George Brandis diary reveals he didn't meet legal sector before 2014 cuts

Attorney-General George Brandis' diary has been released after a protracted freedom of information fight

No evidence of George Brandis legal sector meetings ahead of budget cuts, Labor says

It took three years for him to release his diary after Dreyfus made his original freedom of information request.

Almost three years ago, after controversy over slashing of funding for community legal aid services, Labor's Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus made a simple FOI request for parts of the Attorney-General's diary. In the same interview, Brandis tried to claim he had no oversight over the FOI process for his diary, but his chief of staff was the officer charged with processing the request.

Coincidentally, the release of Brandis' diary comes as the new Arts Minister Mitch Fifield, gutted Brandis' "vanity project", the Catalyst arts funding program, of $80.2 million and returned the funding to the Australia Council.

"There is, however, no evidence that Senator Brandis met with representatives of legal assistance services before slashing their funding - the objective of the original request".

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General said processing Mr Dreyfus' freedom of information request was a "long and exhaustive task and had to be done on top of the Attorney's ministerial and other responsibilities". "Appropriate redactions had to be made to the diary before it was released", the spokesman said.

"Many meetings or appointments happen spontaneously or at short notice".

"For these reasons, the document is not a record of the Attorney-General's meetings or appointments".

The diary printouts show various appointments for the Attorney-General, ranging from flight bookings to ministerial meetings and national security briefings.

She added Senator Brandis regularly meets with representatives from the legal assistance sector and he made seven visits to legal assistance providers past year.

The format of the printouts also makes it hard to read any detail of some appointments. This prompted Mr Dreyfus, who was critical of the funding cuts, to take Mr Brandis to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal leading to an unusual showdown when Mr Dreyfus, QC, personally appeared before the tribunal to grill Mr Brandis' then chief of staff Paul O'Sullivan.

"This entire episode was deeply unnecessary", Mr Dreyfus said.

"This is a victory for common sense and transparency, and further proof of Senator Brandis's deep unsuitability for the role of Attorney-General".

It is understood Labor as well as cross-bench members of the Senate inquiry want more information from Senator Brandis and his office over his involvement in the Bell case and any conversations he had with Mr Gleeson.

"In order for the attorney general to fulfil a simple request, it has taken an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a hearing in the full court of the federal court, and the threat of contempt".

"Even in a resource-constrained environment, the Australian Government is providing over $1.6 billion for legal aid, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance between 2015 and 2020", a spokesman said in a statement to the ABC.

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