George Brandis has lost the confidence of Malcolm Turnbull, according to government sources who say the control-hungry, gaffe-prone Attorney-General has caused one too many headaches for the Prime Minister.
While officially still standing by Senator Brandis, Mr Turnbull made no comment about him on Wednesday.
When asked about it by The New Daily, the PM’s office dismissed suggestions that action was about to be taken.
The PMO also expressed “no position” on the “old rumour” that Senator Brandis was in line for a diplomatic posting.
But one government minister said “Malcolm Turnbull is sick and tired of him”, while another put it more bluntly, saying “Turnbull has lost confidence in Brandis”.
Senator Brandis has proved to be the single biggest consistent headache for Mr Turnbull and indeed for his prime ministerial predecessor Tony Abbott.
Since being appointed Attorney-General in 2013, Senator Brandis has steered a controversial course as the nation’s first legal officer, demonstrating repeatedly his poor regard for impartial advice and sound counsel.
It culminated this week with the resignation of Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson citing an “irretrievably broken” relationship with the A-G.
This latest saga involves allegations Senator Brandis misled Parliament over a Legal Services Direction order giving him veto over all ministerial requests – even those from the Prime Minister – for legal advice from the Solicitor-General.
Mr Gleeson, widely regarded as a highly competent and ethical legal officer, contradicted the Attorney-General and said he was not consulted.
He appears to have been personally targeted by Senator Brandis, casting a pall over the Turnbull government as it continues to plummet in the polls.
But the Gleeson affair is just the latest in a long list of embarrassing missteps by the Attorney-General.
He has personally attacked the credibility of the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs.
The Senate subsequently censured him over allegations he had tried to induce her to resign.
Senator Brandis has strenuously supported the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, famously insisting that everybody has a right to be a bigot.
He approved an ASIO raid on the Canberra offices of an East Timor legal representative, sparking an international diplomatic incident.
And he blundered his way through a data retention push, showing little comprehension of metadata and legislation to force telcos to keep logs of their customers’ phone and online activities for police access.
He sent taxpayers a $15,000 bill for a bookcase in his parliamentary office (it replaced a publicly-funded $7000 bookcase housing $13,000 worth of books), claiming that because he was also Arts Minister at the time that meant he was also “minister for books”.
The list goes on.
The opposition is publicly seizing on the latest controversy and being relentless in their pursuit of Senator Brandis.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Senator Brandis was in search of more power for himself.
“Let us be clear, we are talking about an Attorney-General who has destroyed the integrity of the office of Solicitor-General because of a personal vendetta,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“This is one of the worst abuses of power ever committed by an Attorney-General. You do not make new laws to muzzle a critic. We do not live in a police state.
“This must be the final straw for Prime Minister Turnbull. He can no longer protect George Brandis. He must be sacked.”
Australian National University political lecturer Andrew Hughes agrees.
“I think George Brandis is out of time and he’s got to go,” Dr Hughes said.
“This is not the first issue where he has caused a monumental problem for the government.
“Malcolm Turnbull is in trouble and this is one thing he can do to help him publicly. It might not help him internally in the party, but he has got to claim Brandis and say enough is enough.”
A growing number of Coalition backbenchers agree.
One told The New Daily: “If George Brandis’s consulting with the Solicitor-General is anything like his consulting with the backbench, then I believe the Solicitor-General.”
Senator Brandis’ office could not be contacted for comment.