A mystery donation towards Christian Porter's recent legal fees is drawing speculation over the total amount and the source of the money, writes Andrew P Street.
THESE ARE STRANGE TIMES we live in, friends. The normal rules governing the behaviour of our leaders no longer seem to apply in almost all cases, but sometimes it's worth stepping back and realising that it's really weird there are unresolved rape allegations against a frontbench Minister who has done nothing but actively suppress all information about the case – information which, according to his tearful denials, would presumably exonerate him – and yet he remains in Parliament.
So given that, it's perhaps not brain-explodingly barking that said Minister, a man who was this Government's Attorney-General no less, should have noted in his parliamentary disclosures that he received a heft sum in legal fund donations from mysterious strangers via a blind trust.
The story broke on Tuesday when Porter's Register of Parliamentary Interests was updated with the interesting information about his lawsuit and the support he enjoyed, including:
‘Part contribution to the payment of my fees by a blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust. As a potential beneficiary I have no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust.’
He later released a statement through his office insisting that he’d conducted everything according to the rules and, if anything, had been more forthcoming than he technically had needed to be out of “an abundance of caution”. Because nothing says caution like accepting enormous sums of money from people you don’t know.
Naturally, there has been speculation over who is fronting the cash with the deep-pocketed likes of Nev Power, Twiggy Forrest and Gina Rinehart all denying they’re Porter’s knights in shining coinage, leading many a wag on Twitter to just naturally assume that it’s Porter’s old mate and fellow WA boy Kerry Stokes. Or maybe it’s just a million proud Western Australians pitching in a buck apiece to support the man who attempted to tear down the hard border imposed by the WA State Government to keep the state COVID-free. Who can tell?
He’s also been cagey about the amount, although news.com's Samantha Maiden pitched $1 million as an estimated cost. Even with the case having been triumphantly discontinued with the ABC neither paying damages nor issuing a retraction, fees for Porter's top-tier legal team would not have come cheap.
And it’s worth noting that despite Porter’s shrugs, a “blind trust” isn’t usually a black box where secret donations of millions of dollars are put for politicians to do with as they will.
A blind trust is one in which beneficiaries of said trust have no control over how the trust is managed. It’s what, for example, U.S. presidents have used during their time in office, in recognition of the way that their policy decisions could influence their personal wealth and the need to be above accusations of having a conflict of interest that might lead them to govern with an eye to making a quick buck. With the exception of Donald Trump who eschewed a blind trust because obviously.
Anyway, Porter’s colleagues have been very quiet about the whole thing, although his former colleagues have been less circumspect.
Ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull, for example, has been especially scathing about Porter’s claim, claiming:
“It’s like saying ‘My legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash’. So zero transparency, zero accountability.”
Man, if only he’d thought to institute an Independent Commission Against Corruption back when he was Prime Minister instead of repeatedly insisting that there was nothing for such a body to investigate. Then again, he was presumably taking the advice of his Attorney-General, who was a chap named (checks notes) Christian Porter.
It draws unkind comparison with the time that former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari stepped down from his ministerial position in 2016 after an outcry following his acceptance of a donation for personal expenses from a Party donor who was a) not anonymous and b) involved a sum approximately $988,323 less than Porter's estimated bill. But you know, it was a different time.
It's pretty interesting that the Government are cool with this given their definitely-not-confected outrage over the donation's potential for foreign interference and the need for those deemed vulnerable to such influence to register with the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. Few, if any, people are likely to drop a cool million to a politician without attaching some pretty obvious strings.
That said, the fact that our intelligence forces are not currently investigating Porter and the figures behind this conveniently opaque largesse suggests that Home Affairs is presumably not worried about it being courtesy of Chinese government agents or investment-savvy criminal syndicates currying favour with a hapless chump. In fact, it’s rather more in keeping with the Government being both completely aware of where the money came from and also entirely comfortable with whatever the mystery donor bought with it.
So, to recap: the former chief legal officer of Australia took unspecified amounts of money in donations from unknown sources in order to pay the legal fees for his abandoned defamation suit in a court over which he until recently had authority. Over, let's not forget, unresolved rape allegations.
Say what you will about the circumstances of Porter's plummet from grace — for a man with nothing to hide, he certainly goes to extraordinary lengths to keep things hidden.
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