Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson repeated that there was no consultation about the Attorney-General’s direction restricting access to Gleeson at a spiteful Senate committee hearing on Friday, and he revealed he was now ignoring it was unlawful.
Gleeson was appearing before the Senate, Legal & Constitutional Affairs References Committee, which is inquiring into whether Brandis’ direction, issued on the eve of the election being called, should be allowed. The direction prevents anyone from seeking advice from the Solicitor-General without Brandis’ approval.
Gleeson bluntly told the committee that the lack of consultation was “not a matter of semantics”, but that there was literally no mention of a direction when Gleeson met with Brandis and other officials in November 2015. Brandis has until recently insisted that the “consultation” he was required to have undertaken about the direction, and which he told the Senate he had undertaken, was carried out at that meeting. Brandis’ advisers notes show that the then-existing Legal Services Direction was mentioned as part of the framework applying to access to the Solicitor-General, but no changes to the direction were discussed.
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Last week, Brandis shifted his account, agreeing that the direction had not been discussed at the meeting because he was not at that time considering issuing such a direction.
Gleeson also revealed that he had sought an explanation from both the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department and the deputy secretary of that department after the direction was issued and Parliament was dissolved as to why he had not been consulted. He says they told him that they believed Brandis himself was going to perform that task.
Last week, Gleeson told the committee, he had decided to ignore the direction in response to an urgent request for advice from within the government, leaving him open to an injunction from Brandis. He had, he told the committee, “lain awake at night” since the direction was issued in May.
In often hostile exchanges, Coalition senators sought to discredit Gleeson over his revelation of information to the committee and an alleged breach of caretaker conventions, after Gleeson revealed he had had a phone call from Mark Dreyfus during the election campaign asking him whether Brandis had consulted him and whether he regarded the direction as lawful.
Brandis appeared before the committee Friday afternoon.