George Brandis

Not to be confused with George Brandes.
Senator The Honourable
George Brandis
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Assumed office
20 September 2015
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Preceded by Eric Abetz
Attorney-General of Australia
Assumed office
18 September 2013
Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull
Preceded by Mark Dreyfus
Vice President of the Executive Council
Assumed office
18 September 2013
Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull
Preceded by Tony Burke
Minister for the Arts
In office
18 September 2013  21 September 2015
Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull
Preceded by Tony Burke
Succeeded by Mitch Fifield
Minister for the Arts and Sport
In office
30 January 2007  3 December 2007
Prime Minister John Howard
Preceded by Rod Kemp
Succeeded by Kate Ellis Minister for Sport
Peter Garrett Minister for the Arts
Senator for Queensland
Assumed office
16 May 2000
Preceded by Warwick Parer
Personal details
Born (1957-06-22) 22 June 1957
Sydney, Australia
Political party Liberal Party
Other political
Liberal National Party
Children 2
Alma mater University of Queensland
Magdalen College, Oxford

George Henry Brandis QC (born 22 June 1957) is the 36th Attorney-General for Australia and has been a Liberal member of the Australian Senate representing Queensland since May 2000. Brandis served as Attorney-General in the Abbott Government from 2013 to 2015, then the Turnbull Government thereafter.[1] He is also Leader of the Government in the Senate and has been the Vice-President of the Executive Council during that period. He also held the post of Minister for the Arts and Sport from 23 January 2007 until the Howard Government lost the 2007 election.

Education and early career

Brandis was born in Sydney to and was brought up in the Inner-West suburb of Petersham.[2] He attended Christian Brothers' High School, Lewisham before moving to Brisbane[3] and attending Villanova College and the University of Queensland, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with First-Class Honours in 1978 and a Bachelor of Laws with First-Class Honours in 1980.[3]

Following graduation, Brandis served as Associate to Justice Charles Sheahan of the Queensland Supreme Court.[4] He was then elected a Commonwealth Scholar[5] and obtained a Bachelor of Civil Law from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1983.[6]

After a brief period as a solicitor in Brisbane, Brandis was called to the Queensland Bar in 1985 and quickly developed a large commercial practice with a particular emphasis on trade practices law. He appeared as junior counsel in the High Court of Australia in the equity case Warman v Dwyer.[7] He was also the junior barrister for the plaintiff in the long running Multigroup Distribution Services v TNT Australia litigation[8] in the Federal Court of Australia.

Although Brandis applied for Senior Counsel status in 2006 and was refused as a result of inadequate practical experience,[9] Brandis was appointed a Senior Counsel of the Supreme Court of Queensland in November 2006. In June 2013, the original title of Queen's Counsel was restored by the Queensland Government and Brandis was one of 70 (out of 74) Queensland SCs that chose to become QCs.[10]

Brandis has co-edited two books on liberalism and published academic articles on various legal topics, one of which was cited by the High Court of Australia in the landmark defamation case ABC v O'Neill.[11]

While at the Bar, Brandis was a board member of UNICEF Australia for 10 years. He has also been an Associate of the Australian Institute for Ethics and the Professions, and lectured in jurisprudence at the University of Queensland from 1984 to 1991.[12]

Parliamentary career

Brandis was first chosen by the Parliament of Queensland to fill a casual vacancy following the resignation of Senator Warwick Parer. He was elected to a further six-year term at the 2004 election.

In his period as a senator, he has served as Chairman of the Economics Committee and as Chairman of the Senate's Children Overboard Inquiry. In the wake of this inquiry, Brandis gained widespread attention when it was reported that he called Prime Minister John Howard "a lying rodent",[13] a report he denied.[14]

Brandis has also made a number of public speeches, perhaps the most controversial of which was in 2003 when he described the Australian Greens as eco-fascist.[15]

Brandis also attacked the Greens in the Australian Senate where he stated "I intend to continue to call to the attention of the Australian people the extremely alarming, frightening similarities between the methods employed by contemporary green politics and the methods and the values of the Nazis".[16] Prime Minister John Howard later distanced himself from Brandis's claim that the Greens use Nazi-style fanaticism in Australian politics.[17]

On 23 October 2006, Brandis made headlines when he wanted Good Shepherd Catholic College in Mount Isa to ban from its school library the book "100 Greatest Tyrants" by British author Andrew Langley, which places Sir Robert Menzies, the longest serving Australian Prime Minister, in such company as Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet.[18] The book claims that Menzies was a tyrant (an abuser of political power) and that Menzies' most tyrannical act was when he wanted to ban the Communist Party of Australia. The school principal Mr Durie said "Obviously it's twaddle to suggest Menzies was a tyrant in the same class as Attila the Hun and that crowd", but refused to withdraw the book as it would be a resource for the generation of debate.[19]

Brandis claimed over $1000 in taxpayer expenses to attend the inaugural Sir Garfield Barwick address in Sydney on 28 June 2010. The event was billed as a Liberal party fund-raiser.[20]

Ministerial career

Howard administration

On 23 January 2007, Brandis was appointed Minister for the Arts and Sport, replacing Senator Rod Kemp. He lost his ministerial position on the defeat of the Howard government in the 2007 election.

Shadow ministry

On 6 December 2007 the new Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, Brendan Nelson, appointed Brandis Shadow Attorney-General, a position he continued to hold under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.

On 2 June 2008 Brandis, in his capacity as Shadow Attorney-General, referred the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – Superannuation) Bill 2008 to a Senate committee for review. The aim of the bill was to remove legislative provisions that discriminated against gay and lesbian citizens, in this case relating to superannuation.[21][22] Brandis stated that the Opposition believed discrimination of this type should be removed and supported the Labor government's bill against the more conservative elements of his own party.[23] However, he insisted on a review of the proposed legislation prior to enactment. The bill was passed into law with bipartisan support on 9 December 2008.[24]

Brandis consistently opposed proposals for a bill of rights.[25]

In January 2010, Brandis commented on a controversial debate between Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on the topic of advice given to children regarding abstinence. Brandis suggested that as Ms Gillard did not have children, she did not have the understanding to comment on the issue of pre-marital sex.[26]

Abbott Government

Following re-election in 2010 Brandis was appointed Shadow Attorney-General, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in the Abbott shadow ministry.[27]

In 2011 Brandis submitted specific accusations to NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione that sitting federal M.P. Craig Thomson committed larceny and fraud through misuse of a credit card in the Health Services Union expenses affair which in turn led to public concern about the separation of powers between legislature and the judiciary.[28]

Brandis faced public scrutiny when it was revealed that in 2011 he had billed the taxpayer for attending the wedding ceremony of Sydney radio shock-jock Michael Smith, who had colluded with Brandis to publicise the Craig Thomson media saga. [29] [30]

As Arts Minister, Brandis received significant criticism from the arts industry for a $105 million cut to the Australia Council for the Arts funding in the 2015-16 Australian Federal Budget.[31][32] The money was reallocated to a new program, The National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). The NPEA in turn has been criticised by many artists and arts organisations for lacking the "arms-length" funding principles that have applied to the relationship between the government and the Australia Council since its inception in the 1970s. These principles have traditionally had bipartisan support.[33][34][35] Brandis had been criticised previously for giving Melbourne classical music record label Melba Recordings a $275,000 grant outside of the usual funding and peer-assessment processes.[36] Brandis's changes to funding arrangements, including the quarantining of the amount received by Australia's 28 major performing arts companies, are widely seen to disadvantage the small-to-medium arts sector and independent artists.[34] Following Malcolm Turnbull's successful spill of the leadership of the Liberal party in September 2015, Brandis was replaced as arts minister by Mitch Fifield.[37]

Freedom of Speech and Section 18C

The Abbott Government took a proposal to amend the Racial Discrimination Act to the 2013 Federal Election. The Government argued that the Act unduly restricted free speech in Australia, by making "insult" and "offence" the test for breach of the law.[38] As Attorney-General, Brandis argued the case for amending the Keating Government's controversial Section 18C of the Act.[39] In March 2013, Brandis released draft amendments for community consultation, and announced that the proposed changes would "strengthen the Act's protections against racism, while at the same time removing provisions which unreasonably limit freedom of speech."[40] After community consultation, the Government was unable to secure support for changes to the Act from the Senate, and the Abbott Government shelved the proposal.[41] The draft amendments had met with criticism from the ALP, Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, and an alliance of racial minority representatives including Jewish lobby groups concerned with holocaust denials in the media.[42][43][44][45][46]

In early 2013 Brandis gained media publicity for his views on free speech and media regulation.[47][48][49][50][51] Brandis did not support the Labor government's proposed media reforms in 2013, and was outspoken in support of greater press freedom, particularly for Andrew Bolt who was found to have breached racial vilification laws in commenting on Indigenous Australians of mixed-race descent. Brandis believed Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) should be repealed in favour of greater freedom of expression.[52] [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] As Attorney-General in 2014, Brandis furthered his push to amend the RDA, in part to allow media commentators such as Andrew Bolt greater freedom of expression,[59] and to legally ensure that "people do have a right to be bigots".[60] Brandis labelled Bolt’s comments on mixed descent aboriginals, found by the Federal Court to be racial vilification, as ‘quite reasonable’,[61] although the federal court found Bolt violated the RDA and the plaintiffs were awarded an apology and legal costs. Professor Marcia Langton was a vocal public critic of Brandis's proposed repeal of the part of the RDA on which the Bolt case was based.[62][63]

East Timor spying case

Brandis supported and approved a December 2013 ASIO raid on Bernard Collaery’s Canberra office (a legal representative for East Timor), where all documents and computers were seized by the government, and which Brandis claimed was for national security interests.[64] Shortly after the raid, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Australian government was not permitted to use or view any of the raid evidence. Brandis claimed the ICJ ruling was a good outcome for the government.[65] The Timor Gap case involved allegations of ASIS spying during commercial negotiations with the East Timorese over the $40 billion oil and gas reserves of the contested Greater Sunrise fields within the East Timorese exclusive economic zone.[66]

Additionally Brandis approved the ASIO raid and passport cancellation of a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent, who was a director of technical operations at ASIS and the whistle-blower on the allegations of commercial spying done by Australia on East Timor, which consequently prevented the unnamed former agent from testifying at the ICJ in the Netherlands.[67][68]

Dealings with the Australian Human Rights Commission

In February 2015, Brandis made headlines when he questioned the independence and impartiality of the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, following the public release of a report by the Commission into children in detention which was critical of the Government. Brandis said he had lost confidence in Triggs and the Commission because in October 2014 she had given "inconsistent and evasive" evidence to Senate estimates when explaining the timing of her decision to hold the investigation into children in detention which resulted in the report.[69] Brandis said that the "political impartiality" of the Commission had been "fatally compromised" because the Commission had only investigated the issue after the Liberal-National Coalition were elected to power, even though there had been a large number of people in detention under the previous Labor government. This, Brandis claimed, was a "catastrophic error of judgement".[69]

Triggs defended her decision to commence the investigation in early 2014, saying that although the number of detainees had begun to fall while the Coalition were in Government, the length of time in detention had been rising.[70]

Further controversy arose when Triggs told a Senate Estimates hearing that Brandis' departmental secretary had on 3 February 2015 asked her to resign, just prior to the public release of the Commission's report. Triggs said that she was told that she would be offered "other work with the government" if she resigned.[71][72] Initially the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, denied that any offer of any other role was made to Triggs. However, Bishop conceded that an international role had been discussed with Triggs in early February, during a meeting in her office with the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, Chris Moraitis.[71]

Some government sources had suggested that Triggs had wanted to be "looked after" if she quit the Commission. However, Triggs said she "categorically denies any suggestion that the issue of a job offer and resignation came at [her] instigation". Triggs said at the Senate hearing that she considered the offer made to her a "disgraceful proposition".[71]

These events prompted Mark Dreyfus, Labor's Shadow Attorney-General, to refer the matter to the Australian Federal Police.[73] Dreyfus said that an offer by Brandis to an independent statutory officer of an inducement to resign, with the object of affecting the leadership of the Commission to avoid political damage, may constitute corrupt or unlawful conduct. The Australian Senate also took up the matter, passing a motion to censure Brandis on 2 March.[74]

Turnbull Government

In October 2016, allegations were made by Australia's Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson SC, suggesting that Brandis attempted to block the Solicitor-General from providing legal advice to members of the Australian Government without first seeking and receiving the permission of the Attorney-General.[75] Further allegations were made by Labor party ministers that Brandis had mislead to parliament on the issue, including those by the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, who challenged the independence of Brandis's office.

On 25 November 2016, The West Australian newspaper reported that the reason for Brandis issuing the direction was that Gleeson had provided advice on behalf of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) in a High Court case over the collapse of The Bell Group in 1991. The Western Australian government had passed legislation (Bell Group Company’s Finalisation of Matters and Distribution of Proceeds Act 2015), elevating the Insurance Commission of WA in the queue of Bell Group creditors ahead of the ATO. In April 2015, the WA state government received an assurance from then federal Treasurer Joe Hockey that the Commonwealth would not intervene, however the ATO sought advice from Gleeson as its counsel that federal taxation law overrode the state legislation. The paper alleged that Brandis had told Gleeson not to run the argument, however it was still contained in the ATO's submission to the High Court, which subsequently unanimously rejected the WA government's case and struck down the Bell Act.[76]


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  14. Yaxley, Louise (31 August 2004). "Brandis denies 'lying rodent' slur". PM. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
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  38. Promise check: Repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act;; 8 May 2016
  39. Promise check: Repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act;; 8 May 2016
  40. Promise check: Repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act;; 8 May 2016
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Political offices
Preceded by
Rod Kemp
Minister for the Arts and Sport
Succeeded by
Peter Garrett
as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
Succeeded by
Kate Ellis
as Minister for Youth and Sport
Preceded by
Mark Dreyfus
Attorney General of Australia
Preceded by
Tony Burke
Vice President of the Executive Council
Minister for the Arts
Succeeded by
Mitch Fifield
Party political offices
Preceded by
Eric Abetz
Leader of the Liberal Party in the Senate
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