As if we needed more evidence of Attorney-General George Brandis’ blunders, he bloviated his way into a trap of his own making in his appearance before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s hearing on the Solicitor-General direction on Friday, in an amusing exchange with Greens Senator Nick McKim, who wasn’t even in the room but phoning in from Tasmania. Brandis insisted on ostentatiously correcting McKim on what he thought was an error — and only succeeded in shooting himself in the foot. Here’s the exchange:
Senator McKIM: Good afternoon, Attorney. Can I just check that you can hear me clearly?
Senator Brandis: I can.
Senator McKIM: Earlier in your evidence to the committee this afternoon you said words to the effect that your consultation at the meeting which occurred on 30 November last year was about substance not form.
Senator Brandis: Largely.
Senator McKIM: ‘Largely’ about substance and not form.
Senator Brandis: Because I think this comes from the statement that I read which is actually writing let me turn up what I said so that we will not be relying on your paraphrase of my evidence. Let us look at the precise words because this is all an argument about what precise words precisely mean. I am looking for it now, if you will just bear with me, Senator McKim.
Senator McKIM: Certainly.
Senator Brandis: Here we are. Paragraph 9:
The consultation that occurred at the meeting of 30 November 2015 was about substance not form. The notes of my staff confirm that I raised the issue of the legal services directions. Naturally the main focus was on a questions of substance: What processes should be in place to govern — amongst other things, the referral of questions of law to the Solicitor-General not primarily the question of form. How should those processes be enshrined in a legal instrument?
Senator McKIM: Thank you, attorney. So, the word largely was obviously not in the statement that was just read out. But nevertheless —
Senator Brandis: The word primarily was. I think primarily and largely are synonymous synonymous are they not?
Senator McKIM: In fact, the sentence with which you just started did not contain the words largely for primarily.
McKim left the matter there and moved on. It was the equivalent of a mic drop, entirely handed to him by an Attorney-General who can’t even be a pompous twit without messing it up.