Senator Wright asks questions about the Environmental Defender's Office - including questions about lobbying by the NSW Minerals Council.
Senator WRIGHT: I would like to take you to some questions on the Environmental Defender's Offices.
Senator Brandis: Yes.
Senator WRIGHT: I start by taking you, Minister, to a response to a question on notice that you took at the last estimates hearing about correspondence to you from the Minerals Council of Australia or any other body representing the mining sector, or like body. The answer to the question was that the New South Wales Minerals Council wrote to the Attorney-General on 11 October 2013 about supporting the withdrawal of funding from Environmental Defender's Offices.
Senator Brandis: Did they? Okay.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes.
Senator Brandis: If they did, they did.
Senator WRIGHT: That was the answer that came back. First of all, I am going to ask whether there was any other correspondence from like bodies in relation to the funding of the Environmental Defender's Offices to you in your position as shadow Attorney-General or as Attorney-General.
Senator Brandis: I am not answerable to this committee for anything that I may have done or received as shadow Attorney-General.
Senator WRIGHT: I accept that. I withdraw that question.
Senator Brandis: No, but I do not want to set false hares running. When I was shadow Attorney-General, not that I remember. Since I have been the Attorney-General my recollection, because I cleared that answer a couple of weeks ago, my recollection is that the question was a multipart question. It said 'What other correspondence have you received?' to which I think the answer was none. Certainly, the only correspondence that was able to be identified was that one letter.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you for that. I am interested in what extent that lobbying influenced you or was a rationale for the decision to cease funding of Environmental Defender's Offices that was announced in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook?
Senator Brandis: None whatsoever, not at all, for two reasons. First of all, I was not in fact the subject of lobbying to that effect. Second, I do not mean to depreciate the work of lobbyists, but I never listen to lobbyists. I am never really influenced by them at all.
Senator WRIGHT: Just so I can understand your answer there—
Senator Brandis: I was never lobbied, and if I had been it would not have—
Senator WRIGHT: Do you not consider that a letter like that was a form of lobbying?
Senator Brandis: Not really. Somebody wrote to me expressing a point of view. People write to me expressing points of view every day of my life.
Senator WRIGHT: To what extent, then, did that letter influence you in your decision—
Senator Brandis: Not at all. I do not even remember receiving it. Obviously I did, because there it is.
Senator WRIGHT: That is right. If that is not the case—
Senator Brandis: It is not the case.
Senator WRIGHT: then what were the matters that did form the rationale for the decision to defund in totality the Environmental Defender's Offices in totality?
Senator Brandis: Exactly the considerations we debated earlier in the afternoon. I want as much of the Commonwealth's legal aid dollar spent on needy people in actual casework situations. I have in mind particularly as many criminal matters and family law matters as possible where the demand outstrips the supply of resources. Without depreciating the work of Environmental Defender's Offices, which do good work, they are, to be very blunt with you, a lower priority for me than people in need.
Senator WRIGHT: Are you willing to provide a copy of that correspondence to you from the Minerals Council?
Senator Brandis: What correspondence?
Senator WRIGHT: The letter that—you responded—had been sent on 11 October 2013.
Senator Brandis: I am going to say no, Senator—not that I have a particular problem with it, but I do think that people are allowed to write to a minister without putting their views on the public record. If the Minerals Council are happy for me to give you that letter, then I will give it to you. But it was a letter that was not sent as a public document. I think it would be wrong of me and discourteous to make public a letter that was not sent to me as a public document.