Attorney-General George Brandis has hit back at claims he wanted the Commonwealth to run dead in a High Court case to let the West Australian Government claw back nearly $1 billion from a long-running corporate collapse.
But letters tabled by Senator Brandis suggest a compromise might have been struck between the WA Government and former treasurer Joe Hockey.
The Federal Opposition has called for Senator Brandis to be sacked after reports of a “secret” deal with the State Government over the settlement from Alan Bond’s Bell Group.
That case has run over 20 years in four countries and in May the High Court struck down WA legislation that would have given the state the power to decide how to carve up the settlement.
Last week The West Australian newspaper reported that the Commonwealth was aware of the constitutional problems with the WA legislation, but in a bid to end the litigation saga, it assured WA it would frustrate the move and directed its then solicitor-general, Justin Gleeson, not to “run a particular argument” in court.
The report claims the deal was scuttled by Mr Gleeson, who wrote a scathing submission to the High Court on behalf of the Australian Tax Office — which was separately trying to claw back $300 million — and that this strengthened the case against WA.
Senator Brandis denied making any deals with the WA Government and said he had acted in the Commonwealth’s interests at all times.
“I was not involved in — and at the time they took place — had no knowledge of the discussions between Mr Hockey and WA ministers,” Senator Brandis said.
“Mr Hockey never mentioned them to me.”
Mr Gleeson’s intervention in the legal case reportedly led to a “blazing row” between Senator Brandis and his West Australian counterpart Michael Mischin, and contributed to the break-down in the relationship between Mr Gleeson and Senator Brandis.
“We first became aware of the position asserted by West Australian ministers after speaking to them on March 4, 2016,” Senator Brandis said.
“There was never any agreement between me and Mr Mischin in relation to the High Court proceedings, as Mr Mischin himself has acknowledged.”
Senator Brandis said written correspondence between Mr Hockey and West Australian Treasurer Mike Nahan did not reveal, in his view, any evidence of a formal deal.
The Attorney-General said his first involvement in the matter was a briefing by Human Services Minister Christian Porter, a former West Australian treasurer and attorney-general, on March 3.
Brandis accuses Opposition of acting in era of ‘post-truth politics’
Senator Brandis told reporters that Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus had been saying “some extraordinary reckless and foolish things” about his involvement in the Bell Group litigation.
Senator Brandis accused him of “playing politics of smear” in an era of “post-truth politics”.
Mr Dreyfus called on Senator Brandis to be sacked last week, saying it appeared he had favoured “the political interests of the West Australian Liberal Party” over his duty to the Commonwealth.
“It is of absolutely no concern to Mr Dreyfus that he will lie through his teeth, that Mr Dreyfus is prepared to lie and lie again, to make things up, to fantasise, to make the most reckless and offensive allegations with no facts to support him whatsoever,” Senator Brandis said.
Attorney-General has thrown former Treasurer ‘under a bus’
Labor senator Penny Wong said the Attorney-General had “thrown Joe Hockey under a bus”.
“How convenient that you go after the bloke who can’t defend himself,” she said.
“As always with George Brandis, you have got to look at what he doesn’t say.”
Last week, Mr Mischin defended the Barnett Government’s attempt to secure an agreement with the Commonwealth.
He confirmed there were discussions between himself and Senator Brandis, and WA Treasurer Mike Nahan and his federal counterpart.
“What I have done has been in the best interests, in accordance with law and principle, and I am very comfortable with what I have been doing with this,” he said.
Greens senator Nick McKim described the Attorney-General’s explanation as a “hospital handpass”.
“It’s Joe Hockey who is going to get crunched here, make no mistake about that,” he said.
Source : abc.net.au/