Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

The rule of law(yers)
Is Morrison the only one who hasn’t called his lawyer?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressing the media yesterday. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressing the media yesterday. Image via ABC News

The law, as they say, is a blunt instrument – a club, not a scalpel. This week, lawyers (and marketing directors) across the country and the political spectrum are attempting to wield that club to reach their desired outcome in the case of the nation’s top law officer, Christian Porter. The Morrison government continues to insist that an inquiry into the now-untrialable rape allegations against Porter would erode the “rule of law”, while legal experts are pushing back, denying that holding an independent investigation would violate the sacred rule (though not holding one might). Many lawyers, in fact, are calling for one themselves, noting that such processes take place in other workplaces all the time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today switched up his legal jargon from “rule of law” to “innocent under law”, as he continued to stand by the attorney-general. It came after former solicitor-general Justin Gleeson urged the PM to call his lawyer, suggesting he enlist the advice of the current solicitor-general, Stephen Donaghue, to assess whether an inquiry is required. Gleeson told the ABC that Morrison should have read the 31-page dossier on the allegations, and noted, as many others have, that there are precedents for an inquiry. (Porter’s accuser, it was revealed in the same story, visited parliament to watch the maiden speeches of two old friends just months before she approached NSW Police about making a formal complaint. She can be seen in the gallery, metres from Porter.)

Morrison – who said yesterday that he had not had any discussions with the solicitor-general on the dossier – today ruled out seeking Donaghue’s advice on the matter, as Gleeson had suggested. “He is entitled to his opinion on this, but that is not the advice I have been provided at any time during the course of managing this matter,” Morrison said.

Solicitor and Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen is also not happy with the legal advice being proffered around the country, declaring in her column that lawyers have abandoned the law in backing an inquiry – something she expected from journalists, but not lawyers, such as former president of the Law Council of Australia Pauline Wright, and barristers Jane Needham SC and Larissa Andelman, who think there should be one. As with many of those declaring that an inquiry would signify the end of the rule of law, Albrechtsen exaggerates, suggesting we might as well do away with judges, courts, holding trials, testing ­allegations and evidence too – all things Australia has somehow managed to hold onto through numerous non-judicial inquiries and royal commissions.

They’re not the only lawyers arguing here. Law firm MinterEllison is still bitterly divided (the situation is apparently “untenable”) over the fact that partner and high-profile defamation lawyer Peter Bartlett provided advice to Porter. Chief executive Annette Kimmitt said in an email to staff that the move “triggered hurt” for her – comments for which the woman has now, reportedly, lost her job. (In a separate email to staff responding to Kimmitt’s, Bartlett said that the PMO had called to thank him for his assistance, noting that Morrison and Porter “are the leaders of one of the firm’s largest clients”, with $93 million in government contracts.) AFR columnist Myriam Robin noted yesterday that Bartlett usually acts for defendants (often large media companies) in defamation cases, suggesting it was unlikely Porter was thinking of launching proceedings; more likely, he was trying to issue a warning. As journalist Samantha Maiden noted, Porter shouldn’t have been surprised that his defamation lawyer’s name was in the media ahead of his press conference – the government, after all, had briefed it out.

Lawyers have taken centrestage here, thanks to Morrison’s insistence that this is a matter of law and order, but the inquiry being called for wouldn’t be about the law, either criminal or civil. It would merely be used to answer one simple question: is the nation’s top law officer a fit and proper person to hold that role? Morrison, unlike many of the prime ministers who came before him, isn’t a lawyer. But you shouldn’t need to be one to be interested in the answer to that question.

“More recently we’ve observed coal is less required as more renewables enter this system … the system is changing before our eyes and, with every passing day, we take a step forward to this clean future.”

EnergyAustralia executive Liz Westcott announces that the Yallourn coal-fired power station will close in mid 2028, four years ahead of schedule, with the company to build a massive, utility-scale battery before then.

“While the Commonwealth government understands this is a commercial decision, the exit of 1480 MW of reliable energy generation brings with it reliability and affordability concerns.”

The Morrison government is unhappy with the Yallourn decision, with Energy Minister Angus Taylor raising fears over a hit to prices and reliability.

Why is Australia’s vaccine rollout taking so long?
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout is already behind schedule, but while the headlines have focused on issues with supply and delivery, there are much deeper problems. Mike Seccombe on the challenges to the federal government’s vaccination plan, and what’s at stake if we don’t get it right.

The amount it could cost in the next decade to upgrade infrastructure to manage the clean energy transition, according to Commonwealth Bank executive Andrew Hinchliff.


“Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has smacked down growing market expectations of an increase in official interest rates, saying the bank is unlikely to lift them until at least 2024 on the back of much stronger wages growth and low unemployment.”

The RBA governor says interest rates will stay low until wages grow.

The list

“Katta O’Donnell has been thinking about government bonds a lot recently, which is unusual because she’s 23 years old and because government bonds are boring. But O’Donnell thinks Australian government bonds might have a provocative undercoat of riskiness when you peel back the paper. ‘They’re one of the largest financial tools around and it’s really important that people understand them. Most Australians will be investing in government bonds through their superannuation fund,’ O’Donnell says. ‘It’s really important that people are aware that government bonds are at risk from climate change.’” 

“Federally, dingoes are a protected native animal. But state legislation trumps federal laws. In New South Wales, wild dogs are a declared pest in 10 out of 11 local land service areas. Everywhere bar Sydney, landowners – government included – are obliged to bait and trap wild dogs, even in national parks, so they don’t kill livestock on neighbouring properties. This includes dingoes. Marsh says that whenever the public catches wind of a koala or kangaroo cull, there’s an outcry. But killing dingoes flies under the radar because the authorities hide it within their catch-all terminology. ‘The general public unfortunately fall for it hook, line and sinker,’ he says.”

“The lands of Aboriginal people were stolen for an industry that is highly destructive of soil health but whose economies are largely mythical and propped up by government with a welter of compensation schemes. Once again those farms can be productive enterprises with different management. The white population of Broome laughed up their short sleeves when the local Aboriginal people bought one of the big stations, halved the stocking rate and fenced off the water courses and dams. The grass came back, the cattle flourished and Aboriginal people were employed on their traditional land – but that wasn’t all. The totemic brolga and whistling duck returned too.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

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