Page 131 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004

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incidents where an Attorney-General has done anything like this Attorney-General has done—intervened in this process.

We come now to the role of the Attorney-General. A former Attorney-General of South Australia, King—Queen’s Counsel—stated at a judicial conference in November 1999:

It is the essentially political character of the office and portfolio of Attorney-General as it is developed in the country, which, paradoxically, makes it necessary to restate and re-emphasise the characteristics of the office which give rise to a distinction in kind between the role within government of the Attorney-General and the roles of other ministers. The distinction essentially is that the Attorney-General as law minister has, beyond the political responsibilities of a ministerial portfolio of the same nature as the responsibility of other ministers, a special responsibility for the rule of law, and the integrity of the legal system which transcends, and may at times be in conflict with, political exigencies. The Attorney-General has a unique role in Government of being the political guardian of the administration of justice. It is the special role of the Attorney-General to be the voice within government and to the public, which articulates, and insists upon observance of the enduring principles of legal justice, and upon respect for the judicial and other legal institutions through which they are applied.

Mr Stanhope: Precisely; that is exactly what I did, Bill.

MR STEFANIAK: You do not understand it, Attorney-General. Secondly, a member of the Attorney’s own party in New South Wales, Mr Bob Debus, said very succinctly at the bar dinner in 2001:

The Attorney-General is able to play a significant role in maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the justice system and in protecting the rule of law. In defending the judiciary, the Attorney-General is not defending the decisions or the reasoning of the judiciary but the institution, its integrity and hence the rule of law.

Mr Stanhope: Hear, hear! I agree absolutely.

MR STEFANIAK: It is a pity you cannot act it out! Thirdly, Sir Anthony Mason, former Chief Justice, in the Commonwealth Judicial Journal of 1997, stated:

It is nevertheless the responsibility of the First Law Officer, a responsibility of the first importance, to uphold the rule of law. It is a responsibility that should not be subordinated to party political considerations when the integrity of judicial institutions is under challenge.

Mr Stanhope: Hear, hear!

MR STEFANIAK: It is good to say, “Hear, hear,” Attorney, because it is quite clearly something you do not do yourself. Here we have this attorney making not too bad a comment—it is a pity he cannot follow it—in relation to a debate here, funnily enough in relation to incidents around a coroner’s inquiry, in a no confidence motion on the then Attorney-General, Mr Humphries. He stated:

We come to the nub of the matter here, Mr Speaker … the Attorney must be seen to be acting at arm’s length and in a completely and totally disinterested manner. We

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