A commemoration of the 100th anniversary since the passing of the Solicitor-General Act isn’t the kind of thing that usually gets Ms Tips’ heart racing. But the events of the past 24 hours certainly turned what you would assume would be a dry evening of legal worthies into the place to be in Sydney last night. Organisers report a flurry of last-minute reservations yesterday afternoon. The ABC even sent along a film crew. Which must have been an unexpected bonus for the University of New South Wales, which organised the event.
A gaggle of lawyers had the fourth most-trending Twitter topic in Australia last night
In his introduction, former solicitor-general Sir Anthony Mason described Attorney-General George Brandis’ interpretation of the role of the Solicitor-General as a “big stretch”. Another former SG, Bob Ellicott, said the relationship between the AG and SG needed to be based on trust: “Independence does not mean the independence to go about and advise anybody other than within the confines of section 12.18a.” Ellicott was SG to Lionel Murphy, and described plenty of tiffs with Whitlam’s high-profile AG. The point of his anadeoctes was that the solicitor-general didn’t have to resign if he didn’t get along with the attorney-general. David Bennett, another former SG, said he had dealt more with the Attorney-General’s Department rather than the AG himself — more “yes first assistant secretary” than “yes minister”. He was diplomatic on the current controversy — 50 years at the bar had taught him different people could recall conversations very differently, he said. Meanwhile, several former SGs recalled close relationships with the PM. Bennett said John Howard used to call him to congratulate him when the government won a court case, while Ellicott said he had had lunches at the Lodge.
Justin Gleeson was not at the event — he’d been invited several months ago and decided at the time it wouldn’t have been appropriate for the serving SG to attend. Maybe next anniversary …