Plans to restrict access to Australia solicitor general withdrawn

By on 10/11/2016
Australia’s attorney general George Brandis

Australia’s attorney general George Brandis has backed down over the introduction of a directive controlling ministerial access to the country’s solicitor general.

Brandis today tabled a new legal instrument repealing the legal services direction, hours before a cross-party coalition of senators had been expected to block it in Australia’s upper house.

The controversial direction, issued in May, prompted a bitter public spat between Brandis and Justin Gleeson, then the solicitor general, and led to Gleeson’s resignation last month. It would have meant ministers seeking written approval from the attorney general to ask the solicitor general for advice, but the amendment tabled today by Brandis repeals this section of the direction.

Two days ago the senate legal and constitutional affairs references committee published a scathing report on the saga, in which they recommended the Senate disallow the direction.

The committee said the direction represented a “gross infringement” on the independence of the solicitor-general and questioned the attorney general’s “professional integrity and judgement” in issuing it.

The committee also upheld assertions by the former solicitor general that he had not been properly consulted on the direction. “The onus placed on the solicitor general to raise the failure of the attorney general to engage in proper consultation demonstrates the significance of the attorney general’s failure to meet the obligations of his office,” its report said.

In a Senate debate today, Brandis was mocked for having been forced to make a “humiliating backdown” on the issue.

In response, Brandis dismissed the outcry over his direction as “the greatest confected storm in a teacup that I have ever seen” and insisted the direction was merely “administrative housekeeping”.

He said his decision to rescind the legal services direction had been made as a “matter of courtesy” to Gleeson’s replacement as solicitor general, so that the new incumbent could start with a “clean slate”.

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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