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Brandis rejects 'dog on lead' criticism

AAP logoAAP 13/10/2016 Belinda Merhab and Rashida Yosufzai

George Brandis has rejected criticism from a former Howard government legal eagle who likened the attorney-general's controversial new legal rules to a "dog on a lead".

And the attorney has in turn called out a Labor frontbencher for hypocrisy for levelling criticism over a practice he once condoned.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus last week blasted Senator Brandis for "opinion shopping" for legal advice on the same-sex marriage plebiscite bill.

He accused Senator Brandis of "hobbling" the ability of the solicitor-general to do his job following reports the attorney-general rejected the advice of the second law officer to obtain another legal opinion.

But a new book, The Role of the Solicitor-General, reveals that Mr Dreyfus as attorney-general would do just that, seeking another legal opinion on important political issues.

"Perhaps I might feel I needed to outweigh the solicitor-general's advice and I would go and get very senior advice. And I've done that. And I would do it again," he it quoted.

Senator Brandis called it hypocritical.

"I find it very difficult to understand how Mr Dreyfus could, without hypocrisy, have attacked me for allegedly doing the very thing that he said he did, and would do again," he told the Senate.

However, Mr Dreyfus rejected that as "muck" from an under-pressure attorney.

"There is a world of difference between seeking second opinions, and cutting the solicitor-general out of the advice process altogether," he told AAP in a statement.

At the centre of the stoush are guidelines ruling that no one in government, including the prime minister, can seek the solicitor-general's advice without the attorney-general's permission.

Former solicitor-general Gavan Griffith, who served under the Hawke and Howard governments, has likened the attorney's new rules to a "dog on a lead" which risks destroying the role of the office.

Senator Brandis said it was an "unfortunate choice of words".

"Because what it applies is an attack on the independence of the solicitor-general."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed those sentiments,

"I would never repeat such an unflattering remark."

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