George Henry Brandis is a former Australian politician. Mr. Brandis held a number of positions under the Howard, Abbott and Turnbull governments including Minister for the Arts and Sport, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Attorney-General. Mr. Brandis also served as Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 2018 to 2022. He is currently a professor at the Australian National University, where he teaches national security law and policy.
Opposition to the Home Affairs Department
In 2013 Mr. Brandis was appointed as the Attorney-General after having served as Shadow Attorney-General since 2007. In September of 2023 leaked messages from 2017 revealed former-Home Affairs secretary, Michael Pezzullo, and Liberal Party power-broker, Scott Briggs’, intentions to remove Mr. Brandis from the Attorney-General's department. Mr. Brandis was resistant to the establishment of a Department of Home Affairs and was “hand-braking” the proposed reforms.
In one exchange, Mr. Pezzulo complained to Mr. Briggs that “George has got them running in circles.” On August 8th 2017, Mr. Pezzulo said to Mr. Briggs that Mr. Brandis’ behaviour was “getting worse,” to which Mr. Briggs replied:
“Okay. I've fed that into the PM. I think things may be getting closer to a Brandis departure.”
On August 9th, Mr. Pezzulo messaged to Mr. Briggs:
“Yep. Home Affairs is going well except Agd [Attorney-General’s Department] needs to be put to the sword by way of final decisions about which functions transfer to the new Department. PM's call now -I believe that he has written advice. Once that is settled we can break out of the Normandy beachhead.”
In November, before Mr. Brandis’ next posting was announced, he gave a speech in support of same-sex marriage. Mr. Pezzulo’s messages to Mr. Briggs following the speech suggest Mr. Pezzulo interpreted this as Mr. Brandis intending to stay in his current role:
“George seems to be trying to negotiate a stay of execution. If that were to occur, he would have to change his mindset and behaviours regarding Home Affairs. He is in complete denial about Home Affairs.”
Speaking to 60 Minutes, The Age, and The Herald who broke the story, Mr. Brandis stated that unbeknownst to Mr. Pezzulo, Mr. Brandis had already intended to leave politics “more than a year before that message.”
The Prosecution of Witness K & Bernard Collaery
In 2019 a Four Corners report revealed that Mr. Brandis had “misgivings” regarding the prosecution of both Witness K & Bernard Collaery.
Due to the nature of the alleged offences, the Attorney-General was legally required to give consent before prosecution could commence. Mr. Brandis was first asked for this consent in September of 2015 and, while continuing to receive legal advice on the matter through to his resignation, did not provide it. Mr. Brandis was then succeeded in the role of Attorney-General by Christian Porter in 2017, who went on to give consent for the prosecution within 6 months.
Bret Walker, who defended Witness K earlier during the case, assumed that Mr. Brandis would not have viewed the matter as a clear-cut case:
"I imagine the former attorney, Senator Brandis, didn't find this a straightforward case to say yes to. That's a very long time for something to be sitting on an attorney's desk. I imagine it was not for want of thinking about it, that that time elapsed."