Christian Porter
Christian Porter (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

There’s a rumour going around among the sewer rats of Twitter that taxpayers are funding Christian Porter’s defamation claim against the ABC. That rumour is false. Numerous sources have reported the attorney-general won’t get taxpayer funding for the case.

Still, litigation of the kind he’s pursuing — taking on the ABC with the cream of the Sydney bar on his side — doesn’t come cheap. Tally up the legal costs and it’s way out of reach for most Australians. And even for an attorney-general on an ever-increasing salary it’s a huge financial burden.

Just how much?

How much can we expect Porter’s claim to cost? Things could be wound up very quickly if the ABC settles. But the broadcaster has a habit of fighting claims, and a settlement here — where the stakes are so high and the politics so bitter — would seem like a capitulation too far.

Lawyers are, paradoxically, tight-lipped about their fees — but also terrible gossips. It’s reasonably well known that Bret Walker SC, of George Pell fame, charges about $25,000 a day. He’s joined on Team Porter by Sue Chrysanthou, now well-known for her work in the Geoffrey Rush and Joe Aston trials. Having been made a senior counsel late last year, Crikey understands Chrysanthou could command a fee of up to $8000 a day.

At trial, the pair are likely to be joined by at least one — possibly a few — junior barristers getting about $5000 a day. Then there are solicitors’ fees on top of that.

The final bill depends on how long a trial goes for, which in a defamation case can often turn on the number of interlocutory proceedings and the potential defence run by the ABC.

Crikey’s analysis of the Rush proceedings found the actor probably incurred legal costs of $2 million to $3 million over the course of that marathon trial.

Legal insiders told Crikey Porter’s fees were likely to be in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million if the ABC files a truth defence and a two- to three-week trial ensues.

That isn’t factoring in the ABC raising another defence, further issues arising, or the prospect of appeals down the line. It’s an obscene amount of money however you cut it.

Is Porter really that rich?

Is it too obscene an amount of money for Porter? Well, MPs are paid pretty well these days, and as a senior minister his salary has increased.

Porter would’ve entered Parliament in 2013 on a base salary of $195,130. He was on a backbencher’s pay for just over a year before becoming a parliamentary secretary, putting him on $243,912.50 a year.

That didn’t last long because he was promoted to social services minister in September 2015. Months later, MPs got a 2% pay increase, so Porter was then on $343,344. His salary increased 2% every subsequent year until 2019.

By that point, Porter was attorney-general and leader of the government in the House, putting him on his current salary of $369,690. All up, he has earned millions from his time in federal politics.

And let’s not forget Porter was an MP and minister in Western Australia from 2008 to 2012, where he earned a salary in the comfortable six figures. That was preceded by a six-year stint as a senior prosecutor at Western Australia’s director of public prosecutions (current salary circa $200,000 a year).

Until last year, he owned three properties: a primary residence and investment property in Perth, and a place in Kingston, Canberra.

On top of all that, Porter’s from old money, a family well set in the Perth upper crust. He counts the state’s elite among his friends — Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest once gave him a reference, and last year he took four rides on a private plane owned by Nev Power, the former Fortescue boss who’s now running Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s COVID-19 commission.

The kind of defamation action Porter is taking is prohibitively expensive. If he wins, it could blow a huge financial hole in the ABC, and either way will be a gold rush for some of the country’s top lawyers.

It’s the kind of action only someone as comfortable and well-connected as Porter could ever anticipate.

*Note: an earlier version of this story estimated Sue Chrysanthou’s fee as $12,000 a day.