When Attorney-General George Brandis appointed the solicitor who has represented his son in a criminal case to serve on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, no one within the government batted an eye, Crikey can reveal.
Just before the election was called, Crikey reported that Brandis had made a flurry of appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, including several appointments with connections to the Liberal Party. In September, BuzzFeed reported that Theo Tavoularis, who was appointed to the AAT full time for five years on $370,000 per year, had donated to the Liberal Party and had represented Brandis’ son Simon in a 2014 court appearance over accusations of willful damage to property.
Brandis did not inform cabinet about the potential conflict of interest before Tavoularis’ appointment, and Crikey can reveal there is no evidence of the department or Brandis’ office raised concerns about the appointment in writing at any time before September.
In response to a freedom of information request regarding Tavoularis’ appointment and the potential conflict of interest, the department provided Crikey with just two emails relating to the public comment provided to media in September about the appointment following BuzzFeed‘s report.
This indicates that until it was raised by the media, neither the department nor Brandis had considered the potential conflict of interest of Brandis appointing his son’s criminal defence lawyer to a government job.
Brandis had refused to talk about Tavoularis representing his son, and has failed to answer questions in the Senate from Labor about the appointment. In an estimates hearing in October, he insisted he wasn’t familiar with the man:
“I do not know Mr Tavoularis very well. I know him well enough to know that he is a very well-respected solicitor in Brisbane. Anybody in the legal profession in Brisbane, if you said to them that he was not a perfectly suitable appointment to this position, would laugh in your face because he has an extremely good reputation. I would not call him a personal friend. I do not know his wife’s name. I have never been to his home. He has never been to my home. I have never dined—had lunch with him one on one. So I would not regard him as a personal friend. I would regard him as an acquaintance.”
There is speculation the scandal-plagued Brandis could be leaving the government in the next reshuffle, as he faces down a Senate inquiry into what directions he gave to the Solicitor-General to argue in the Bell Group High Court case.