Embattled former Attorney-General Christian Porter has resigned from the Morrison Cabinet – but not from Parliament – following the latest scandal involving his acceptance of a large donation to fund his legal bills.
Porter, who in 2017 waxed lyrical about the dangers and impropriety of accepting political donations to fund personal legal bills, has now accepted political donations for personal legal bills.
Unlike in 2017, however, when Porter and Scott Morrison and others were talking about Sam Dastyari’s approximate $5,000 legal bill being paid by a Chinese businessman, Porter accepted approximately $1 million (give or take a few thousand) for his own personal legal bill from a person or persons unknown — nationality unknown. Porter no longer thinks it dangerous, or even improper, then.
And, unlike in 2017, when then-Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accepted Dastyari’s parliamentary resignation, Christian Porter voluntarily resigned his Cabinet position, but not his parliamentary one. The previous standards, the ones applied to Dastyari (and others) clearly no longer apply, perhaps because a million bucks, after all, can buy a whole other pay-grade of dangerous and improper.
This week, far from demanding Porter’s parliamentary resignation, the Coalition closed ranks in support of the scandal-ridden politician.
Morrison announced Porter’s step down from the Ministry, thanked him for his service as Attorney-General and Industry Minister and then dismissed the events that led to his resignation with:
"That matter is now concluded."
Just a day after Porter’s resignation for breaching ministerial standards, Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, himself resurrected from the depths of scandal, alluded to Porter’s stint on the backbench as only a temporary inconvenience and described Porter’s rape allegations and million-dollar gift from anonymous benefactors as “not a good day at the wicket”.
Joyce, known for his piercing intellect, also declared that since Porter, whom he described as “incredibly intelligent” and “incredibly capable” had “stepped down from the Cabinet…that issue had been dealt with.”
An incredible conclusion. Especially considering the Australian people are none the wiser and no inquiry into the source of these blindly donated funds has been undertaken.
But Joyce didn’t stop there.
Relishing his role as Acting Prime Minister (Omigod!) during Morrison’s absence, Joyce then offered some well-qualified advice to Porter, from one disgraced politician to another:
“You’ll go over to the corridor of the nearly dead over there, stare at the Comcars coming in and out. You’ll have a bit of time on your hands, but you can use it effectively — and I’m sure he will, if he does it effectively, I believe he should be given another chance, at some future time, in a senior role.”
Now, even if some think losing his portfolio is enough punishment for Porter accepting, in blind faith, an eye-watering amount of money from a “blind trust”, which he refuses to disclose, are we to assume that said trust is not only blind but also dumb?
What is the likelihood that anybody would donate such a large amount of money without seeking any return on their investment? Is the trust registered in Australia? Is it a foreign interest? Is it managed by the mob? Even if the nature of this trust is benign and benevolent, it is reasonable to assume that there is an expectation Porter will make good on whatever caveat is attached to that money.
Then there’s the matter of what Porter purportedly used the donation for — it wasn't to establish a refuge for women fleeing violence. The lawyer and former Attorney-General used that donation – from person or persons unknown – to launch legal proceedings against the public broadcaster for reporting details about rape allegations against him.
Following his resignation, Porter offered a media statement in which he again denied the historical rape allegations, complained that he had been subject to "trial by media" and an angry “Twitter mob” and lamented that once public opinion had:
'...shifted from a presumption of innocence to one of guilt, an impossible standard was set for any person to meet - politician or not.'
The Member for Pearce then claimed he had received offers of help from 'thousands of people', some making financial contributions 'on the basis of confidentiality'.
Back in March, however, at the media conference to announce Porter's defamation case against the ABC, his lawyers asserted:
"The trial by media should now end with the commencement of these proceedings."
And that claims against Porter:
"...made by the ABC and Ms Milligan will be determined in a court in a procedurally fair process. Mr Porter will have and will exercise the opportunity to give evidence denying these false allegations on oath."
As detailed in this excellent AFR report by Joe Aston:
Porter virtually dared the ABC and Milligan to plead truth, and they did plead truth to the imputations there were “reasonable grounds for suspecting that” Porter committed the rape. They also set out to prove that Porter’s “continuing suitability as Attorney-General and a Federal Minister is in doubt” following the complaint.
Porter responded not by exercising his opportunity to deny the allegations on oath, but by discontinuing the case before trial!
...Porter would like to forget that he freely walked away from the challenge of meeting that standard, and who’s to know if it was impossible?’
Porter chose to abandon his defamation case against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan at the last possible juncture, thereby wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds for zero legal outcome. He created a huge personal legal debt and then allowed himself to be rescued by accepting donations from the aforementioned blind trust, to which he is now indebted.
Thus, not only will the still sitting member of parliament likely have to dance to the tune (perhaps while blindfolded) of these unknown benefactors, possibly influencing the course of our democracy, but taxpayer funds have been squandered to defend our national broadcaster against now withdrawn allegations.
In a further undemocratic twist, FOI requests pertaining to Porter’s “blind trust” received by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources are now being routinely deleted – ostensibly sight unseen – because he is no longer the minister.
There is no doubt that this Government’s double standards are on full display once more and that ministerial standards only apply to non-Coalition MPs, like Sam Dastyari.
To date, there has been no inquiry into Porter’s rape allegations. And now it is unlikely there will be an inquiry into his blind acceptance of money from a blind trust as he skips off to the backbench to continue accepting his parliamentary salary while Australians are kept in the dark.
This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published in the IA's weekly newsletter. Subscribe now to read the full version online in the IA members-only area.
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