Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (15:08): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to the Solicitor-General.

I am sure the government senators are really surprised at that statement. I would like to thank the Attorney for the answers he did give us today, because I learnt much from those answers. I was very pleased to find out that there is actually a book that talks about the role of the Solicitor-General, and that will be on my reading list automatically, I think. There was also a reference to collected speeches from Mark Dreyfus, which are already on my reading list in terms of the process. I do take a lot of interest in the various speeches made by Mark Dreyfus and, indeed, prefaces to books-

Senator Brandis: Madam Deputy President, a point of order. I have the greatest respect for Senator Moore's respect for the Senate, but she does appear to be mocking Mr Dreyfus now, and I wonder whether that constitutes a reflection.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It does not.

Senator MOORE: I reject that point of order, and I will continue with my deep respect for at least one person involved in this debate, which is the shadow Attorney-General. I was also particularly interested in having some information about the independence of barristers. I had not actually had that information before, so I thank the Attorney for that.

I think most of the issue relates to the statement constantly repeated by the Attorney that there can be differences of opinion amongst people with legal qualifications. No-one doubts that. In fact, you only have to be in this place for a short time to see that there will be, can be and often are differences of opinion between people with legal qualifications, but that was not the point of the questions. In terms of the process, the opposition was exploring issues around the legislation, which has been brought before us, that looks at the role of the Solicitor-General, and also the opinions that have been brought forward by a person who previously held that position. Whilst we know that there will be further debate on this process, particularly tomorrow in the legal and constitutional committee inquiry into this legislation, I think it is important to note that the issues we were raising are not so much about a difference of opinion but actually about the process leading up to the introduction of this legislation.

We do not doubt that the Attorney, the leader of the government in this place, has every right to have differences of opinion on information that comes forward. What we do say and what we question-and there was a specific question about the relationship between the Attorney and the Solicitor-General-is that there must be some understanding of the deep respect for that role. This is the point that has been brought forward. In terms of the Attorney's relationship with the Solicitor-General, there must be not only a private understanding of a strong legal respect but also a public understanding that these two senior legal officers in our system have respect for each other and the views they put forward. Never, never was there any intent to say that they had to have the same opinion.

Certainly through the answers to this place over the previous few days a key issue around consultation has arisen. When the Attorney was bringing forward the legislation into the Senate on the way that opinions by the Solicitor-General may be taken by members of the government and the very important aspect of that role, the issue was whether the current Solicitor-General had been given the respect of appropriate consultation on that decision. Answers were made and there will be a process taking place tomorrow. For me, one of the core aspects has been the ongoing public discussion around how the Attorney and the Solicitor-General interact. That was the core issue in terms of what the opposition has been asking over the last few days. And today's answers by the Attorney actually bring me no closer to any understanding of what this relationship is. It is not about having different opinions; it is about having an effective working relationship based on respect. So, in terms of the questions we asked today, we brought forward the opinion of a previous Solicitor-General on what the impact of this legislation would be. I know that the Attorney-not to a question on this particular issue-did refer to some language as being 'flamboyant'. I think the statements that were made by the previous Solicitor-General did tend to be flamboyant as well, but he clearly made the point that should the changes be made the role, the focus, the integrity and the status of the Solicitor-General could be impeded. In fact, in his opinion it would be impeded. It is important in this place that we understand what the exact relationship is- (Time expired)