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

Much of Labor’s efforts in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs estimates committee yesterday were devoted to identifying exactly what areas of Christian Porter’s responsibilities as attorney-general and Minister for Industrial Relations he could ethically and legally be allowed to keep doing given his litigation against the ABC, not to mention the unresolved nature of the sexual assault allegations made against him.

Whole swathes of Porter’s portfolio responsibilities have to be hived off from him when he returns to work. Scott Morrison has already signalled that Porter will have no role in relation to the Federal Court (or the ABC), and is seeking advice on whether he can continue to have any responsibility for defamation laws. Indeed, we learned yesterday that the government is seeking advice about a range of his responsibilities, including legal services for the Commonwealth and workplace policies

As Labor also pointed out yesterday via Murray Watt’s questions in estimates, Porter can hardly be allowed to continue to sign off on AFP and ASIO raids on journalists while suing a media organisation. The same goes for his self-appointed role in signing off on prosecutions of journalists.

In fact, how can Porter be allowed even to know about, say, a pending AFP raid on the ABC or a prosecution of an ABC journalist, without obtaining some kind of advantage in his litigation against them?

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The attorney-general, of course, will continue to receive his full ministerial salary despite being on light duties

But while the term “Part-time Porter” looks highly relevant for when he returns to work, it also seems applicable to his performance over the last 12 months.

Labor extracted from officials of Porter’s department that he has done precisely zero work on the Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report since it was handed to the government just over one year ago. Back then, Porter and the alleged Minister for Women said the government would “take the time to carefully consider the report and its recommendations”. Porter has had no meetings with his department about the report, nor has he spoken to Sex Discrimination Commissioner and report author Kate Jenkins about it.

The report is another area Morrison has already admitted will now be taken off Porter. It doesn’t sound like there’ll be much work wasted in doing that, however.

That report isn’t the only thing Porter dragged his heels on. Remember the government’s risible integrity commission proposal went nowhere throughout 2019. Last year Porter delayed it further, blaming the pandemic for making it impossible to proceed, despite his department hardly having a frontline role in managing either the pandemic handling or the economic stimulus package.

There’s also the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on laws around corporate criminal responsibility, which Porter commissioned in 2019 and received in April last year, along with 20 recommendations for reform. Porter didn’t release the report until August. Since then, the report has vanished from sight, too. Another victim of COVID-19, perhaps.

We also know that Porter has been responsible for regular delays in the prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery — although of course that is more about a deliberate tactic of pressuring both men and harming Collaery’s legal career.

What exactly Porter will be doing when he returns, apart from discussions with his lawyers about his case against the ABC, is unclear. But evidently the sluggish pace won’t be anything new in his office.