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Standoff between Brandis and solicitor-general threatens the rule of law

In shades of the very public row in 2014 between the former Newman Government and Queensland’s then Solicitor-General, Walter Sofronoff QC, Gabrielle Appleby writes in The Conversation (6.10.16) about public disagreement between the federal Attorney-General and Queesnland LNP Senator, George Brandis, and the Commonwealth’s Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson SC. The author contends that the growing legal feud, and allegations that Brandis may have misled the Parliament, are now placing the nation’s rule of law in jeopardy.

‘On Wednesday, a Senate committee took evidence in an inquiry investigating the issue of a direction from Attorney-General George Brandis to the solicitor-general, Justin Gleeson.

‘By the end of the day, the shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, was calling on Brandis to resign for misleading parliament and lying to the Australian people, or for the prime minister to sack him.

‘So what has Brandis done – or is alleged to have done – that has led to these calls?

‘… Gleeson and Brandis appear to be at a stalemate over the nature and scope of the consultations that took place. Regardless of where the truth lies, we now have an extraordinary position where the two law officers are in conflict. It demonstrates an unprecedented, very public breakdown in the relationship between the two officeholders.

‘To fulfil its potential for fostering the rule of law in government, the solicitor-general relies on others respecting and understanding their office. This respect and understanding ought to be exemplified and encouraged by the first law officer, the attorney-general.

‘The current situation demonstrates such a loss of openness, trust and respect between the attorney-general and the solicitor-general that there are serious doubts the solicitor-general can fulfil his fundamentally important function within government.

‘It is a situation with potentially serious repercussions for government under the rule of law.’

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