Attorney-General Christian Porter

After George Brandis, true to recent form, delivered an equal parts catty and principled valedictory speech last week, we cast our attention to the spectacular rise of his replacement as attorney-general, dynastic golden boy Christian Porter.

A liberal dynasty

Porter comes from a long line of Liberal party figures. His grandfather, Sir Charles Porter was a minister in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government between 1966 and 1980. And his father Charles “Chilla” Porter was (apart from an Olympic medal-winning high jumper) director of the WA Liberal Party for many years in the 1970s and 1980s — something Christian used both of his maiden addresses to parliament to bring up: “This [The Liberal Party] is the party which my father served as a state director, and which my grandfather created in Queensland, upon Menzies’ instruction, and which he served as a state director in Queensland and later as a minister of the Crown.” 

Conservative golden child

Porter was elected to the WA legislative assembly in 2008, in the seat of Murdoch, after the death of Trevor Sprigg necessitated a byelection, and after the Liberals assumed government in the state election later that year, Porter became attorney-general in the Colin Barnett ministry. Under his reign, the number of fine-defaulters being sent to jail increased six fold, which he defended, after leaving the office, thus:

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My view when attorney-­general is the same view I hold now, being that if a person refuses to pay their fines, or refuses to enter into a time-to-pay program, imprisonment must remain a final option otherwise hoons, vandals and anti-social offenders would be allowed to commit crimes without an ultimate consequence.

Speaking of ultimate consequences, a couple of months earlier, Ms Dhu, an Indigenous South Hedland woman died while in jail for unpaid fines. Porter appears to have recently moved away from that position, now concluding it would be better to deduct unpaid fines from welfare (the IPA approves). 

In December 2010 he assumed the mantle of treasurer from Barnett (who had himself taken over after human Carry On film Troy Buswell resigned from a senior position for roughly the eighth of 20 times). Porter was already considered to be a future premier of WA but in 2012 unexpectedly resigned to pursue the federal seat of Pearce in the 2013 election.

Social Services minister

His rise wasn’t slowed by the jump to the federal system, and now questions abound about his potential to assume the prime ministership some day. Porter was instantly described as the “future prime minister” in a fawning piece by Paul Sheehan published at the time of his ascension to the federal seat, something Sheehan and Fairfax has stuck to doggedly since

After joining the federal parliament he became Parliamentary Secretary to former prime minister Tony Abbott. He was sworn in as the Minister for Social Services in the Turnbull government in September 2015, where he continued his talent for supporting polices with disastrous consequences, by insisting Centrelink’s robodebt process was working “incredibly well”

He also oversaw the redress scheme for victims of institutional child abuse — famously skipping the final session to go to the cricket — having to sell provisions that would exclude anyone convicted of serious crimes, you know, following their abuse as children at the hands of those charged with their care.

In the cabinet reshuffle of December of last year, he was promoted to Attorney-General.

Attorney-General

Porter inherits an office diminished by the ascension of Peter Dutton, with whom Brandis regularly feuded, to Home Affairs Minister. Are we to read Porter’s attacks on Racial Discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane (Porter has said he ought to be replaced by someone with empathy for “mainstream Australian values” not just minorities) as an attempt to make nice with hard right of the Liberal Party?

His work relating to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse abuse follows him to his new portfolio, as he looks to implement the commission’s recommendations. He also inherits the political challenges of selling the Turnbull government’s incredibly unpopular treason laws. Despite the unity ticket of every major media company’s opposition (they say it will serve to criminalise journalism), Porter has rejected calls that the laws be scrapped and re-drafted from scratch.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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