Regardless of whether we have a double dissolution or a normal election, Attorney-General George Brandis will be up for re-election as a Queensland Senator.
The following is a review of his time in office to assist the people of Queensland to decide whether he deserves to continue to represent them.
Before he was even sworn in, incoming AG Brandis wrote to a court where Peta Credlin was appearing on drink driving charges describing her exemplary character and unblemished driving record. The offence was proven but no conviction recorded.
New taxpayer funded bookcases had to be ordered because Brandis’ other new taxpayer funded bookcase was too big to move and he had tens of thousands of dollars worth of taxpayer funded books that needed accommodating – after all, as he reminded us, he was also the Minister for Books.
In December 2013, Brandis approved an ASIO raid on the office of the lawyer for East Timor in their case alleging ASIS spying during commercial negotiations over oil and gas. Evidence was confiscated in the name of national security. He also approved the ASIO raid and passport cancellation of the key witness and whisleblower, a former ASIS agent, which consequently prevented him from testifying at the ICJ in the Netherlands.
Apparently George has little regard for the International Court of Justice, or the UN for that matter. Despite both bodies deeming that East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank and an occupied territory, Senator Brandis insisted otherwise, registering Australia’s opposition to a United Nations resolution ordering an end to ”all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories”.
”The description of East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with perjorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful,” said Senator Brandis.
Palestinian diplomats in Australia, concerned about Brandis’ pro-Israeli stance, called that statement “outrageous” saying ”East Jerusalem is an integral part of the occupied territories and that has been recognised by the UN and under international law.”
Also in December 2013, Mr Brandis appointed the IPA’s Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission causing the sacking of Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes as Tim came with no additional funding to a job that had not been advertised, and had no interview process. Tim spent a great deal of money flitting around the world waiting for Gillian Triggs to resign or Andrew Robb to retire.
Brandis bullied and harassed Ms Triggs, questioning her motives and credibility, and publicly stating that “the government no longer had confidence in her.” Despite a vicious onslaught, she steadfastly answered all questions asked of her with dignity and honesty, refusing to deny the truth of the report into children in detention. When public humiliation failed, Brandis resorted to bribery, offering Ms Triggs another job if she would resign.
Wilson was supposed to promote the Brandis’ push to amend the RDA, in part to allow media commentators such as Andrew Bolt greater freedom of expression, and to legally ensure that “people do have a right to be bigots“. Brandis labelled Bolt’s comments on mixed descent aboriginals, found by the Federal Court to be racial vilification, as ‘quite reasonable.’ Ultimately, community backlash saw this proposal dropped, at least temporarily.
One area where Tim and George disagreed was metadata retention, not that George seemed to have any idea what metadata is – he just knew that keeping it would save us from terrorist attack even though there is no data to support that. New counter-terrorism laws mean the average Australian will not be able to learn what the government is doing in terms of intelligence operations because revealing those details could result in long prison terms. Dual citizens who act in a manner “contrary to their allegiance to Australia” will now be stripped of their citizenship. These measures earned us a stinging rebuke in a damning Human Rights Watch report.
In the 2014 budget from hell, where arts institutions suffered more than $87 million of cuts over the next four years, Mr Brandis, as Minister for the Arts, gifted $1 million to the Australian Ballet School to help them buy a mansion for a few rich kids to board in. Daniele Kemp, wife of the chairman of the IPA and former Liberal arts minister Rod Kemp, is on the board.
The Minister also gave Melbourne classical music record label Melba Recordings a $275,000 grant. It was not part of any official funding round and the grant was not peer-assessed, but Melba, whose patrons and supporters include a cavalcade of highly-connected individuals including a former Howard government cabinet minister, did lobby Brandis about funding. The funding was decided in April 2014, but the Melba grant was not publicly announced in any media release or listed in the May 2014 budget papers.
Brandis also gave $1.15m in non peer-reviewed funding to the Australian World Orchestra, a company closely associated with his policy advisor Michael Napthali. Napthali was a director of the orchestra immediately before taking up his role in Brandis’s office.
In 2014, a boycott of the Sydney Biennale festival by artists protesting against a sponsor, the Transfield Foundation, caused a furious Brandis to write to the Australia Council’s board, instructing it to develop a policy to deny public funding to anyone involved in a sponsor boycott.
In the next budget $105 million was cut from the Australia Council for the Arts with the money reallocated to a new national program for excellence in the arts over which the minister himself had final say. He did not consult anyone about this decision. When representatives of the small-to-medium sector travelled to Canberra to express concern about the changes, Brandis declined to meet with them. He met with lobbyists from the major performing arts sector instead.
Malcolm Turnbull was quick to sack George as Arts Minister and give back what had become known as George’s “slush fund”.
In August last year, Brandis announced plans to change the national environmental legislation to stop green groups seeking judicial review of environmental approvals.
Brandis argues that this significant change in the scope of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is necessary to protect Australian jobs from “radical activists” who bring “vigilante litigation” against the government.
And now we have the ongoing saga of George Brandis refusing to release his diary, despite a court order suggesting he do so. He will be appealing the decision which is somewhat ironic because one of his prime reasons for not releasing the diary was that it would take his staff too much time to read through and see what should be redacted. How much time does a federal court appeal take? And what does he have to hide?
A new report from the Human Rights Law Centre says Australia is facing a “corrosive” decline in democracy as sweeping laws seek to stifle press freedom, curb community advocacy and sideline courts.
Attacks on whistleblowers and press freedom, curbing peaceful protest, sidelining courts and limiting advocacy by community organisations all point to a decline in basic rights that must be arrested, said the executive director, Hugh de Kretser. It also takes aim at the government’s use of “financial levers” on advocacy groups to stifle criticism.
“Open government, a free press, a strong and diverse civil society and the rule of law are some of the vital foundations of our democracy,” he said. “Yet we are witnessing an unmistakeable trend in Australia of governments eroding these foundations with new laws and practices that entrench secrecy and stifle criticism and accountability.”
George Brandis was the number one candidate on the 2010 LNP Senate ticket. If anything proves the necessity of voting under the line at the next election, that should.
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