In the words of investigative journalist Michelle Fahy: “Federal attorney general Christian Porter is the first law officer of the land. The role is a uniquely powerful position, one that is supposed to sit, unblemished and above the reach of vested interests. Yet as federal attorney general Porter has demonstrated a disturbing acquiescence to powerful corporate interests.”
Anther theme that symbolises Porter’s time as Attorney General, writes Crikey, is that “there’s one rule for Porter and his colleagues, and another for everyone else”.
Prosecution of Bernard Collaery and his client Witness K
The federal government and particularly Christian Porter have been unrelenting in their prosecution of Bernard Collaery and his client Witness K for having the temerity of exposing the Coalition Government’s illegal behaviour in bugging the offices of the East Timorese Cabinet.
In early February, as Crikey reported, Porter and his bureaucrats tried to prevent Bret Walker SC from participating in the case by initially refusing to provide him with permission to join the case under national security provisions, and refusing to agree to moving the hearing dates.
Porter was also accused of interfering in the court proceedings by screening documents held by Woodside Petroleum. Independent senator Rex Patrick used Senate question time recently to ask why Porter demanded the federal government have “first access” to documents held by Woodside before they were provided to Collaery.
Porter has also ensured parts of the trial have to remain secret by issuing a national security certificate to keep certain material classified.
These are just a few snippets. For more detail, read:
Breaking the law
Since taking the top legal job in Australia in 2017, Porter was in breach of Commonwealth legislation for three years by neglecting to table crucial reports documenting his use of secretive national security orders. This failure was only rectified after being revealed on the ABC’s Q&A by Nick Xenophon. Porter blamed it on an “administrative oversight”.
Thales – Porter defies 100 years of best practice
As Michelle Fahy reported for Michael West Media:
“Porter defied 100 years of best practice to prevent the nation’s auditor general from making public key sections of his report that was critical of a $1.3 billion arms deal between the federal government and multinational weapons maker Thales. Porter’s move sent ripples of alarm through the parliament, the public service, academia, and the wider community. ‘Gagged: a brazen attack on Parliament and the public interest,’ was the Canberra Times headline on a column by the ANU’s Emeritus Professor at the Crawford school of public policy, Richard Mulgan.”
Thales objected to key sections of the auditor’s report which found that Australia could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars had it gone to the United States to buy the fleet of light protected army vehicles, instead of buying 1,100 of Thales’ locally built Hawkeis. Christian Porter acquiesced to Thales and suppressed the key sections.
The toothless Federal Integrity Commission
As Stephen Charles, the widely respected board member of the Centre for Public Integrity and former Victorian Supreme Court judge, noted:
“Christian Porter’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission is designed to protect politicians and public servants from investigation and exposure.”
Charles also notes that Porter’s attitude had “a stench of hypocrisy”. And that’s because unlike the public sector division, the law enforcement division retains the power to conduct public hearings, which shows Porter:
“is quite content for those employed in, or dealing with, the 11 law enforcement agencies, up to their highest levels, to be investigated in public, and (on his reasoning) to have their lives and reputations destroyed”.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal
As reported by Crikey, Christian Porter appointed former Liberal Party senator Karen Synon to the $496,560 a year position as Deputy President and Division Head of the Social Services and Child Support Division, despite her not meeting the requirement in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act that she be an “enrolled legal practitioner” of a state Supreme Court for at least five years — a minimum qualification for even a lower-rung member of the AAT.
As Crikey further noted, the interview panel — which included at least one retired senior judge — did not interview her, let alone recommend her, for the role. Synon also has no experience in social services and child support law. Porter refused to comment when asked, merely saying that all appointments are made “on merit”.
Excusing illegal conduct/above the law
The Federal Court found that then Immigration Minister Alan Tudge engaged in criminal conduct by detaining an asylum-seeker for five days in defiance of an order by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In response Porter said: “The Minister clearly rejects [the court’s] conclusions.” Because the Immigration Minister was implementing Government policy, in Porter’s view, policy trumps the criminal law and trumps the orders of courts or tribunals.
Christian Porter was the minister responsible for introducing Robodebt, the illegal automated debt recovery scheme Robodebt. In December 2016, as Minister for Social Services, Porter publicly announced the scheme’s implementation. While he finally conceded in May 2020 that the scheme was illegal he refused to apologise. As we are reminded by Asher Wolf in the article “Robodebt was an algorithmic weapon of calculated political cruelty“, never forget that the government publicly leaked personal details about freelance journalist Andie Fox after she published her personal account of Robodebt. The incident was “chilling, both to activism and speech”.
Power unto himself
As Crikey reported, last year Porter gave himself the power to decide if and when a journalist would be prosecuted for reporting government secrets. While the directive was described as a “safeguard”, it allows Porter — a politician — to authorise prosecutions of journalists in situations where they may have been critical of his own government.