The former attorney-general Christian Porter may have discontinued his defamation proceedings against the ABC, but in the days since, he has faced a legal threat of his own, details about an attempted settlement have emerged and some members of the legal profession have used it to call for an official inquiry into rape allegations.
In the hours after the ABC released a statement confirming that Christian Porter opted to discontinue his defamation proceedings seemingly in exchange for an author’s note on the article he took issue with, the former attorney-general told media that the national broadcaster was in the wrong and had suffered a “humiliating backdown”.
However, The Guardian reported that despite this claim of victory, it was his legal team that approached the ABC seeking an out-of-court financial settlement. When this was turned down, the two parties entered mediation several weeks later – this time at the ABC’s request – and Mr Porter walked away without financial advantage.
Forget the spin, the settlement terms in the Porter case are simple: he has discontinued his claim, the ABC paid the costs of the mediation but no other part of Porter’s legal costs, no damages, no apology, and the article remains published. What we call a “walk-away”.— marquelawyers (@marquelawyers) May 31, 2021AdvertisementAdvertisement
In another major change since the statement was released, the ABC management team will be hauled before a parliamentary committee hearing to face questions about the settlement of the defamation case, which could potentially expose them to inquiry over the costs that were paid to fund the mediation. The hearing date has not yet been set but is expected to take place next week.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young told media that it was “essential the Australian people know how much this has cost the taxpayer and what has really gone on”.
In his press conference, Mr Porter took aim not only at the ABC but directed several allegations at journalist Louise Milligan, executive producer Sally Neighbour and the friend of the woman who accused him of rape – which he has strenuously denied – Jo Dyer. The latter has led to a threat of potential defamation proceedings.
“Mr Porter implied legal proceedings I commenced against Sue Chrysanthou were part of an improper last-minute legal strategy to disrupt his now discontinued action against Ms Milligan and the ABC,” Ms Dyer said, adding that Mr Porter did this “despite knowing the real reason for the court action and the lengths to which I had gone over the preceding two months to avoid court [proceedings].”
During his press conference, Mr Porter alleged that “coaching” from Ms Milligan to Ms Dyer to delete texts from an encrypted messaging service the two were using meant she had “destroyed important communications that may have had a bearing on his now discontinued action against Ms Milligan and the ABC”.
“This is absurd,” Ms Dyer said, clarifying that what she said in court was that she treated communications relating to her friend – referred to as AB – with “care and respect”, which often meant filing and deleting correspondence “as appropriate”.
“There was nothing improper, illegal or sinister in my decisions to save or delete certain messages, decisions that were taken well before Mr Porter launched his now discontinued action against Ms Milligan and the ABC,” Ms Dyer added.
As a result, Marque Lawyers issued Mr Porter with a concerns notice. Referring to his claim that the ABC had backed down from the proceedings, Ms Dyer finished with a promise that if she were to pursue legal proceedings should he say anything potentially defamatory again, “I tend to see them through to their conclusion”.
In a tweet amid the ABC’s first statement – the second issued after his press conference to clear some of his allegations up – Marque Lawyers tweeted that now the defamation proceedings have been “won” by ABC, it was time for the long-awaited, long called for inquiry into the historic rape allegations.
“With the end to [Mr] Porter’s defamation claim, it remains that there has been no proper inquiry into the allegation of rape against him and his fitness to serve as a cabinet minister. It also remains that there should be such an inquiry, as we’ve said all along,” Marque Lawyers principal Michael Bradley tweeted.
With the end of Porter’s defamation claim, it remains that there has been no proper inquiry into the allegation of rape against him and his fitness to serve as a cabinet minister. It also remains that there should be such an inquiry, as we’ve said all along.— marquelawyers (@marquelawyers) May 31, 2021
Ms Dyer also asked for an inquiry in her statement after calling Mr Porter out for not exercising the opportunity to give evidence denying AB’s allegations: “The allegations made against the former Attorney-General remain completely untested. Until they have been investigated, it is untenable for Mr Porter to remain in cabinet.”
In what was intended to be published by The Guardian and The Sydney Morning Herald to comment on the discontinuation of the proceedings, The University of Western Australia’s senior lecturer Michael Douglas took to LinkedIn to accuse Mr Porter of launching proceedings in a pro-plaintiff world to only “give up”.
“Christian Porter has been unequivocally, resoundingly defeated,” Mr Douglas wrote.
“[Mr] Porter’s case was a paradigm example of how politicians use defamation litigation in contemporary Australian politics: to attack opponents while appealing to the base. Some media reporting of [Mr] Porter’s case rallied certain members of the public to a certain account of truth… that is compatible with his political ambition.”
Mr Douglas added that Mr Porter will “no doubt” hope the media cycle will move on, that the Australian public will forget about the allegations levelled against him “in the same way that we will forget those speeches in which he pretended to support freedom of speech”.
“I won’t forget. More importantly, the friends of the woman whose accusations were the foundation of the reporting won’t forget. And you should not forget. I hope you remember everything you know about Christian Porter up until the next federal election. And the next day, I hope you forget him forever,” he said.
Even if Ms Dyer’s defamation threat never comes to fruition, the legal saga around Mr Porter’s attempted proceedings is not yet over. In early July, the Federal Court will hear an argument from several media corporations as to the fate of redacted copies of the ABC’s defence and Mr Porter’s reply.
In the mediation agreement, Mr Porter and ABC agreed to ask the Federal Court to delete the redacted files from the court file altogether. Justice Jayne Jagot refused to grant this until an argument could be heard from all parties.
More to come.
A/N: The woman at the centre of the historic rape allegations is referred to as AB in this article and in court proceedings at her family’s request.