In a statement confirming his resignation that seems to cap off a costly defamation battle and a controversial blind trust, former attorney-general Christian Porter took aim at the ABC, media and journalists as a whole, and the “Twitter mob” for being responsible for the “completely reversed” onus of proof that he has experienced.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media on Sunday, 19 September that Mr Porter had resigned his position after being unable and unwilling to provide details of the people behind a blind trust that significantly contributed to his costly, personal legal fees. Mr Porter said as a beneficiary, he was unaware of the contributors and was not prepared to “break the confidentiality” he had with the anonymous donors.
The minister’s drop to the backbench started with his decision to launch defamation action against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over an article that detailed a rape allegation, despite it never naming him. Mr Porter has strenuously denied the allegations and on Sunday again insisted it was based on a false accusation.
In his statement, Mr Porter said he had been given the “only signed document” of the dossier detailing the rape allegations and claimed that “many parts” of the document “are such that any reasonable person would conclude that they show an allegation that lacks credibility”. Lawyers Weekly wrapped up the dossier here, but caution is advised for readers given the sensitive nature of the rape allegations.
In just under 1,600 words, Mr Porter used his statement to blame his downfall on the ABC many times – including its use of the dossier: “The material, which remains unreported, clearly does not feed the ABC’s predetermined narrative of guilt by accusation. And presumably because this document detracts so substantively from the credibility of the allegations, there has been careful and deliberate avoidance in reporting or publishing parts of it that run counter to the chosen narrative.”
The former attorney-general also claimed that the “initial article and subsequent media reporting” of the allegations “created a new standard under which any Australian can be the subject of an accusation that is widely published and, without any due process or fairness, be tried and judged in a trial by media”.
“From the moment the ABC article was published, I entered what appears to me now to be an inescapable media frenzy where the evidence, or in this case the lack of it, appeared to be irrelevant. Instead, all that appeared to matter was the presence of an accusation. To my disbelief, even in some mainstream media, the onus of proof was completely reversed,” Mr Porter claimed in his statement.
It is here important to note that Mr Porter and the Morrison government were invited to launch an independent inquiry into the allegations many times, but each attempt was shut down. Mr Morrison dodged the inquiry question at press conferences and the Senate threw out multiple bids to introduce a bill to launch the inquiry.
After Mr Porter’s defamation claim settled in mediation, he made it his mission to block media – and particularly Nine and News Corporation – from using sections of the ABC’s defence and his reply for anything other than the current proceedings. In-house counsel Larina Alick said it was a “gross distortion” of the court's obligations.
“Parties must accept the damage to their reputation which may be inherent to litigation,” Ms Alick said. “Mr Porter commenced these proceedings in the most open court in this country where pleadings are published on the court website. Mr Porter is a lawyer and has a considerable amount of experience behind him through the defamation lawyers advising him. This is a classic example of a party who must accept the damage to their reputation inherent on their litigation.”
In his statement, Mr Porter also accused the ABC of inciting “the Twitter version of an angry mob”. He said that in this “online mob environment”, the accusations “was determined to assign guilt, with no regard to evidence, or indeed, lack of evidence”. He claimed that all that seemed to matter was the accusation had been made.
To clarify, NSW Police said it had “never had the opportunity to commence an investigation” into the allegations of rape against Mr Porter. His accuser withdrew her complaint and took her own life in June 2020 before police took a witness statement. As a result of her death, police added there was “insufficient admissible evidence”.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull are still calling for the money to be identified or returned. The former told media that members of parliament, as well as ministers, “just can’t accept money from anonymous donors for a private legal matter … this fails the ‘laugh test’.”
The Australian Electoral Commission did clarify in a tweet that the Electoral Act does not prohibit MPs from receiving anonymous or foreign donations in their individual capacity outside of an election period. It also does not require MPs who personally receive gifts to report them outside of the election period. Mr Porter insisted that he had “provided the information required” under the member’s register of interest.
“After discussing the matter with the Prime Minister, I accept that any uncertainty on this point provides a very unhelpful distraction for the government and its work. To the extent that that uncertainty may be resolved by seeking further information in relation to the identities of the contributors, this would require me to put pressure on the trust to provide me with information to which I am not entitled,” Mr Porter said.
Although the end of his time on the front bench, Mr Porter is due to return to court to hear an appeal he lodged over a decision to remove his star barrister Sue Chrysanthou from his legal team. He may also return to hear private action launched by TNL and its leader Victor Kline over allegations found in the dossier.