… that a liberal society is only worthy of the name if its citizens enjoy an absolute right to hold, and to express, opinions which other members of society find outrageous. Any attempt to limit that right … is a fundamental violation of a free society.
You assured the chamber that as long as you sat in this place you would defend the absolute right of all citizens to the free expression of their opinions, no matter how unfashionable, ignorant or offensive those opinions may seem to others. That moment following Senator Hanson's stunt in the chamber exemplified your steadfast belief in free speech and, similarly, the right to challenge such comments and motivations for being ignorant and offensive.
I also thank you for your instrumental facilitation of cooperation between the government and former senators Xenophon and Kakoschke-Moore to ensure that Carly's Law could finally be realised. I have no doubt that Australian children are safer following the passage of Carly's Law. In August 2017, as you would be aware, a convicted paedophile in South Australia was the first person ever to be charged with an offence under Carly's Law—and that was only weeks after the bill's passage. If you had not taken a genuine interest to ensure the policy intent behind the Nick Xenophon Team's bill became law then there is no doubt it would have languished like so many other private senators' bills.
Finally, I thank you for your unwavering support of marriage equality and the critical support you provided to Senator Dean Smith during the deliberation on the bill. Your staunch support and authoritative voice ensured the bill was debated and ultimately passed in a respectful manner. On behalf of the Nick Xenophon Team, I wish you every success as the UK High Commissioner. It was a pleasure to have worked with you.
Simon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It is with happiness for George and a tinge of sadness for those of us who are his friends that we farewell Senator George Brandis from the Senate today. George is a friend, a colleague, a leader and reformer, an advocate and statesman, a wise counsel, mentor and confidante—and also, very importantly, as Senator Cormann reflected upon, a leading contributor to liberal thinking and liberal ideology. Indeed, for more than 40 years of George's 60 years of happy and fruitful life, thus far, he has distinguished himself for speaking up and speaking with greater depth, clarity, knowledge and perspective of liberalism and what it means in the Australian context than barely anybody else I can think of.
George is a student of Gladstone and Deacon and of Menzies and Isaiah Berlin, all of whom he referenced variously in his works and speeches, including his first speech. I suspect that George has somewhat enjoyed the renaissance that Deacon has recently enjoyed, thanks to the works of the likes of Judith Brent—a body of work that, perhaps, George himself may add to later in his career. This dates all the way back, as Senator Cormann acknowledged, to the publication of Liberals face the future: essays on Australian liberalism in 1984, which George co-authored with Tom Harley, who is in the gallery today, and Don Markwell, who I note has returned to the advisers box to my left. In co-authoring that, they outlined a defining version of liberalism that I know George continued with throughout his career, both pre parliament and during his time in parliament and, I've got no doubt, in his post parliamentary life.
They rightly defined liberalism's most fundamental concern as being with the dignity and fulfilment of the individual, and that from this flows other objectives—individual freedom, parliamentary democracy, free enterprise growth, decentralisation of political power, low taxation, equality of opportunity, and a safety net of social security.
Importantly, they also defined liberalism not as a laissez-faire philosophy but as an active one in which individuals acting rationally and with cooperative goodwill can consciously shape the future of their societies so as to avoid the errors of the past and correct the injustices of the present. They went so far as to say that, just as the liberal's position will be relatively conservative where the status quo largely embodies liberal value, so may his beliefs dictate radical change where that is necessary to displace the status quo that is illiberal.
Those thoughts in 1984 were followed by Australian Liberalism, The Continuing Vision, which Senator Brandis co-edited in 1986, and other contributions, which eventually, after some trials and tribulations of preselection processes, led to a first speech delivered in this chamber in the year 2000. At that time, George rightly defined liberalism in a generous way. He noted that it is only in a society based upon equality of opportunity that the fruits of liberty can be enjoyed by all. As was noted at the commencement of his valedictory speech tonight, the theme of consistency that was tagged by others—and indeed in some ways dogged George for part of his time as Attorney-General—is best epitomised by the statement given in his first speech:
For as long as I sit in this place I will defend the absolute right of all citizens to the free expression of their opinions—no matter how unfashionable, ignorant or offensive those opinions may seem to others.
I suspect George may wish that he'd given that less quote-worthy version of that sentiment during an answer in question time one day.
It was with that, though, that also Senator Brandis outlined a very important perspective that political power is a dangerous elixir for some. And he brought that knowledge and perspective to the role of Attorney-General. As the protector of the rule of law, the first law officer of the land, and, indeed, in his work on national security and foreign intelligence reforms, bringing that understanding of liberal values meant that George was the right person at the right place at the right time to be able to reconcile the best instincts and understanding of John Stuart Mill's thesis that the only purpose for which power ought be rightly exercised over individuals is to prevent harm to others. I know, from having witnessed it in the party room, the cabinet, the parliament, in private and in public, that George was always mindful of the need, when undertaking law reform and particularly in the challenging area of national security law reform, to keep those principles in perspective.
I noted in doing some research for this speech that back in that 1984 work there was also an interesting statement that Liberals should stress policies of liberal reformism, for example in law reform. The advice was given—in what were then to be the early years of a long wilderness stage of opposition for the party—that the Liberal Party had too often missed those opportunities for marginal change to the status quo for which liberal values cried out, and which offered the prospect of greater popular support; for example, among the young. In reading that, I couldn't help but reflect upon the many conversations that we had about the marriage equality reform that so marked the end of George's time as Attorney-General. Those conversations were conducted again over many years with wise counsel and advice as to how best to see prospects of that debate proceed. I know how determined Senator Brandis was to ensure that it succeeded under his watch, under this government. It is to his lasting credit that that change did occur. In that debate and in those speeches, which many have denoted tonight, Senator Brandis rightly acknowledged that the passage of the same-sex marriage bill demolished the last significant bastion of legal discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality. After centuries of prejudice, discrimination, rejection and ridicule, it is both an expiation of past wrongs and a final act of acceptance and embrace.
It was also an act of great liberal law reform, the likes of which, indeed in your very earliest writings, you had called for the Liberal Party to play a leading role in delivering.
In general, of course, I think of George for many things: his unrivalled vocabulary, the occasions upon which I would walk into his office and feel much better about the untidiness of my office, and the camaraderie of his office. We heard him pay tribute to his staff tonight. Any of us who turned up to the Kingo on a Thursday night would see that it wasn't just George turning up for drinks with his colleagues, but, indeed, it was George celebrating the hard work of his team and congratulating and working with them regularly to celebrate their efforts and hard work.
I also know what a proud, but reserved, father Senator Brandis is. Of his son, Simon, who has followed him into the law, and his daughter, Phoebe, in medicine, he would speak quietly but with the enormous pride of a dad. I recall most recently standing in the corridor between the cabinet room and the Prime Minister's office when George told me with great pride and excitement that Phoebe was to receive the university medal for her work.
We will miss you, but we know that we will have great opportunity to stay in touch in a different way in your new role. I look forward to your contribution as high commissioner but I also look forward to what will come after, where I predict and am confident you will return to the roots of delving into liberalism, liberal thinking and its place in Australian society, in particular.
I look back on those words that you wrote in 1984 with Tom and Don and know that they continue very strongly in a number of ways. For those of us who continue in this place, a greater burden falls upon our shoulders, with your departure, to live up to some of those writings. I'll close with this quote from those works: 'This generation of Liberals must not only be vigilant to protect and preserve those liberal values that are already entrenched but also be no less resolute than our forebears in seeking to extend those values to new spheres. We should at the present time in the Liberal Party's development be concerned to insist that liberalism is very much a mix of individualistic and egalitarian rights.'
Thank you, George, for all you've contributed. Thank you for your friendship, and every success in the future.
Ian Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I'm going to be sorry to see George go, but I do look forward to cheaper accommodation in London in the future! George, I join others in thanking you for your service to Australia, to Queensland, and particularly to the Liberal Party and to liberalism. I've often said publicly and privately that I've always had a sort of love-hate relationship with George, which George has sometimes been offended at—to think that there could be any part for hate. But the words 'love' and 'hate' are probably not accurate words. I have a great admiration for your intelligence, your intellect, your eloquence and, in the last few years, your genuine leadership in this place and elsewhere. Those things really make me admire you and all you've done.
On the other side, we have at times had our differences of opinion, particularly in the earlier days of the Liberal Party—it started off closely together and then faded for a little while and has come back. But it is tremendous to see you achieve everything that you've set out to achieve. I know there are many people waiting to speak to you more convivially after this, so I do want to be much briefer than I would perhaps like to be.
George has always exhibited qualities that I could never achieve and, in some cases, wouldn't want to achieve. There is his eloquence, his exquisiteness and his intellectual ability. He is ambitious, capable, gifted, clever and a genuine liberal.
Those qualities are the ones that I will remember George for. He was never really a man of the people. I mean, Campari and soda wasn't the drink of preference in the Longreach hotels. But George—as I think he told us in one preselection—actually came from the wrong side of the tracks and had a very humble beginning. So all of those qualities have come together to mean that, for me and many others, George is a person of quality who we will never forget.
I just want to briefly say that your work on reforming national security laws was fantastic. It is something that perhaps people won't really understand or recognise, apart from those involved in those areas. Indeed, every Australian who is safe as a result of your work will perhaps never recognise that. I had the honour of chairing the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee through George's time as leader and as Attorney-General and I saw a lot of the work that George actually did there, and a lot was never made terribly public.
I did, George, at times try to help you. You mentioned one particularly significant Senate inquiry that we were both involved in. There were others, as members of our opposition tried—unsuccessfully—time and time again to destroy you with different inquiries. But, as I knew you would, you sailed through them. I know that on all occasions you acted honourably and honestly. I did try to help there.
I also assisted you in your first ministry, George, as you might remember, when you were appointed sports minister. Although I knew that you didn't need a great deal of assistance with that, I was instrumental in encouraging you to take on Jason Costigan. There is nothing about sport that Jason doesn't know about, and I know he was of particular help to you, in his own inimitable way, in your very first ministry.
Others have spoken at greater length and far more eloquently than me about George. I, of course, endorse all of those sentiments. I genuinely will miss you, George, particularly in this chamber. I'll miss the confidence you gave all of us in a political crisis in this chamber. The way you dealt with many opposition attacks at question time was just a joy to hear. At times I'd almost pay money, for entertainment value, to come and see how you handled some of those. We will very much miss that.
Lesley asked to join me in wishing you well. We wish you all the very best in your future, and we certainly hope our paths will cross at some time in the future.
Matthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It's a great privilege to stand and make some brief remarks in honour of the service that Senator George Brandis gave to the state of Queensland. I was only in this chamber for a short period of George's career. As he outlined in his contribution, we don't always see eye-to-eye on fundamental issues, but I do have a great respect for his contribution to this place, his fine intellect and the public service he has given to the people of Queensland.
George mentioned that I was happy to support him getting another term, despite our potential differences. That was not only because I respect him as a person. There are a few other reasons why I thought it was important to continue to have George as part of our team. Prime among those is that it is important to have differences in our party. I think we are stronger as a unit to have a little bit of tension, if you like, at times. It makes you sharper. There's not much point in playing tennis on your own. When you have someone else to hit the ball back, you become a little bit stronger and a little bit better at your game. I also think, ultimately, a bird needs a left wing and a right wing to fly, and that's no different for our parties. George was a fine exponent of a set of values within our Liberal-National Party that deserved to have representation. I was very happy to see him re-chosen by the LNP earlier last year.
He was also, as Senator Macdonald pointed out, a great Leader of the Government in the Senate and also a great Attorney-General. We were very lucky to have him as a representative from Queensland. I tried to find out how many attorneys-general had come from Queensland. I gave up because it was too difficult, but I don't think there would be too many. I reckon, from my short dealings with the Sydney bar last year—which I might go into later—that they'd hold onto this position pretty tightly down there in Sydney or Melbourne. I don't think they'd give it to too many people north of the Tweed. The fact that George was able to rise to those levels was indicative of his skills and qualities, and we are very proud to have had him as a representative of our state.
I was already good mates with George before I decided to take a little sabbatical last year so that the Australian legal profession could expand their understanding of the Australian Constitution. George was the first person I let know that I potentially had an issue with my citizenship. When I found out, I was walking towards the CPO offices in Brisbane. I then called my wife. I think I called the PM and the Deputy PM, and then I called George. He happened to be in the offices as well, so he was probably the first person I spoke to face to face following that particular news. I can't thank him enough for the support that he and his staff gave to me—and, indeed, the whole government, as it turned out—through that difficult process.
Most of the barristers and high-level solicitors I spoke to about this issue were, I think, always struggling to hide their excitement about this particular problem. They all seemed very excited about having this particular constitutional conundrum to look at and investigate. It reminded me of the old saying that you don't want to be the patient where the doctors are very excited about the surgery they're going to conduct on you. That's how I felt sometimes. But George did keep his excitement in check and had a great degree of empathy and helped me a lot through it.
When we were first going through these issues, up in the CPO offices, we were, of course, desperately trying to find some intelligence about Italian law. We started calling legal people about our options, and our problem became pretty apparent very quickly in that all these lawyers in Australia who had some expertise about Italian migration law were all steeped in the experience of getting people to be Italian—people who wanted to be Italian! So we had to spend a lot of time explaining, 'No, no, I don't want to be Italian.' They knew all the loopholes for how to become an Italian but not many for how to get out of it!
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
It's okay. You could've asked me!
Matthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I should have asked you, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. You may have helped me more than George in that instance. But, as I said, he was a great help and of great assistance through that, and I owe a huge debt to you, George, and to others in our team. Thank you very much for the support you gave.
I also quickly want to mention all the support your staff gave to me as well. As you outlined in your speech, you probably had, I think, one of the more effective offices in the government. That is always, I think, a reflection of the person themselves. Staff and their attitude and their conduct to others ultimately do reflect the attitude and character of their boss. They're a credit to you, George. Jules Moxon, Daniel Ward, Don Markwell, who's here at the moment, Liam Brennan—I can't mention them all—are fantastic people who gave great service to this country and to the coalition.
Finally, it was always a great privilege to go into your office, Senator Brandis. I was always impressed by the eclectic titles you had your bookshelf. My only question is: surely you can't take all those books to London, and are you giving some of them away? All the best in your future career. It is not finished by any stretch. You gave great service to the people of Queensland and to this country, and I'm sure that will continue in your new role in London.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
George, I wanted to briefly add, having served as your parliamentary secretary, I really appreciated the fact that when I came to you, when I sought this role, you were very, very supportive. As somebody who started in Attorney-General's in 1984, I can tell you it was a great honour to be sworn in as parliamentary secretary in the Attorney-General's Department. I held that position—at one stage I was parliamentary secretary to three ministers—and it was something that I very much relished. Can I thank you for your understanding of the fact that your department was the intersection between society and the law. It has completely changed. To think that multicultural affairs would sit and have responsibilities in Attorney-General's is a recognition of changing times, and so is the fact that you were prepared to take it and take on those responsibilities. So I thank you. It was great to serve in that portfolio.
I think you gave an interview after you'd been appointed, and you relayed the conversation with the Prime Minister about his wanting 'a big beast' in London. He said, 'I want somebody who is politically a big beast to occupy this job in London; I don't want a professional diplomat.' As a minister in this portfolio, hear, hear! I welcome that. I wish you all the very, very best. I know that you are going to be extremely beastly to all those Hooray Henrys in England! I look forward to visiting, as I probably will in my portfolio. It was really good to work with you, George, as your parliamentary secretary and as a senator here.
Scott Ryan (President) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Given the comments you made, Senator Brandis, I'll take this opportunity to make some observations from the chair myself as well. I'll commence by thanking you for your very kind comments and also for your friendship over many years. We came from different groups of friends with subtly different traditions in the Liberal Party, but as time moved on and as we spent more time together, particularly in this place, we both knew that our subtly different traditions had a great deal more in common than any differences we might spends hours debating over a glass of red.
I was first introduced to you, George—a time you said to me once you don't remember—nearly two decades ago by our mutual friends in the Queensland Young Liberal Movement. You were introduced to me at that time by some of my friends there as being almost Victorian in your views. Unlike most Queenslanders, you took that in your stride as a moment to be proud of, given your great support and respect for Alfred Deakin, which was the topic you immediately turned to upon being introduced in that way.
I next met you through our good friend Senator Fifield, not long after my own election at the end of 2007, in the lengthy wait before taking office. In your immutable style, you said that I would enjoy the Senate and we would get along very well—in fact, famously—although occasionally there'd be only small groups of us, as you understood and recalled that I liked books. You highlighted that as a key difference between the two chambers. Indeed, when we went through our collections we had similar collections, and we often discussed our reading. As others have commented, no-one's shelving is quite as famous as yours, nor as distinguished. When that matter came to public attention, the fact that you so openly defended it because of the importance of books, reading and consideration in politics actually said something about you—you didn't resile from the bookshelves, because of what they held.
I want to note a moment that others have also noted tonight. Late last year, as many people know, I was ill. I was lying in bed at home, recovering and watching Senate question time—which, some said, might have actually been delaying my recovery! On that day you made a statement following our Senate colleague Senator Hanson's entry wearing that particular garment. Obviously I make no comment on the incident itself, but I do want to acknowledge your impromptu and heartfelt speech, which was as forceful an argument for the liberalism that so many of us hold dear as I have heard in this place. It is so much more important because it was impromptu, and therefore everyone knows it was something you genuinely felt.
You made some very kind comments about me in your speech, but your departure leaves a hole that will not easily be filled. The liberal flame will be a little bit dimmer in the Liberal Party following your departure. One of our mutual acquaintances once said—we've discussed this often—that you can tell the difference between a liberal and a conservative by asking them to pick a side between Paine and Burke or Gladstone and Disraeli. But you knew that the unique nature of the Liberal Party we represent and hold so dear is that we represent both. At the same time, we always knew which corner you were in. So it is extremely appropriate, I think, that we're sending you to London in this 150th anniversary of Gladstone's first ministry. I imagine you will participate fully in those celebrations and commemorations later this year.
Valedictories too often sound like wakes, but they're not. You were a senator's senator. You were a proud defender of this chamber, its difference from the other place and the role that all senators play in representing their parties, their communities and their states. Let me finish by saying that, while you will be missed in this place, you have made many friends who I'm sure will maintain their contact, and none better than I.