Gen. Brandis dismisses reports of diplomatic posting to resolve Solicitor-General dispute

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Labor Senator Penny Wong today used a Senate estimates hearing to ask Senator Brandis whether the Prime Minister had discussed a potential posting with any member of Cabinet.

“Not that I am aware, Senator Wong and as you know, conversations between ministers on such matters are never an appropriate matter for public conversation,” Senator Brandis said.

Senator Wong asked the Attorney-General whether he was aware of reports that Australia’s High Commissioner in London, Alexander Downer, could be asked to step aside.

Senator Brandis said he did not know whether the matter had been discussed.

On Friday, Senator Brandis and Mr Gleeson appeared before an inquiry to discuss concerns the Attorney-General was trying to restrict access to the Solicitor-General’s legal advice.

The Solicitor-General acts as counsel for the Commonwealth in any legal disputes and also provides legal opinions and advice to the Government and the public service.

Senator Brandis issued a direction in May this year forcing all requests for Mr Gleeson’s expertise come through his office first — a matter Mr Gleeson said he was not consulted on other than the idea being raised in one meeting in November.

The dispute, which Senator Brandis has blamed on differing definitions of “consultation”, also featured in Question Time today.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus called on the Prime Minister to explain whether the Government had misrepresented advice from Mr Gleeson on national security matters.

Malcolm Turnbull dismissed the question and encouraged Mr Dreyfus to raise his concerns in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, rather than airing them in public.

“I just say to the Leader of the Opposition: We can well understand these great men of the Bar don’t see eye to eye but they should put our safety first,” Mr Turnbull said.

“I would suggest he holds his nose and does the unspeakable thing of talking to the Attorney-General.”

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