Attorney-General Christian Porter
Christian Porter (Image: AAP/Richard Wainwright)

Christian Porter, after discontinuing his defamation suit against the ABC, is in the same position as before he commenced the ill-fated litigation. In the absence of an independent inquiry into the allegations of sexual assault from the 1980s, he can’t remain in cabinet.

When he commenced the suit, Porter’s lawyers made much of his willingness to deny the claims under oath. Yesterday, Porter was still insisting “I was willing to go under oath and to say what I have always said that the things alleged did not happen”.

Even some in the media have parroted this line. “Porter indicated through his lawyers in March that he was willing to give evidence under oath. Now he will not have that chance,” wrote one journalist today.

Except the only person denying him that chance is Porter himself. If denying the allegations under oath was so important, Porter didn’t have to withdraw his suit — which he did so in exchange for a bland statement of the obvious from the ABC, that some readers of the article in question had wrongly interpreted it as an accusation of guilt.

Insisting after the event that he would have defended himself isn’t the same as doing it.

An independent judicial inquiry, in which Porter would be required to give evidence under oath, could fix Porter’s concern quickly and easily.

Deprived, if only by his own assessment of his prospects for success in a defamation suit, of a chance to defend himself, Porter would surely welcome an independent inquiry appointed by the federal government. It would be considerably cheaper than a defamation case, for starters.

Put another way, Porter and his media defenders — including at News Corp where, apparently, he has inflicted the mother of all defeats on the ABC — can’t have it both ways.

While the allegations against Porter — and the circumstances in which NSW police failed to investigate them — remain untested, Porter cannot credibly remain in cabinet. The solution is straightforward — an independent judicial inquiry initiated by the prime minister.

Porter’s conduct in relation to the ABC’s reporting have shone a light on why Porter seemed to have had so much difficulty living up to the requirement that, as attorney-general, he be a “model litigant”. As Crikey has detailed, Porter and his barrister were chipped three times by three separate ACT magistrates for their obstruction of the Bernard Collaery case under the guise of national security.

Last year Porter threatened to sue the ABC over Four Corners‘ revelations of allegations of affairs and “being drunk in public and making unwanted advances to women” by Porter, but never followed through. When he finally sued the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over her story about allegations against an unnamed cabinet minister, he:

  • sought to prevent the ABC’s defence from being made public (in a very clear echo of his efforts as attorney-general to ensure Bernard Collaery was prosecuted in secret and prevent Collaery from seeing evidence used against him)
  • used a platform provided by the government’s media allies to demand the ABC act “expeditiously” on his trial (even, hilariously, demanding the ABC “conduct the litigation according to their obligations as a model litigant”)
  • pleaded the right to retain his conflicted barrister Sue Chrysanthou on the basis that “it is a critically important right for any citizen in legal proceedings to choose his or her own counsel” after he had tried to delay Bret Walker SC from joining Collaery’s legal team (Porter later hired Walker himself).

Porter then misrepresented the terms of his discontinuation of his suit yesterday by saying the ABC did not defend his claim and “explicitly stated that they regret the outcome of the article and the reporting contained in it”, which was untrue. He alleged that Milligan had coached witnesses to destroy evidence and accused producer Sally Neighbour of lying about the fact that the ABC will not be paying damages and only the costs of mediation.

Hardly “model litigant” stuff from a man who used to be the first law officer of the nation. Porter now generously says that he doesn’t want his old job back. In the absence of an independent inquiry, he shouldn’t have a job in cabinet at all.