Take note of answers - Attorney-General


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:13): These debates always benefit when senators have some facts to talk about. For Senator Pratt's benefit, I just want as simply as I can to go through the facts of the matter. Before I do, I just alert anyone who might be listening to this broadcast that we think Mr Gleeson did the right thing, the commendable thing, and resigned his position when he realised that his course of action over a period of time had made his continuance in that position untenable. I regret that happening. The Labor Party introduced this inquiry in the singular hope of somehow attacking the Attorney-General; what of course transpired was that they ended up destroying the career of their appointee to this position, Mr Gleeson.

Senator Brandis: They shot their own man.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: They shot their own mate. For the record, this is what happened. Mr Gleeson was having difficulty with the number of briefs coming to him from all sources and it diverted him from concentrating on the very important issues that are sometimes sent to the Solicitor-General. These are my words and not anyone else's, I might say. Because of that, a meeting was arranged between the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and others to talk about this particular issue that Mr Gleeson had raised and how that could be best addressed. There was conversation then; there were subsequent conversations; there were email connections; and the guidance note was often referred to, including how it might be dealt with and how the whole situation could be done. Eventually, as the evidence shows—and this is not my interpretation; this is the evidence before the committee—the Attorney came to the view that a certain procedure should be adopted. That was included in the guidance note in very specific words—the exact same words that had been discussed with the Solicitor-General at that meeting in November and at other times, by electronic mail or otherwise. The exact same words were then put in a direction note to ensure that this whole process worked smoothly.

Although Mr Gleeson admitted he had been consulted on the guidance note, he said that he was never consulted on the direction. Well, the guidance note ended up with exactly the same words as in the direction, so I cannot quite understand that. Clearly the Attorney-General did consult, and, because of that, he has never misled the Senate. Suggestions to the contrary, and the headlines of the majority committee report, are simply untenable if you look at the evidence. The Attorney did consult. There is factual evidence of that. But, more importantly—and I want to emphasise this—any of you who have been ministers will know that ministers get an enormous amount of work through their doors, and most of the work comes with a brief from the department, the independent Public Service, and a recommendation to the minister. In this case the evidence clearly shows that the department did send the Attorney a brief and a recommendation in relation to this direction. You can read the words in our committee report, but they broadly speaking said this: 'Attorney, you have consulted sufficiently in accordance with the act, and we recommend that you endorse this direction.' So, all other things aside, the independent department were of the view that the appropriate consultation had been made, and they included that in their recommendation.

I conclude by again indicating my sadness that a Senate committee, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, with a Labor-Greens majority, has brought the whole Senate process into disrepute. Once upon a time, Senate committees' reports were treated with some respect and were quite persuasive in directing government actions. Nowadays, unfortunately, because this particular committee does nothing but political witch-hunts, it has become an embarrassment to the Senate committee process.

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