A reshuffle of the federal cabinet was announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday afternoon.
Announcing his new-look cabinet, the PM revealed that Attorney-General George Brandis would be standing down after 17 years in the Senate.
“Senator Brandis’ legacy as Attorney-General will be remembered for two things in particular. First, it was on his watch as Attorney, and in so small measure, thanks to his eloquent advocacy over many years, that Australia legislated for marriage equality.
“Secondly, as the minister responsible for domestic national security since 2013, he undertook the most comprehensive reforms of our national security laws to keep Australians safe,” the PM said.
Mr Brandis will be replaced by WA MP Christian Porter, who was elevated from Minister of Social Services to the senior ministerial role of Attorney-General.
The Australian Bar Association (ABA) and Law Council of Australia (LCA) congratulated Mr Porter on his appointment.
ABA president Noel Hutley SC said that the legal representative body was looking forward to working with the new AG on many issues concerning law and justice. He signalled the current review of the family law system and implantation of recommendations from two recent royal commissions as special projects that the ABA was particularly interested in co-operating with the AG’s department for.
“The ABA looks forward to working with Mr Porter on the many important issues within the Attorney-General's portfolio, including consideration of the implementation of recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and the current review of the family law system,” Mr Hutley said.
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC echoed the sentiment, expressing confidence that Mr Porter would be able to fulfil the position of Commonwealth AG with respect for the rule of law, given his experience in similar roles at a state level.
“As the guardian of the public interest, the Attorney fulfills a critical role in upholding the rule of law – seeking to ensure equality before the law, access to justice, the right to a fair trial and the right to review executive decision making by a strong independent judiciary,” Ms McLeod said.
“As a former senior prosecutor for the Western Australian DPP, and later state Attorney-General, Mr Porter well understands the importance of the rule of law and the steps, which are not always popular, that need to be taken in its defence,” she said.
“We look forward to engaging constructively with Mr Porter on a myriad of issues in 2018, from legal aid and court resourcing to the careful balancing of important human rights and freedoms,” Ms McLeod said.
Mr Turnbull also flagged yesterday that he would recommend the senator’s appointment as Australia’s new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom early next year.
“I know he will excel at this role,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Senator Brandis’ position as Leader of the Senate will be filled by Senator Cormann, who has been integral in steering the government’s agenda through the Senate. His determination and his counsel are invaluable,” he said.
The ABA and LCA also acknowledged Senator Brandis’ contributions over the years. Ms McLeod described the relationship with the 36th AG as a constructive and productive one. She made special note of his most recent and “eloquent” stance on marriage equality.
“On behalf of the Australian legal profession I wish Senator Brandis all the very best,” Ms McLeod said.
Mr Hutley paid tribute to Senator Brandis’ “service to the law and to the Australian bars”, particularly in relation to: marriage equality, strengthening national security legislation, and ratifying OPCAT – the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."
“The Attorney-General has displayed a lengthy commitment to public service and the positions he has taken on many issues, most recently marriage equality, and the current review of the family law system, have been greatly appreciated by the Australian Bar,” Mr Hutley said.
Senator Brandis issued his own statement yesterday wishing his successor well in his new role. He said that he was honoured to have represented the people of Queensland for nearly 18 years.
“During that time, I have had the opportunity to serve in senior positions in the coalition leadership and the most senior position in the Senate. I thank those who have helped and supported me in those roles. I wish, in particular, to thank the four leaders of the Liberal Party whom I have served – John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – for the extraordinary opportunities for public service they have given me,” the AG said.
Part of the Turbull government cabinet refresh has also seen the creation of two new portfolios: Home Affairs, headed by Queensland politician Peter Dutton; and Jobs and Innovation headed by WA Senator Michaelia Cash.
“The Department of Home Affairs will keep Australians safer by ensuring full co-ordination between ASIO, the AFP, Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC. It will also contribute enormously to nation building through its focus on our immigration program,” Mr Turnbull said.
“As Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton will be supported by two ministers: Angus Taylor as Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security and Alan Tudge as Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. He will also continue to have the assistance of Alex Hawke as Assistant Minister for Home Affairs,” he said.