Inquiry into political fees established amid failed Porter investigation attempt

Inquiry into political fees established amid failed Porter investigation attempt

25 October 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Porter investigation

The Morrison government has been criticised by the opposition for establishing a broad inquiry into anonymous fees used to pay legal bills after it previously blocked an investigation into former attorney-general Christian Porter’s blind trust.

Last week, the federal government voted down the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry that would have investigated Mr Porter’s financial disclosures. In the days following, it instead asked parliament’s privilege committee to clarify the rules for MPs accepting donations in a move accused of being a “look-over-here” attempt.

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In announcing the inquiry into anonymous donations, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “we’ve got to get the rules clear” given the number of politicians who have pursued legal action: “There are many members of parliament who have been in this situation, about how they fund legal costs, to pursue defamation action.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese criticised Mr Morrison for shutting down a bid to investigate Mr Porter only to establish an anonymous donation inquiry. He said it was unprecedented for the House of Representative’s speaker to find a case for a referral only to have the house leader set it up as the “look-over-here example”.

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Mr Porter resigned from the frontbench in September after revealing he accepted an anonymous donation to cover his costly and personal legal fees. The donation was provided by a blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust, which he said meant that he had no knowledge of its conduct or who was behind it.

The fees were used to bring a defamation action against the ABC over an article he alleged outed him as the minister accused of rape, despite it never naming him. Mr Porter continues to strenuously deny the allegations, and the matter has finished.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who previously defended Mr Porter and said that there was nothing wrong in the use of a blind trust for his legal fees, told media recently that there could be more clarification and transparency around donations.

“I would absolutely like to see transparency with respect to the register of interests,” Mr Frydenberg said. “But I do think, right now, we do have a lack of clarity about these particular issues that requires further annunciation by the committee itself.”

Mr Porter is currently pursuing an appeal in the Federal Court over a decision to remove his barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, from his legal team and the associated costs.

Inquiry into political fees established amid failed Porter investigation attempt
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