A contentious move by Attorney-General George Brandis to restrict access to legal advice from the solicitor-general is continuing to raise controversy and questions about its legal validity. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus tells Michelle Grattan that he sees this as “the most extraordinary power grab by the Attorney-General in the history of the office”.
“We already know that he’s held up requests. Why? I can’t say, but the deputy secretary of the department giving evidence to the Senate committee last week said that one of the requests had taken ten days.
"Now very often it’s urgent that you get legal advice. It’s never before been the position that secretaries of commonwealth departments, other ministers, the prime minister, the governor-general have been told that the written consent of the attorney-general is necessary before they get the advice of the solicitor-general,” he says.
The solicitor-general has to be the primary source of advice on the most important matters of the government, Dreyfus says.
“I’m not for a moment suggesting that in a complex, large government with 168,000 Australian public servants that every single legal question that the government comes into contact with has to go to the solicitor-general.
"Clearly that at a practical level couldn’t be the case but matters like the plebiscite bill, which the parliament is now dealing with, or the prorogation of parliament that occurred earlier this year or the citizenship bill – they are matters that the government should go to the solicitor-general [with] first.”
On the question of whether Labor should stick with its planned policy of enforcing a binding vote on marriage equality after the next election, Dreyfus says he thinks it is a “human rights matter”.
“That’s my own view and I argued in favour and voted in favour of the binding vote and that would remain my position … and let’s see if it’s the position that would give difficulty because by the time of the next Labor conference, this matter may well have been dealt with in the parliament.”
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