Attorney-General Take Note of Answers

I too rise to take note of the answers from the Attorney-General to the questions put to him regarding the Solicitor-General. I would like to pick up on a point that Senator Sterle has just made. I have a great deal of respect for Senator Sterle. I appreciate the fact that he has researched the history. The fact is that, yes, the office of the Solicitor-General was created in 1916 for the very purpose of assisting the Attorney-General in the performance of his duties, including his role as the principal legal adviser to government. What that means, if he is the principal legal adviser to government, is that he is the person who the government goes to for legal advice.

If you go to the Law Officers Act 1964—which is the law which sets out the Solicitor-General’s role and functions—section 12 sets out the statutory functions of the Solicitor-General. Paragraph 12(b) provides that one of the Solicitor-General’s functions is ‘to furnish his or her opinion to the Attorney-General on questions of law referred to him or her by the Attorney-General’. Except where the Solicitor-General is acting as a counsel under paragraph 12(a) of the act—which is actually irrelevant to the legal services direction which is at question here—the Law Officers Act explicitly provides only one circumstance in which the Solicitor-General may provide an opinion to the government on a question of law, and that is where the Attorney-General refers that question to him. So if we want to go to the basis of this whole discussion, which is around what has transpired and what the Attorney-General has done: he has actually issued a direction and a guidance note which reinforce a law which has been in existence since 1964.

That brings me to the point raised by my colleague Senator Duniam, which is: why are the Labor Party spending every question time prosecuting this point? I support the contention of Senator Duniam that one motivation is that they are looking for political headlines, possibly even a political scalp. It is like a pack of wolves surrounding what they hope is going to be a wounded person on the government side. That has not occurred.

There is a second reason why they would be seeking to dominate the media headlines with this kind of inside-the-Beltway argument, and that is to distract the media and the Australian public from the things that this government is doing. We have just heard today, in answers in question time from the Minister for Finance and others, that business confidence is up, exports are up by 9.6 per cent, over 180,000 new jobs have been created in the past 12 months and the rate of jobs growth under this Turnbull government is twice that of the last year of the Labor government. When I get out and speak to people in the community—and, having just been through an election, like most other senators in this place I have spent a lot of time engaging with the community, as I do on a regular basis—they are not concerned about the inside-the-Beltway issues. They are concerned about things like job security. They are concerned about future opportunities for their children.

So one of the reasons, politically, that the Labor Party do not want the media, and therefore the public, to be focusing on the achievements of the government is that they want to try and undermine the public’s faith and confidence in the Turnbull government. They do not want us to be talking about the fact that we have managed to actually start the job of budget repair by getting legislation through this place, which was supposed to be an unworkable Senate. We have agreed $6.3 billion worth of savings measures to start that progress towards budget repair. They do not want us talking about the fact that, after six years of inaction by the Labor Party on things like making decisions about Australia’s future submarine and commissioning new vessels for Australia—which has directly lead to the ‘valley of death’ in my home state of South Australia, where we are seeing workers laid off from ASC because of the lack of orders from the Labor government—we have now signed contracts with DCNS for the future submarine and we have signed contracts with Lockheed Martin to be the combat system integrator. They do not want us talking about the fact that we are taking steps to implement things like the RAND review and make strategic naval shipbuilding a long-term, sustainable option for growing skills and high-end manufacturing jobs in Australia. These are the sorts of things that this government is focused on, because these are the sorts of things that are important to our national security and to mums and dads and families and young people looking for a future. This inside-the-Beltway stuff is a waste of the Australian public’s time.