Labor Is Calling For George Brandis To Resign Over Accusations He Lied To Parliament

A politician and a lawyer caught out lying?! Well I never!

Let’s be honest, no one really likes lawyers. Law students are even worse. All law students do is complain about how hard the course is and how many readings they have to do. So when the nation’s law student-in-chief, George Brandis, locks horns with the country’s highest independent legal authority, you can hear the collective groan.

But the current stoush between the Attorney-General and the solicitor-general is more important than it sounds, and could lead to Brandis’ downfall.

Who’s Who In The Zoo

Before we get into the fine details of the political battle currently underway, it’s worth explaining the difference between the Attorney-General and the solicitor-general. The Attorney-General is generally considered the chief law officer in Australia. They’re a politician, generally from a legal background, appointed by the Prime Minister. They also sit in cabinet. The current A-G is George Brandis.

The guy on the right in the dashing sweater is George Brandis.

The solicitor-general, on the other hand, isn’t a politician. They’re an independent legal officer who provides advice to the government and represents them in court. The current solicitor-general is a guy called Justin Gleeson. Okay, now we know who’s who we can get to what they’re fighting about.

The Showdown

In May Brandis used his authority as A-G to control who could seek advice from the solicitor-general. Under the new rules no minister, including the Prime Minister, could seek legal advice without going through Brandis. At the time the move was labelled a “power grab”. It was pretty controversial, but Brandis told the parliament that he had consulted the solicitor-general and there was nothing to worry about.

Here’s where it gets messy. Gleeson has now said publicly that he wasn’t consulted about the change, and if he had been consulted he would’ve opposed it. This is a problem for Brandis for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that the nation’s most senior independent legal officer is at odds with the A-G. Secondly, it seems to indicate that Brandis mislead the parliament. Misleading parliament is considered a pretty big deal, and it’s the reason why Labor is now calling for Brandis to resign.

This morning Brandis denied misleading parliament. In an interview with the ABC he stood by his claim that he raised the matter with the Gleeson in a meeting six months before changing the rules. Labor is now accusing Brandis of “lying about lying”.

Gleeson’s also unhappy about the fact he was, apparently, not consulted on big reforms to counter-terror laws, including the proposal to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals. So we’ve currently got the two most senior legal officials in the country at each other’s throats, basically accusing each other of lying while Labor is jumping around trying to make as much political capital out of it as possible.

Brandis is in a pretty sticky situation. The relationship between the Attorney-General and solicitor-general has clearly broken down, and it seems likely one of them is going to have to go. If it’s proved that he mislead parliament, as Labor’s alleging, he’s going to face enormous pressure to resign. That could have significant consequences not just on the finery of legal process, but on the marriage equality plebiscite as well. Brandis has the responsibility for negotiating with Labor and LGBTIQ groups to try and build support for the plebiscite.

So while a fight between two boring-ish lawyers sounds incredibly dry and irrelevant to your day to day life, the political consequences of this current fight could be pretty far-reaching.