“Philip Ruddock will be a 300 times better political player than Daryl Williams, but that won’t necessarily make him a good Attorney-General.”
Like many other lawyers around Australia surprised by Ruddock’s appointment as the Nation’s top law officer, the Federal Opposition is convinced this week’s ambush-like cabinet reshuffle is a measure taken by the Howard Government to place one of its biggest political hitters in the line of fire most predict will decide next year’s election: national security.
Shadow A-G Robert McClelland told Lawyers Weekly he believed the Government was trying to replicate its success in the 2001 poll, in which the former Immigration Minister’s political clout won the day almost single-handedly as debate over the Tampa crisis smouldered. Two years on, and with emotions raging at similar levels over how best to counter the threat of terrorism, McClelland that Ruddock will be again expected to lead the Government into battle on the most contentious front.
“Given the PM we’ve got, I can see exactly why [Ruddock] was put there,” McClelland said.
Describing his new opposite as “the wrong man for the job”, McClelland said Ruddock’s regular public attacks on the Family and Federal Courts was ample reason to doubt whether the new A-G would defend the rule of law from executive interference.
In respect of current national security measures adopted by the Government, McClelland said his old adversary Williams had crossed the line.
“But at least to [Williams’] credit, he didn’t attack the courts as well,” McClelland added.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) was guarded in its welcome of Ruddock to the job, recalling a number of recent clashes over policies he initiated as Immigration Minister.
“The Government and Immigration Minister’s decisions on the prolonged detention of children in immigration detention centres was, in the Law Council’s view, contrary to the principles of the rule of law,” president Bob Gotterson said.
Those decisions, Gotterson acknowledged, were made whilst Ruddock was handling the day’s “hottest political potato.”
“Against that [Ruddock] has long experience as a practising solicitor, so we can expect he also has a good understanding of the requirements of the rule of law and an independent judiciary.”
“The Law Council hopes that as Attorney-General, Mr Ruddock will be able to take a balanced view of Australia’s national interests.”
Prominent Human Rights lawyers Julian Burnside and Simon Rice both declined to comment on Ruddock’s appointment.
“I’m not really in the mood to be contentious today,” Burnside said.