October 13, 2016










Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (15:29): What we have seen today is really a continuation of what we have seen from Senator Brandis since the dispute with the Solicitor-General first started, and that is a consistent effort to be tricky with his answers. I think we need to look at where this is all heading for the Attorney-General. In my view, it is a descent by the Attorney-General into a real Donald Trump view of the world. What goes on in the locker room—I am not talking about the locker room here; that is another matter for Trump. I do not know what happens in the Attorney-General's locker room. What I am referring to here is an effort from Trump, like what we are seeing from the Attorney-General, to suggest facts do not matter. They are creating their own world views of how they operate and how they answer their questions.

Let's go through the pattern of what we saw today and what we have seen since this first became an issue. Since the Solicitor-General's statements last week, the Attorney-General and other government members have simply doubled down on their misleading statements, which are clearly at odds with the acknowledged course of events. Senator Brandis is continuing to deny the sky is blue and is setting a very bad example both as Attorney-General and as Leader of the Government in the Senate. The answers the Attorney-General gave today—indeed, all this week—leave a lot to be desired.

Misleading parliament is not the only worrisome part of this whole sordid affair. There is the continued procedural bungling by the Attorney-General who is clearly not across his brief. Let's look at the history of some of those issues. First there were the proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, where the Attorney-General infamously said, 'You have a right to be a bigot.' The Attorney-General did a real good job there of building community opposition to that one. Let's not forget the poorly-treated President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, and the inability of the Attorney-General to maintain that relationship. You can see a real pattern of events occurring here. Then there was the claim to have consulted with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr Mick Gooda, before establishing the Don Dale royal commission, when no such consultation occurred. Now there are the false claims to have consulted the Solicitor-General on the proposed changes that would effectively reduce the quality of the advice that the government receives.

Yesterday, we saw this bungling spread to the other side of the parliament as well. Yesterday, for the first time in the history of Federation, an opposition second reading amendment was carried in the House. This was not the government's plan; the government simply forgot which way they were supposed to be voting. This is what I am saying: this is the pattern of what we are seeing from the government. The Attorney-General is supposed to be a leader, and this is what is happening under his watch. This means the House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution about how bad the government is on multinational tax avoidance.

While we are talking about the Attorney-General's slippery story, let's not forget the desperate power grab at the core of this. Do not take my word for it; what does the former Solicitor-General Dr Gavan Griffith, who was in the role for 14 years, have to say about the proposed changes? He says 'the result will be the demeaning of the office to the equivalent of attracting monkeys.' This is from the former Solicitor-General Gavan Griffith, who was in the role for 14 years. He went on to say:

A government of integrity should not shirk from obtaining disinterested peak advice of integrity from its SG. It should not shop around, or even refrain from obtaining the second law officer’s advice on matters where is suspects the advice may be contra the government’s preferences.

At a time when this bumbling government cannot even run a parliament properly, it should be taking all the independent advice it can get.

I come back to my important point about the Trump world view and how this fits into it for the Attorney-General. What we have seen is the unravelling of this strategy from Donald Trump in America, where he has been trying to operate in a post facts world. That is clearly starting to do him damage. I think what we have seen from the Attorney-General over the last couple of weeks as he has had to answer questions on this is a similar thing occurring. My advice to the Attorney-General is that he needs to start being honest in this parliament and answer the questions properly. The trickiness must stop. It is important for the Attorney-General to front up and answer the questions.

Question agreed to.