Australia’s solicitor general resigns over George Brandis row

By on 24/10/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Justin Gleeson SC, Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth, Australia

Australia’s solicitor general Justin Gleeson has resigned, citing an “irretrievably broken” relationship with the country’s attorney general, George Brandis.

The Commonwealth’s two most senior law officers had become engaged in a bitter public feud over whether or not Brandis properly consulted Gleeson on changes to the solicitor general’s functions.

In his letter to Brandis, Gleeson wrote: “I have come to this conclusion with regret, but the best interests of the Commonwealth can be served only when its first and second Law Officers enjoy each other’s complete trust and respect within a mutually respectful relationship.

“When such a relationship is irretrievably broken, as is the case here, and each Law Officer holds a term of office established by the Constitution or statute which will not expire in the near future, there must be some resolution to the impasse.

Gleeson said he would leave his post on 7 November.

Brandis immediately accepted Gleeson’s resignation. In a letter published in response, he wrote: “I agree with the view, expressed in your letter, that in the circumstances this is the proper course for you to take.”

The dispute between the pair blew up earlier this year after Brandis issued a direction requiring ministers to seek his approval before requesting any advice from the solicitor general’s office. Gleeson maintains he was not consulted on the direction, and last month the senate legal and constitutional affairs references committee launched an inquiry into the matter. During the inquiry, Gleeson declared the direction “invalid” and said he had essentially ignored it on that basis.

In his resignation letter, Gleeson stressed that his decision to step down was not an admission of defeat on the issues over which he and Brandis had locked horns.

“My decision does not amount to a withdrawal of any position I have taken in relation to matters of controversy between us, including before the [committee]… For the avoidance of any doubt I also make perfectly plain that I reject absolutely each and every attack and insinuation that has been made in recent times upon me personally, or upon my office…”

The committee is due to report on the matter on 8 November, a day after Gleeson leaves his post.

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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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