Originally published by SBS news 20 September 2021
Australian of the Year Grace Tame has criticised the handling of Christian Porter’s resignation as a minister, suggesting his departure from cabinet over the use of a trust fund sends the wrong message.
Mr Porter resigned from the government frontbench on Sunday after revealing his decision to accept anonymous donations to help cover the costs of his legal fees against the ABC.
The former attorney-general sued the public broadcaster in March over a story that revealed a now-deceased woman’s historical rape allegation against a cabinet minister.
Mr Porter has strongly denied the allegation, with the defamation case being settled before trial.
Ms Tame said that despite leaving the frontbench, he remains in government on the backbench, receiving the salary of a federal politician.
“Porter has resigned from the front bench. He’s now a backbencher, still in parliament. With pay. And all its protective privilege. This is how corruption prevails,” she said on Twitter.
“When leadership fails to swiftly address and condemn it – absolutely, it sends us all the message that it’s tolerated.”
Questions continue to mount over Mr Porter’s use of the trust fund to help cover his legal fees, with calls persisting for more transparency around the disclosure.
The former industry minister has defended his decision not to further investigate or disclose the source of the funds, claiming this would expose his donors to a “social media mob”.
But Labor is continuing to demand answers around where the money came from and how much Mr Porter received.
Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said Mr Porter needed to disclose the source of the money or resign from parliament.
“This is not over,” he told reporters on Monday.
“It is no more acceptable for a member of parliament to keep a donation secret than it is for a minister to keep a donation secret. The Australian people are entitled to know.”
Earlier last week, Mr Porter updated his register of interest, noting a “blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust” had made a “part contribution” to cover the costs of filing the lawsuit against the public broadcaster.
In a lengthy statement announcing his resignation, Mr Porter on Sunday said he had considered the decision to stand aside very carefully.
“Ultimately, I decided that if I have to make a choice between seeking to pressure the Trust to break individuals’ confidentiality in order to remain in cabinet, or alternatively forego my cabinet position, there is only one choice I could, in all conscience, make,” he said.
Mr Porter has given no indication he will return the money from the trust fund.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said the decision had come down to Mr Porter being unable to rule out a perception of a conflict of interest because he would not disclose who his donor was.
Mr Porter has defended his actions, saying he was assured none of the anonymous financial contributors were lobbyists or prohibited foreign entities but instead people who wanted to avoid retribution for supporting him.
But Geoffrey Watson, SC, a director of the Centre for Public Integrity has described this as unacceptable, saying questions must be answered over the source of the funding.
“The resignation by Mr Porter, it seems to me, doesn’t deal with the underlying problems,” he told SBS News on Monday.
“It doesn’t give us the benefit of knowing when the offer was made, by whom the offer was made or how much the offer covers.”
His resignation came before an inquiry by the head of Mr Morrison’s own department into whether Mr Porter had breached ministerial standards was completed.
Mr Morrison has argued Mr Porter had upheld those standards by resigning.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has expressed support for Mr Porter’s future in politics, maintaining he expects the former attorney-general could one day return to the frontbench.
“My own recommendation is that he is an incredibly capable politician,” he told reporters on Monday.
“If he does [use his time] effectively I believe he should be given another chance at some future time in a senior role.”
Labor and the Greens argue the situation surrounding Mr Porter shows the need to introduce a national integrity commission to investigate potential matters of corruption.
Greens Leader Adam Bandt said concerns over transparency of the disclosure remain.
“Transparency and integrity count for nothing for Scott Morrison, and both Christian Porter and the prime minister are still acting as if nothing wrong happened,” he said in a statement.
Mr Dreyfus has indicated Labor intends to continue to pursue the matter when parliament returns in October, including through the privileges committee.