It is way past time Attorney General Porter was dumped

Mar 9, 2021

The Political Right asserts that an investigation into the Porter allegation would mean the end of Western civilisation as we know it. It would trash the Rule of Law, the Presumption of Innocence, the Right to Silence, and many other rights – all individual rights that the Political Right so strongly resists putting in an Australian Bill of Rights. Which is so much poppycock.

The Government has been rocked: two Ministers have called time out from their roles, and the Prime Minister has taken advice from his wife on one – but not the other – scandal. What would Jenny say if one of their daughters claimed she had been brutally raped when she was 16 by another participant at an interschool weekend? Jenny – Mrs Morrison – would presumably be horrified. Which is not to say the allegations against Charles Christian Porter are true.

Events have moved quickly since it was revealed late last month that the 16 year old had, 32 years later, made contact with the NSW Police to complain about the attack she alleged was made on her in Sydney in 1988 by a now federal Cabinet Minister; that the complainant died by suicide in June 2020; and that a letter attaching 31 pages of documentation apparently from the complainant had been sent to Scott Morrison, Penny Wong and Sarah Hanson-Young, and apparently also received by the ABC.

Speculation centred on the identity of the Cabinet Minister because there were 16 possibilities – the number of men in Cabinet. Some observers recalled the ABC Four Corner’s “Inside the Canberra Bubble” program last November, which centred on Porter and Alan Tudge, and claims of inappropriate sexual goings on. That program delved into Porter’s reputation as a party boy during his extended sojourn at university in the decade or so following 1988. I wrote after the program that delving so far back seemed inappropriate.

In the aftermath of Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape in the office of Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, the AFP Chief Commissioner, Reece Kershaw wrote to MPs urging that criminal allegations be immediately reported to police. So when Morrison, Wong and Hanson-Young received the dossier about 1988, they each sent it to the AFP. (It should presumably have gone to NSW Police, as that was the force with jurisdiction in the matter; or perhaps the South Australian Police, because the complainant died there).

Morrison’s initial line was to say it was a matter for the police. That was a safe course given that the NSW Police had already indicated the case was closed with the death of the complainant. NSW Police has since reaffirmed that decision. NSW Police has not even sought to interview Porter to put the allegations to him.

Others have argued there needs to be an investigation into the allegations, given their seriousness, and the amount of detail apparently in the dossier. In response, the Political Right has asserted that such an investigation would mean the end of Western civilisation as we know it: it would trash the Rule of Law, the Presumption of Innocence, the Right to Silence, and all those other rights which the Right so strongly resists putting in an Australian Bill of Rights.

So much poppycock.

It is ironic that these arguments are being made in defence of the person – Porter – who has done more to undermine the Rule of Law than any Australian political leader.

Investigations/inquiries outside the processes of the criminal law are commonplace in Australia. About the same time as the 1988 rape/sodomy allegations hit the headlines, the report of an investigation initiated by Porter was given to his office into possible complaints about Dyson Heydon’s conduct while he was Trade Unions Royal Commissioner. Heydon has been the subject of numerous complaints about sexual harassment from his time as a High Court judge. They came to light when it became known that that court – the highest in the land – had commissioned an investigation into his conduct.

Of course, the Royal Commission itself was very much a political witch hunt by Porter’s Government seeking to wound Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard over historic allegations of misdeeds from before they entered federal politics – Shorten including over the granting of money by his union – the AWU – to establish Get Up, and Gillard over legal assistance to establish the AWU Workplace Reform Association and the purchase of a suburban property.

So how many inquiries are we up to, all into criminal allegations, but conducted outside the traditional pattern of the police investigating alleged crimes? And every week seems to see another Royal Commission established.

What Porter says

Porter held a press conference to deny the allegations. Amazingly, Porter said: “I have never been contacted in any substantive form by anyone putting to me the details of what appears is now being alleged against me,” and “All I know about the allegations is what I have read in the media.” All those words presumably mean that he has not seen the dossier – that Morrison did not give it to him; that Porter did not seek it out. Extraordinary! According to the Guardian, Porter’s response had been sought – by journalists from the ABC, Guardian Australia, Crikey, the Sydney Morning Herald and 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. They contacted Porter’s media advisers many times and were ignored.

Last November, Porter denied having been given a chance to respond to the allegations to be made against him in the Four Corners’ “Canberra Bubble”. However the program’s producer told a different story. According to the ABC, Porter later acknowledged “some back and forth” between his office and the ABC. “We wanted particulars,” Porter said, complaining that some comments made in the program “were never put to me”.

Malcolm Turnbull told that program that, when he was PM, he had carpeted Porter over reports of Porter’s carousing. Turnbull said:

“I had a meeting with Porter in my office and I told him that I had had reports of him being out in public, having had too much to drink and in the company with young women. He acknowledged that; he didn’t argue with that.”

Porter’s account of the meeting was again diametrically different: he said Turnbull queried whether there was any accuracy to the carousing “story” he had heard; and according to Porter, “the answer was no”.

In the Four Corners program, a former Liberal staffer who at the time was having an affair with Tudge said that she and Tudge were in Canberra’s Public Bar where they saw Porter with “someone in the corner, and they were clearly very intimate. … They were cuddling, they were kissing. It was quite confronting given that we were in such a public place”.

In a statement after the program went to air, Porter said many of the claims on Four Corners were defamatory and that he would be considering legal options. He later reportedly retracted the implicit threat of legal action. But he said he “categorically rejected” the “depiction of interactions” at Public Bar.

Perhaps more than with any Minister, it is important that the Attorney-General be of high repute for his credibility and integrity. It is way past time that Porter was dumped.

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