Lawyers have hit back at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s statement that he wants nothing to do with attorneys after they criticised his plans for an anti-corruption body.
As he campaigns for another term as Prime Minister ahead of Saturday’s national election, Morrison has stood by his plans and criticised the anti-corruption body of New South Wales, describing it as “a kangaroo court”.
“I don’t care if barristers and lawyers and others up there in Macquarie Street – not in the parliament but in the barristers’ chambers – disagree with me,” Morrison said last week in a reference to the legal precinct of Sydney. “They disagree with me all the time. I’ve never had much truck with them over the course of my entire political career.”
The Mirriam-Webster online dictionary defines “wanting no truck with” as refusing to be involved with.
The Australian Bar Association said it is deeply concerned by the Prime Minister’s attack on the barristers of Australia.
“Australia’s more than 6,000 hardworking barristers are committed to promoting the administration of justice,” ABA President Matt Collins QC said in a statement.
“Every year, they provide countless hours of pro bono and poorly remunerated assistance to people from Australia’s most disadvantaged communities. They frequently stand between the individual and the State, and provide a bulwark for the rule of law. Any person who has no truck with barristers cannot have made a conscientious effort to understand their indispensable contribution to civic society.”
Law firms in Australia are typically cautious about expressing views about politicians. However, one firm has made an exception in a Tweet in the wake of Morrison’s comments.
“Scott said he has no truck with lawyers, which literally means he avoids dealing or being associated with us, which seems like a win-win tbh,” local firm Marque Lawyers tweeted.
Morrison plans to introduce a federal anti-corruption commission but lawyers have argued that by only allowing investigation of matters when there was a “reasonable suspicion” of a criminal offence its power will be neutered.
Under the plan, the when the proposed body investigates politicians and bureaucrats, it would have no powers to exercise search warrants, hold public hearings or make public findings of corruption, criminal conduct or “misconduct at large”.
Morrison has said the more powerful NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has unfairly cost many politicians – all of them on his side of politics – their jobs.
The Law Council of Australia has also been critical of Morrison’s proposal, saying the scope of corrupt conduct it could investigate should be expanded, and that findings be made public.
Responding to Morrison’s criticism of lawyers, the Law Society of NSW noted that in NSW alone there are more than 4,000 NSW registered solicitors working for the federal and NSW governments.
“Every Prime Minister, every government, relies on lawyers to ensure they act within their constitutional bounds. To have ‘no truck’ with lawyers would make government unworkable,” the Law Society of NSW said in a statement.
“The Law Society also considers that integrity agencies such as the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption are important tools to keep governments, their agencies and employees acting in the public interest.”
Morrison promised in the last election in 2019 to introduce an anti-corruption body, but has failed to do so.
The Labor Party opposition has also promised to introduce a federal anti-corruption commission.
Australia’s election has been dominated by debate about the cost of living and wages, home affordability and which party is best placed to stand up to China’s growing ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Based on current polling, Morrison is set to lose government, with opposition leader Anthony Albanese expected to win.