Christian Porter considers legal action after Four Corners report
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said he is considering legal action after new reports indicated that he was inappropriate towards women in the past. Potential legal action could target former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and a respected barrister.
A Four Corners report has accused Mr Porter of a long, storied history of sexist and inappropriate behaviour towards women which include a warning by former Mr Turnbull to be careful of his reputation while in office.
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In a statement released shortly after the program, Mr Porter said given the “defamatory nature” of the report, he would be considering legal options. He has also “categorically denied” that any of the alleged conduct took place, including an incident in Canberra’s Public Bar with a young woman while his wife and toddler were at home in Perth.
Other than content from his university days, Four Corners offered an interview with Mr Turnbull to support their allegations. Mr Turnbull claimed he had heard reports that Mr Porter was with a young woman and “had too much to drink” prior to his appointment.
“I reminded him that Canberra was full of spies and that not every one of them worked with us. It’s just not acceptable, and he knew I was considering appointing him for the Attorney-General position, so the risk of compromise is very, very real,” he said, noting that people who put themselves in these positions are taking “unnecessary risks”.
Mr Turnbull told the program that Mr Porter did not “enjoy” the conversation but added that he seemed to “take it on board”. Mr Turnbull also said he made it clear that if there were any further and similar reports, it would have “very, very severe consequences”.
“In my time as AG, I have never had any complaint or any suggestion of any problems from Malcolm regarding the conduct of my duties as AG until the last week of his prime ministership when we had a significant disagreement over the Peter Dutton citizenship issue,” Mr Porter said, adding that the claims were “baseless” and unbalanced.
The program also interviewed Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young who claimed that she had been approached by a young female staffer who was involved with Mr Porter and had “found herself in a position that, at some point, she didn’t want to be there”. These allegations were not voiced by the female staffer in question.
Mr Porter said these claims made by Ms Hanson-Young were not put to him or media advisers from his office and that they have been “totally rejected as false”.
More claims about his conduct came from barrister Kathleen Foley who had attended, and knew of Mr Porter, at the same university in Western Australia. Ms Foley had later worked as Western Australian state solicitor as Mr Porter worked as Western Australian Crown prosecutor.
“For all of that time, I’ve known him to be someone who was, in my opinion, based on what I saw, deeply sexist and actually misogynistic in his treatment of women, [and] in the way he spoke about women,” Ms Foley explained to the program.
Mr Porter spent a better part of the decade at the university and “off-colour” comments would often be featured in law students’ magazines. On the subject of whether lawyers were just “well-dressed prostitutes”, Mr Porter wrote in response that the “opposition’s case had more holes than Snow White’s hymen”. It was one of many examples used.
Mr Porter said journalist Louise Milligan never contacted him about the program or the claims that were about to be levelled against him. However, on a radio station the next morning, Mr Porter conceded that his team did receive several “detailed questions”.
Still, Mr Porter said the reporting was “not fair or balanced” and claimed that the fellow party in the bar incident had responded to the claims and rejected that they happened, but Four Corners had “failed to report on that” during the live reports.
Responding to media, Prime Minister Scott Morrison fired up at reporters and claimed that his office had standards in place “that don’t exist in many of your newsrooms”. He then claimed he had a better opinion of Australians who would “understand that people who work in this place are just as human as everyone else”.
On whether Mr Porter should be removed from office, Mr Morrison said that neither Mr Porter nor other accused Alan Tudge had engaged in conduct that breached their code of conduct and he expects that they will continue to “live by that code as ministers”.
In a statement from the Law Council of Australia, president Pauline Wright noted those in power “have a special responsibility to uphold the law and the rights of others”, and that it includes the rights of women to be treated with respect and dignity in offices.
“Allegations of misconduct regarding public or elected officials require an appropriate framework for investigation, and is why the Law Council has long called for an integrity commission to be established at the federal level with appropriate powers and with definitions of misconduct,” Ms Wright said.