The Attorney-General for Australia[note 2] is the First Law Officer of the Crown in right of the Commonwealth of Australia, chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia and a minister of state. The Attorney-General is usually a member of the Federal Cabinet, but need not be. Under the Constitution, they are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister, and serve at the Governor-General's pleasure. In practice, the Attorney-General is a party politician and their tenure is determined by political factors. By convention, but not constitutional requirement, the Attorney-General is a lawyer by training (either a barrister or solicitor).
The Attorney-General is nearly always a person with legal training, and eleven former Attorneys-General have received senior judicial appointments after their ministerial service.
Billy Hughes was the longest-serving Attorney-General of Australia, serving for thirteen and a half years over four non-consecutive terms; this included six years during his own prime ministership.
Historically, the attorney-generalship was seen as a stepping stone to higher office – Alfred Deakin, Billy Hughes, and Robert Menzies all became prime minister, while John Latham, H. V. Evatt, and Billy Snedden were leaders of the opposition. Lionel Bowen was deputy prime minister under Bob Hawke in the 1980s. Additionally, four former attorneys-general have won appointment to the High Court – Isaac Isaacs, H. B. Higgins, John Latham, Garfield Barwick, and Lionel Murphy. Isaacs later became Governor-General.
Role and functions
The Attorney-General is the minister responsible for legal affairs, national and public security. The Attorney-General also serves as a general legal adviser to the Cabinet, and has carriage of legislation dealing with copyright, human rights and a range of other subjects. He is responsible for the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
Functions of the state and federal attorneys-general include the administration of the selection of persons for nomination to judicial posts and the authorizing of prosecutions. In normal circumstances, the prosecutorial powers of the Attorney-General are exercised by the Director of Public Prosecutions and staff; however, the Attorney-General maintains formal control—including the power to initiate and terminate public prosecutions and take over private prosecutions.
Statutory criminal law provides that prosecutions for certain offences require the individual consent of the Attorney-General. This is generally for offences whose illegality is of a somewhat controversial nature or where there is perceived to be a significant risk that prosecutions of a political nature may be embarked upon. The Attorney-General also generally has the power to issue certificates legally conclusive of certain facts (e.g., that the revelation of certain matters in court proceedings might constitute a risk to national security); the facts stated in such certificates must be accepted by the courts and cannot legally be disputed by any parties. The Attorney-General also has the power to issue a nolle prosequi with respect to a case, which authoritatively determines that the state (in whose name prosecutions are brought) does not wish to prosecute the case, so preventing any person from doing so.
Relationship with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
List of Attorneys-General
The following individuals have been appointed as Attorney-General for Australia:
|Order||Minister||Party||Prime Minister||Prior legal experience||Alma mater||Term start||Term end||Term in office|
|1||Alfred Deakin||Protectionist||Barton||Barrister||University of Melbourne||1 January 1901||24 September 1903||2 years, 266 days|
|2||Senator James Drake||Deakin||Barrister||King's College School, London||24 September 1903||27 April 1904||216 days|
|3||H. B. Higgins||Protectionist1||Watson||Barrister||University of Melbourne||27 April 1904||17 August 1904||112 days|
|4||Senator Sir Josiah Symon,||Free Trade||Reid||Barrister||Free Church Training College||17 August 1904||5 July 1905||322 days|
|5||Isaac Isaacs||Protectionist||Deakin||Barrister||University of Melbourne||5 July 1905||12 October 1906||1 year, 99 days|
|6||Littleton Groom||Lawyer||University of Melbourne||12 October 1906||13 November 1908||2 years, 32 days|
|7||Billy Hughes, 2||Labor||Fisher||Barrister||n/a||13 November 1908||2 June 1909||201 days|
|Deakin||Barrister||Trinity College, Dublin||2 June 1909||29 April 1910||331 days|
|n/a||Billy Hughes||Labor||Fisher||Barrister||n/a||29 April 1910||24 June 1913||3 years, 56 days|
|Cook||Barrister||Trinity College, Dublin; University of Melbourne||24 June 1913||17 September 1914||1 year, 85 days|
|n/a||Billy Hughes||Labor||Fisher||Barrister||n/a||17 September 1914||27 October 1915||7 years, 95 days|
|Hughes||27 October 1915||14 November 1916|
|National Labor||14 November 1916||13 June 1917|
|Nationalist||13 June 1917||21 December 1921|
|n/a||Sir Littleton Groom,||Lawyer||University of Melbourne||21 December 1921||9 February 1923||3 years, 362 days|
|Bruce||9 February 1923||18 December 1925|
|10||John Latham||Barrister||University of Melbourne||18 December 1925||22 October 1929||3 years, 308 days|
|11||Frank Brennan||Labor||Scullin||Barrister||University of Melbourne||22 October 1929||6 January 1932||2 years, 76 days|
|n/a||Sir John Latham,||United Australia||Lyons||Barrister||University of Melbourne||6 January 1932||12 October 1934||2 years, 279 days|
|12||Robert Menzies||Barrister||University of Melbourne||12 October 1934||20 March 1939||4 years, 159 days|
|n/a||Billy Hughes,||Barrister||n/a||20 March 1939||7 April 1939||2 years, 201 days|
|Page||7 April 1939||26 April 1939|
|Menzies||26 April 1939||29 August 1941|
|Fadden||29 August 1941||7 October 1941|
|13||Dr. H. V. Evatt||Labor||Curtin||Barrister, Judge||University of Sydney||7 October 1941||6 July 1945||8 years, 73 days|
|Forde||6 July 1945||13 July 1945|
|Chifley||13 July 1945||19 December 1949|
|14||Senator John Spicer||Liberal||Menzies||Barrister||University of Melbourne||19 December 1949||14 August 1956||6 years, 239 days|
|15||Senator Neil O'Sullivan||Solicitor||15 August 1956||12 October 1958||2 years, 58 days|
|16||Sir Garfield Barwick||Barrister||University of Sydney||12 October 1958||4 March 1964||5 years, 144 days|
|17||Billy Snedden||Barrister||University of Western Australia||4 March 1964||26 January 1966||2 years, 285 days|
|Holt||26 January 1966||14 December 1966|
|18||Nigel Bowen||Barrister||University of Sydney||14 December 1966||19 December 1967||2 years, 333 days|
|McEwen||19 December 1967||10 January 1968|
|Gorton||10 January 1968||12 November 1969|
|19||Tom Hughes||Barrister||University of Sydney||12 November 1969||10 March 1971||1 year, 130 days|
|McMahon||10 March 1971||22 March 1971|
|n/a||Nigel Bowen||Barrister||University of Sydney||22 March 1971||2 August 1971||133 days|
|20||Senator Ivor Greenwood||Barrister||University of Melbourne||2 August 1971||5 December 1972||1 year, 125 days|
|21||Gough Whitlam 3||Labor||Whitlam||Barrister||University of Sydney||5 December 1972||19 December 1972||14 days|
|22||Senator Lionel Murphy||Barrister||University of Sydney||19 December 1972||10 February 1975||2 years, 53 days|
|23||Kep Enderby||Barrister||University of Sydney
University of London
|10 February 1975||11 November 1975||274 days|
|n/a||Senator Ivor Greenwood||Liberal||Fraser||Barrister||University of Melbourne||11 November 1975||22 December 1975||41 days|
|24||Bob Ellicott||Barrister||University of Sydney||22 December 1975||6 September 1977||1 year, 258 days|
|25||Senator Peter Durack||Barrister||University of Western Australia
Lincoln College, Oxford
|6 September 1977||11 March 1983||5 years, 186 days|
|26||Senator Gareth Evans||Labor||Hawke||Barrister||University of Melbourne
Magdalen College, Oxford
|11 March 1983||13 December 1984||1 year, 277 days|
|27||Lionel Bowen||Solicitor||University of Sydney||13 December 1984||4 April 1990||5 years, 112 days|
|28||Michael Duffy,||Solicitor||University of Melbourne||4 April 1990||27 December 1991||2 years, 354 days|
|Keating||27 December 1991||24 March 1993|
|29||Duncan Kerr4||Labor||Keating||Barrister||University of Tasmania||1 April 1993||27 April 1993||26 days|
|30||Michael Lavarch||Solicitor||Queensland University of Technology||27 April 1993||11 March 1996||2 years, 319 days|
|31||Daryl Williams,||Liberal||Howard||Barrister||University of Western Australia
Wadham College, Oxford
|11 March 1996||7 October 2003||7 years, 210 days|
|32||Philip Ruddock||Solicitor||University of Sydney||7 October 2003||3 December 2007||4 years, 57 days|
|33||Robert McClelland||Labor||Rudd||Solicitor||University of New South Wales
University of Sydney
|3 December 2007||24 June 2010||4 years, 11 days|
|Gillard||24 June 2010||14 December 2011|
|34||Nicola Roxon||Solicitor||University of Melbourne||14 December 2011||2 February 2013||1 year, 50 days|
|35||Mark Dreyfus||Barrister||University of Melbourne||2 February 2013||26 June 2013||228 days|
|Rudd||26 June 2013||18 September 2013|
|36||Senator George Brandis||Liberal National||Abbott||Barrister||University of Queensland; Magdalen College, Oxford||18 September 2013||15 September 2015||4 years, 93 days|
|Turnbull||15 September 2015||20 December 2017|
|37||Christian Porter||Liberal||Lawyer||University of Western Australia, London School of Economics||20 December 2017||24 August 2018||2 years, 188 days|
|Morrison||24 August 2018||Incumbent|
- 1 A member of the Protectionist Party, Higgins served in the Labor ministry of Chris Watson, because Labor had no suitably qualified lawyer in Parliament.
- 2 Hughes took silk in 1909, and became a King's Counsel.
- 3 Whitlam served as part of a two-man ministry together with Lance Barnard for fourteen days, until the full ministry was commissioned.
- 4 Prime Minister Paul Keating's original choice for Attorney-General in 1993 had been Michael Lavarch, but Lavarch's re-election was delayed by the death of an opposing candidate for the seat of Dickson; Duncan Kerr held the portfolio in the interim until Lavarch won the resulting supplementary election. Kerr served as Attorney-General for 26 days. There was no Attorney-General for the eight days between Duffy's commission ending on 24 March 1993 and Kerr's commission commencing on 1 April 1993.
Attorneys-General of the States and Territories
The Australian states each have separate attorneys-general, who are state ministers with similar responsibilities to the federal minister with respect to state law. For Attorneys-General of the various states and territories of Australia, see:
- Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory
- Attorney-General of New South Wales
- Attorney-General of the Northern Territory
- Attorney-General of Queensland
- Attorney-General of South Australia
- Attorney-General of Tasmania
- Attorney-General of Victoria
- Attorney-General of Western Australia
- The salary of the position of Attorney-General is $336,599.25 which is the allowance for all Cabinet ministers (the base salary of $207,100 and a further 72.5% of that base). The salary for the incumbent Attorney-General, Christian Porter, however, is the base salary and an additional 75% of the base ($362,425) as Porter is also the Leader of the House and, as such, is subject to a greater percentage of the base salary addition.
- The title is officially "Attorney-General". For the purposes of distinguishing the office from other attorneys-general, and in accordance with usual practice in the United Kingdom and other common law jurisdictions, the Australian Attorney-General uses the term "Attorney-General for Australia" or the "Commonwealth Attorney-General": see Attorney-General website. Historically, "Attorney-General of Australia" was also used.
- "2018 Parliamentary remuneration and business resources: a quick guide". Parliament of Australia. 6 September 2018. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
- Elder, DR; Fowler, PE, eds. (June 2018). "Chapter 2: The Ministry". House of Representatives Practice (7th ed.). Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 978-1-74366-656-2. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
- "Parliamentary remuneration and entitlements". Parliament of Australia. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
- "Ministries and Cabinets". 43rd Parliamentary Handbook: Historical information on the Australian Parliament. Parliament of Australia. 2010. Archived from the original on 13 August 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
- "William Morris Hughes: Before office". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 15 July 2013.