Malcolm Turnbull is “more than infuriated” by George Brandis, according to a senior government minister who says the Prime Minister is “truly over” being embarrassed by his gaffe-prone Attorney-General.
The Cabinet minister’s remarks to The New Daily were in response to the latest revelations of yet another example of Senator Brandis’s authoritarian style that has led to one scandal after another for the government.
This time, allegations of corruption are being thrown at the Attorney-General over a secret deal he allegedly entered into with the WA Government to enable that State to regain $1billion from Alan Bond’s collapsed Bell Group ahead of other creditors.
The West Australian newspaper revealed on Friday that the incident was pivotal in the breakdown of relationships between the Attorney-General and then solicitor-general Justin Gleeson, because the solicitor-general ignored a directive from the A-G.
According to the report, Senator Brandis verbally instructed Mr Gleeson not to run a particular legal argument in the High Court when WA’s attempt to take control of the Bell Group’s money was being challenged.
But in his submissions to the High Court, Mr Gleeson – acting for the Australian Taxation Office which was owed nearly $300 million from Bell – ran precisely the argument Senator Brandis had tried to quash.
The case was heard in April and the High Court unanimously ruled in May that WA’s claim was invalid.
WA believed it had a wink and a nod from the Federal Government, but the solicitor-general was acting in the interests of the ATO.
Not only has this caused tensions between the federal and WA attorneys-general, it was also a reason Senator Brandis moved to legislate veto powers for himself over any other federal government department or minister seeking legal advice from the solicitor-general.
Senator Brandis was accused of misleading parliament for saying he had consulted with Mr Gleeson over the new directive.
A Cabinet minister previously told The New Daily Senator Brandis would be considered for a diplomatic posting in an effort to resolve the dispute.
The relationship completely broke down last month and Mr Gleeson resigned.
But Labor says the latest revelations could amount to corruption on the part of the Attorney-General.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten immediately tweeted: “If this is correct, the Attorney-General’s integrity is destroyed. Malcolm Turnbull must sack him.”
His shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus went further, saying if the allegations are correct then they demonstrate “corrupt conduct” by Senator Brandis.
“What this story says is that he conspired with the Western Australian government to act contrary to his duty to the Commonwealth, contrary to the constitution, contrary to the Commonwealth law,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“And Justin Gleeson has done exactly his duty to the Commonwealth to put in the submissions that he did on behalf of the tax commissioner.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor was “getting way ahead of themselves” because he had seen no legal advice in relation to that particular case.
But another government minister told The New Daily that the Prime Minister was wild at the A-G.
“It is an understatement to say the PM is not at all pleased with Brandis,” the minister said.
“He is more than infuriated and truly over having to act like he has confidence in him.”
Senator Brandis certainly has form. In addition to his attempts to strong arm Mr Gleeson, he has been a constant source of embarrassment and scandal for the government.
Another gaffe came earlier this week, when Senator Brandis was caught criticising the Liberal National Party in Queensland on camera, telling the head of the Victorian Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, the Queensland LNP was “very, very mediocre”.
Senator Brandis previously 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.
He has strenuously supported the repeal of Section 18C of Racial Vilification 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 of books), claiming that because he was also Arts Minister at the time that meant he was also “minister for books”.
As Arts Minister, which he no longer is, he ordered a large portion of the federal grants and funding to go through him instead of the Arts Council.
Speculation mounts that a diplomatic posting is being sought for the senator.