The now former industry minister Christian Porter says he won’t be resigning from Parliament. Doubtless he hopes to follow the example of Barnaby Joyce and Bridget McKenzie and return to the frontbench after a few months and an election win. But he remains in blatant breach of House of Representatives’ requirements around registration of members’ interests.
The technical term is “serious contempt of the House of Representatives”.
Porter is required by resolution of the House to provide a statement relating to, inter alia, “gifts valued at more than $750 received from official sources, or at more than $300 where received from other than official sources provided that a gift received by a member, the member’s spouse/partner or dependent children from family members or personal friends in a purely personal capacity need not be registered unless the member judges that an appearance of conflict of interest may be seen to exist”.
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Of course, Porter could say he has judged that there’s no appearance of a conflict of interest in accepting from an unknown source a gift of a very large amount of money. He says he has been assured the source is not a lobbyist or foreign donor, which leaves Australia’s biggest corporation and wealthiest individuals, organised crime, or anyone who would benefit from having cabinet minister in their deep debt.
The requirements also extend to “any other interests where a conflict of interest with a member’s public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise”, though the explanatory notes for the requirements also say this is a subjective assessment that has to be made by the member.
But how Porter can credibly maintain that he thinks a conflict of interest may not be seen to arise from keeping anonymous donations running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars is a mystery — and once again confirms that he fundamentally lacks judgment.
His decision to release an extended rant yesterday attacking the ABC and social media and portraying himself as the real victim of historic rape allegations (that he strongly denies) further contributes to that perception. So does the strange logic that is the basis for Porter resigning.
… I am not willing to put pressure on the trust to provide me with any further information. I respectfully informed the prime minister that I would not place pressure on the trust to provide me with information to which I am not entitled. I explained my reason for this was that I could not assist any process that would ultimately allow people who have done nothing wrong to become targets of the social media mob and I would continue to respect their position.
So Porter might not want to pressure his benefactors to reveal themselves out of fear that the Twitterati would attack them. But there’s nothing to stop those benefactors from revealing themselves, thereby saving his ministerial career. Indeed it’s a strange “supporter” who would rather see Porter go to the backbench than subject themselves to a brief period of derision from a social media platform that, conservatives routinely insist, is wholly unrepresentative of real Australians.
For that matter, it’s conceivable that Porter is the victim of “supporters” who planned all along to encourage his misjudgment and lead him to a situation where he was in egregious breach of disclosure requirements for ministers and members.
For now, the appearance is that Porter is as much a member for anonymous benefactors who could at any time call in their debt as he is member for Pearce.
As for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, can anyone make sense of his handling of this? Last week he asked his fixer, Phil Gaetjens, to examine the ministerial standards to see if Porter was in breach. What should have been a two-minute exercise had still not been completed by yesterday morning when Morrison apparently decided to offer the revolver to Porter and point the way to the study anyway.
So what was the point of asking Gaetjens to do it in the first place? And what had changed for Morrison between last week and yesterday?
It’s an odd ministerial resignation when it leaves just as many questions about the credibility of the PM as it does about the minister.