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Brandis rule is 'radical change': Gleeson

AAP logoAAP 14/10/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Australia's solicitor-general says having to refer all requests for advice to the attorney-general is a "radical change in practice" and should be scrapped.

A Senate committee is looking at new guidelines ruling that no one in government, including the prime minister, could seek the solicitor-general's advice without the attorney-general's permission.

"It is a radical change in the practice, whereby a solicitor-general can do nothing, cannot even speak to a lawyer until he has received a brief with a signed consent," Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson told the committee on Friday.

"The change was introduced without the attorney-general telling me about it. The change is one which is making the function of my office exceptionally difficult."

He said he had asked Attorney-General George Brandis to withdraw the order - which amounted to a "threat" to his office - and engage in proper consultation.

Mr Gleeson gave the example of having provided confidential advice to the prime minister earlier this year, without making it known to the attorney-general.

"I provided the advice confidentially to the prime minister," he said.

"As far as I know a copy of that advice sits only in my files and the prime minister's office."

Mr Gleeson cited another example from Thursday in which a senior government lawyer came to his office seeking urgent advice on a High Court proceeding which had questions of law attached to it.

Mr Gleeson, in answer to a question from Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, said he had spoken to shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus in June while the government was in caretaker mode during the election campaign.

Mr Dreyfus had asked two questions - whether Mr Gleeson was consulted over the direction and whether he supported it - to which he answered no.

"If I was asked by any member of the 44th parliament - which was dissolved on May 6 - what the true facts were it was my duty to tell that member of parliament what I considered the truth to be," Mr Gleeson told the hearing.

The solicitor-general was asked whether he was comfortable with an attorney-general seeking alternative advice from other legal sources.

He said it was "within an attorney-general's ability to do so", but he would expect that alternative advice be added to a government database of advice for future reference.

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