By Ross Hamilton
The Attorney General is the nation’s first law officer. That makes her or him our highest law officer in the nation. So it is not unreasonable to expect our Federal Attorney General to be a paragon of legal virtue. However our Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, is anything but.
There are plenty of matters which call the integrity of Brandis into question. For example there is the ongoing matter of just what his knowledge of and involvement in the Bell Resources liquidation in WA has been. However a seemingly much smaller matter shows just how disgraceful and unsuited to any form of legal office George Brandis actually is.
Back in 2014, one of the hot issues was looking at fallout from the first Budget of the Abbott government. One cutback was removing funding from community legal centres. The Labor Opposition, specifically the Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, started looking into that decision. Dreyfuss lodged a Freedom of Information request for access to parts of the Brandis diary, concerned about just who Brandis had been meeting with in the lead-up to that budgetary decision.
Brandis refused to process the request. Note that this was not a refusal to provide the requested information but refusing to even process the request. The justification was that processing the request would take too long and also had some sort of security concerns.
Dreyfuss took the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The AAT had no problems finding that Brandis did indeed have to process the request – not necessarily handing over the requested doco, but simply process the request in the proper, formal manner. The Tribunal’s finding was that there was no practical reason for refusing to process the request and therefore Brandis’ staff had to examine the request and commence processing.
Brandis took the matter to court, appealing to the Federal Court. Last September, the Full Court of the Federal Court threw out the Brandis objection, finding that he and his staff did indeed have to properly consider the FOI request. And again, this was not a direction to hand over the requested documentation, just to properly consider the request for it. A sense of just what the members of the Court really felt about the matter is perhaps reflected in how quick they were to make Brandis pay all costs.
To help place this in context, is it really that big a deal to make the diary available? And the answer is ‘No’. For example, Julia Gillard routinely published her diary contents. When a journalist requested access to the diary of Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, the Minister had no problems in publishing her diary. But Brandis refuses to even properly process a request for access to his diary’s contents.
It is now some six months since the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia, directed the Attorney General, Senator George Brandis QC, to properly consider the request. And HE STILL HASN’T DONE IT.
The Attorney General is NOT above the law. The Attorney General does NOT get to pick and choose what court directions he will abide by. What makes this matter even more ludicrous is that Brandis is not just any old mug playing games. Brandis was a lawyer before entering the Senate. Not any old lawyer, Brandis was, and still is, a Queens Counsel.
Shadow Attorney Dreyfuss now has to go back to the courts, yet again, to ask the courts to put a final date by which Brandis should have processed the request. And in so doing, the Dreyfuss team is pushing for Brandis to be found in contempt of court. And that is exactly what Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, is – he has shown utter contempt for the law of our nation, deeming himself to be beyond it.
Enough is enough. There are three acceptable actions that must be taken:
- Brandis must be found in contempt of court and face all consequences including all legal penalties and parliamentary sanctions;
- Brandis must be made personally accountable for ALL costs, not passing them back on the taxpayer;
- Prime Minister Turnbull must immediately dismiss Brandis from all offices as someone who acts in this manner is not fit to even be in parliament, let alone holding such senior offices as Attorney General.
If you agree with me, then I strongly encourage you to contact the Prime Minister and demand the immediate sacking of Brandis. You may also wish to sign and distribute my petition calling for the Prime Minister to immediately remove Senator Brandis from the office of Attorney General.
This article was originally published on Ross’s Rant.
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