(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

After months mired in historical rape allegations, Christian Porter is trying to focus on the fight for his political survival. To do so, the senior Coalition minister is spending more money on social media advertising than any other Australian politician.

Since Porter outed himself as the subject of a letter sent to the prime minister and other MPs accusing him of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in 1988 — allegations he strenuously denies — attention on him has been through the lens of the accusations.

The sudden end to Porter’s defamation action against the ABC, and NSW Police ruling out reopening the case, means this could be the end of formal proceedings — unless an inquiry into the allegations is called.

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But Porter’s not out of the woods yet. His hold on the seat of Pearce is looking less than certain. The once blue-ribbon Liberal seat is set to be redistricted in August, removing many of the traditionally conservative rural voting areas. The ABC’s Antony Green expects this cuts about 2.5% off Porter’s 7.5% margin.

Faced with a reduced margin and months of negative media attention, Porter’s use of social media reveals how he is using digital tools to try win his seat.

Porter has regularly used Facebook advertising to promote Facebook and Instagram posts about his ministerial portfolios and electorate matters. This advertising suddenly stopped on February 28, two days after the letter’s existence was reported.

After a three-month break, just before he entered into mediation with the ABC over the defamation case, the minister’s Facebook began running more than a dozen advertisements.

Last week he was Australia’s eighth largest spender on Facebook ads about social issues, elections or politics. He spent $8627 between March 26 and June 1, more than any other Australian politician or political party. This weekly spend is a third of his total spend on Facebook advertising since it began being recorded in August 2020. Unlike other government ministers advertising on Facebook, each one of Porter’s advertisements were targeted to Western Australian Facebook users — many specifically mention Pearce or policies specific to it.

All but one of the promoted posts don’t feature Porter all. (The sole post depicting him was by far his most promoted, with half the money spent on a video on May 28 featuring him talking about Australian Made Week and his electorate. It cost somewhere between $3500 and $4000 to show the video to more than 90,000 people in WA.

(By comparison, Assistant Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie has spent more than $5000 in the past week but much of that is on ads targeting users all over Australia and many are about his portfolio. Many of the posts include Hastie.)

This same trend has continued over to Porter’s organic Facebook and Instagram posts. His accounts didn’t post during March, after he took mental health leave on March 3. Since then posts to his Facebook account slowly began to trickle back in and only returned to pre-accusation levels towards the end of May. His Facebook posts didn’t include a picture of Porter until nearly two months after his press conference outing himself as the minister at the centre of the scandal.

What this shows is that after going to ground, Porter is back with a near singular focus: convincing West Australian voters to vote him back in. And he’s willing to spend like he’s never spent before to change the topic away from allegations that — despite the end of formal proceedings — still haunt him.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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