Source: Max Maddison and Joe Kelly, NCA
Christian Porter resigns from federal cabinet to save trust donors from ‘trial by mob’
“Both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter,” the note reads. “That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”
The article, which alleged an unnamed cabinet minister was facing historical rape allegations dating to a high school debating competition in 1988, remains online.
After a week of intense scrutiny over Mr Porter’s decision to use a blind trust to help pay for his defamation battle with the ABC, Scott Morrison announced that the industry minister had handed in his resignation on Sunday afternoon.
The Prime Minister said by not disclosing the parties who had contributed to the funding of his defamation action case, Mr Porter could not “conclusively rule out a perceived conflict of interest” under the ministerial standards.
“Ministers have an obligation to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest. And that is what, ultimately, has led the minister to make that decision,” he said.
“I take ministerial standards very seriously. My ministers understand that and they have taken action where it has been necessary to ensure those standards are upheld.”
In a lengthy statement, Mr Porter said he considered he had adhered to the proper disclosure requirements expected of ministers, defended his decision to take legal action against the ABC and argued that the rape allegations against him lacked credibility.
He said his decision came down to breaking the confidentiality of the blind trust or foregoing his cabinet position and there was “only one choice I could, in all conscience, make”.
“Consequently, I provided the Prime Minister with my resignation,” he said.
“It is effective immediately.”
Mr Porter said people had contributed to his legal fees case against the ABC under “well-known and regular legal structures” and did so on the “belief that their contribution would remain confidential”.
“Even though I suspected action against the taxpayer-funded broadcaster was probably going to be financially unsustainable, as it ultimately was, I decided I had to commence action against the ABC,” he said.
“Whilst I have no right of access to the funding or conduct of the trust, on my request the trustee provided me an assurance that none of the contributors were lobbyists or prohibited foreign entities,” he said. “This additional information was provided as part of my ministerial disclosure.”
“No doubt the desire of some, possibly many, of those contributors to remain anonymous was driven by a natural desire to avoid the inevitable fact that for supporting me, the trial by mob would inevitably turn on them if they were identified.”
Labor attacked the outcome, with Anthony Albanese saying Mr Porter still needed to declare “where this money came from” because MPs as well as ministers had a duty not to “accept money from anonymous donors for a private legal matter”.
“Scott Morrison should, just once, fess up with Christian Porter, say where this money came from, how much of it was there, and why was it given,” the Opposition Leader said.
“These are all questions that demand answers.
“He’s not fit to be a member of parliament.”
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said Mr Porter was “still in receipt of up to $1m in secret donations, and Mr Morrison is apparently comfortable with this”, arguing that Mr Porter’s resignation from cabinet did not “draw a line under this matter”.
Mr Porter also chose to escalate his criticism of the ABC on Sunday, accusing it of creating a “new standard … without due process or fairness”, which meant allegations could now be considered sufficient to result in an accusation being published and unleashing an “inescapable media frenzy where the evidence … appeared to be irrelevant.”
“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 said.
“From that point, when the reporting on both social media generally and in parts of the mainstream media shifted from a presumption of innocence to one of guilt, an impossible standard was set for any person to meet ¬ politician or not.
“It has resulted in constant abuse and ongoing threats. For me personally, the physical threats of violence, the experience of being spat at and publicly abused for something I didn’t do has been nearly beyond comprehension in a civilised country.”
Mr Porter will now move to the backbench but said he had “no intention” of standing aside from his responsibilities to the people of Pearce – the electorate to which he was elected in 2013.
His portfolio responsibilities of industry, science and technology will be filled by Energy Minister Angus Taylor, with Mr Morrison saying he would have “more to say” about the prospect of a frontbench reshuffle when he returned from the US, where he is attending the first face-to-face meeting of the Quad grouping including the US, Australia, Japan and India.
Mr Porter said it was clear the public broadcaster had selectively chosen evidence that fed into its “narrative of guilt” and he had obtained, from a source outside the ABC, a “copy of the only signed document that the person who made and subsequently withdrew the complaint ever made”.
“Many parts of that 88-page document are such that any reasonable person would conclude that they show an allegation that lacks credibility; was based on repressed memory (which has been completely rejected by courts as unreliable and dangerous); which relied on diaries said to be drafted in 1990-91 but which were actually words composed in 2019; and was written by someone who was, sadly, very unwell,” he said.
“Presumably because this document detracts so substantively from the credibility of the allegations there has been careful and deliberate avoidance in reporting it or publishing the parts of it that run counter to the chosen narrative.”
The consequence of setting in motion its “trial by accusation” was the unleashing of “the Twitter version of an angry mob”, which had no regard for evidence and turned on anyone who “contradicted the narrative of guilt by accusation”.
“So fierce and vengeful is the response of the Twitter mob to anyone who dares say anything contrary to the narrative of guilt that those people then come to be deemed to commit a form of social crime for defending the subject of the unproven allegation and the mob turns on them,” he said.
Mr Porter’s decision to resign and go to the backbench continues the fall from grace of a politician once touted as a future prime minister.
Although he was yet to receive the findings from an investigation by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Prime Minister on Sunday said further discussions between himself and the Pearce MP had led to Mr Porter making his “own decision”.