Former senator Bob Brown has called on Tasmanian Premier Rockliff to remove Attorney-General Guy Barnett from office after the latter met with the Chief Justice apparently resulting in Supreme Court Justice Geason taking leave of office.
Brown says that the Bob Brown Foundation’s case against Attorney General Barnett over his issuing of a licence to China-based mining company MMG to control lands on which environmental protests were taking place in the Tarkine rainforest is awaiting judgment from the full bench of the Supreme Court, including Justice Geason.
“It is improper that Attorney-General Barnett unnecessarily intervened to effect and announce the taking of leave of Justice Geason at the very time Justice Geason was working on a judgement involving allegations levelled at Barnett himself. He should have stayed right out of this process. Barnett has appeared to have eagerly intervened to his own advantage so that the foundation’s case against him is suddenly up in the air. Barnett should be sacked,” Brown said.
Barnett’s media statement that he ‘will consider further action’ may be construed as a threat and, given he’s a litigant, this becomes a matter of further serious public concern.
The following notes track the Attorney General’s involvement in the case which ended up before three Supreme Court judges including Justice Geason.
- Guy Barnett as Resources Minister made a decision to grant a lease over Helilog Road in the Tarkine to MMG in 2021. He gave MMG 100m on either side of the road in circumstances where protest camps organised by the Bob Brown Foundation against MMG were running next to the road and had been for some time.
- BBF sought reasons for Barnett’s decision to grant the lease. Barnett responded by announcing his own decision was invalid. This backdown was reported in the national media.
- However, Barnett then granted a fresh lease to MMG in January 2022 and produced reasons for his decision.
- In March 2022 BBF, and two defenders of the Tarkine rainforest, Courtney Hayes and Scott Jordan, sought a Supreme Court review of the decision by Barnett as Resources Minister to grant MMG the lease over Helilog Road.
- As part of the case, BBF and Hayes and Jordan sought that a subpoena be issued to Barnett requiring him to give evidence in the case to explain why he granted the lease as it was argued that his aim was to thwart protest.
- Chief Justice Blow refused the issue of the subpoena.
- The case continued and was argued in full before Chief Justice Blow on 7/8th November 2022.
- The Chief Justice dismissed the case on 12 April 2023.
- BBF (and Jordan and Hayes) filed an appeal to the Full Court on 3 May 2023. One of the grounds of appeal related to the refusal of the Chief Justice to issue the subpoena to Barnett. Another ground just asserted that Barnett was wrong in issuing the lease.
- The 3 respondents were Guy Barnett, now the former Minister for Resources, MMG and the new Minister for Resources.
- Barnett was personally represented at the hearing of the appeal on 28 August, 2023 by Tasmania’s Solicitor-General, Sarah Kay SC.
- The Full Court reserved its decision.
On the basis of Barnett’s media statement, last Friday, Barnett, a party to a case before the Full Court, has made a communication to the Chief Justice and the Chief Justice then asked a judge sitting on the case involving Barnett personally, to take leave until further notice.
Barnett has put the Chief Justice in an invidious position. The Chief Justice has received a communication from Barnett directly involving the bench hearing a case involving Barnett.
The public does not know what Barnett told the Chief Justice but there was no need for Barnett to meet him. Whatever needed to be passed on to the Chief Justice could and should have been passed on by the Secretary of the Justice Department.
A police officer or the Police Minister could/should have met with the Chief Justice to report what the media says was a police family violence order. This was a matter in which the compromised Attorney-General should not have been involved.
It is now difficult to understand how the Full Court or a member of it (ie Justice Geason) should deal with a litigant before that Court meeting with the Chief Justice, with the apparent result the judge was asked to take leave.
Attorney-General Barnett is not above the law.
His media statement that he ‘will consider further action’ may be construed as a threat and, given he’s a litigant, this becomes a matter of further serious public concern.
Media statement from Guy Barnett, Attorney General Minister for Justice: