Attorney-General Christian Porter has commenced defamation proceedings in the Federal Court against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan.
He is suing over an article the ABC published on Friday, February 26, which he says made false allegations against him in relation to a person he met when he was a teenager.
The story reported police had been notified of a letter sent to Scott Morrison detailing an alleged historical rape by a federal cabinet minister.
A statement from Porter’s lawyer Rebekah Giles says although Porter was not named, the article made allegations against a senior cabinet minister “and the Attorney-General was easily identifiable to many Australians”.
The lawyer’s statement, issued on Monday, says that in the last few weeks Porter “has been subjected to trial by media without regard to the presumption of innocence or the rules of evidence and without any proper disclosure of the material said to support the untrue allegations”.
“The trial by media should now end with the commencement of these proceedings,” it says.
“The claims made by the ABC and Ms Milligan will be determined in Court in a procedurally fair process.”
The statement says Porter will give evidence “denying these false allegations on oath.”
The ABC and Milligan have damaged Porter’s reputation by publishing the allegations, the statement says.
“This Court process will allow them to present any relevant evidence and make submissions they believe justifies their conduct in damaging Mr Porter’s reputation.”
The statement points out that under the Defamation Act, it is open to the ABC and Milligan to plead truth in their defence – “and prove the allegations to the lower civil standard”.
Porter’s lawyers include two leading barristers, Sue Chrysanthou SC, and Bret Walker SC, who appeared for Geoffrey Rush when he successfully sued the Daily Telegraph for defamation. Walker also acted for Cardinal George Pell, whose child sex abuse convictions were overturned in an appeal before the High Court.
A statement of claim filed in the proceedings says the article carried the defamatory imputation that Porter brutally raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988.
It says the ABC and Milligan published the article without any attempt to give Porter an opportunity to respond.
It accuses them of selecting portions of the material in order to make the allegations against Porter appear as credible as possible when other portions demonstrated the allegations were not credible.
“Milligan engaged in a campaign against Porter in order to harm his reputation and have him removed as Attorney-General,” the statement says.
The ABC said it would defend the action.
Porter’s office announced late Monday that he will return to work on March 31. He is currently on mental health leave. His return date means he will miss all the current parliamentary sitting and will not be back in the House of Representatives until the budget session in May.
Today, thousands of Australians are expected to march around the country, angry and fed up at the treatment of women. In Canberra they will form a ring of protest around Parliament House.
This comes after Melbourne academic and entrepreneur Janine Hendry wondered how many “extremely disgruntled” women it would take to link arms around parliament to tell the government “we’ve had enough” (the answer is about 4,000).
It follows Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape in a minister’s office in 2019 and an allegation Attorney-General Christian Porter raped a 16-year-old in 1988 (which he denies). It also comes amid multiple claims of a toxic work culture at Parliament House.
While Higgins’ case has sparked numerous inquiries, she claims she was not supported in the aftermath of her alleged assault. Regarding Porter, the government is resisting calls for an independent inquiry, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring him an “innocent man under our law”.
As Australia heads into another pre-election season, questions have been raised about the potential impact of recent events.
Women are obviously a significant demographic, and data shows they are already drifting away from the Liberal Party.
So, what’s at stake when it comes to women voters and the Liberals at the next election?
Gender and voting behaviour
The Australian Election Study is a nationally representative survey of voter behaviour that has run after all federal elections since 1987.
In 2019, it showed that although the Liberal-National Coalition won the federal election, the Liberal Party attracted the lowest proportion of women’s votes since 1987.
While 45% of men gave their first preference to the Liberal Party, just 35% of women did so. Parties on the political left also had an advantage among women, with 6% more women than men voting for the Greens, and a smaller margin of 3% more women voting for Labor.
Looking at the gender gap over time, we see it has actually reversed over the past 30 years. Back in the 1990s, women were slightly more likely to vote for the Liberal party, and men were more likely to vote Labor.
This has gradually switched, so men now prefer the Liberal Party and women prefer Labor. The gender gap in voting Liberal is now at its greatest point on record.
This reversal of the gender gap in voting behaviour isn’t unique to Australia, it has also been observed in other democracies including in Europe and North America.
Why are we seeing a gender gap?
There are a number of factors underpinning this transformation of gender and voting in Australia.
This includes tremendous social change, such as women’s increased participation in higher education. Higher education is associated with political ideology that is further to the left.
Women’s increased participation in the labour force is also a factor. The election study shows in 1990, 41% of union members were women, by 2019, that figure had increased to 55%.
But womens’ voting behaviour can also be attributed to major changes in Australia’s major political parties. Back in the early 1990s, women were similarly underrepresented in both the major parties — just 13% of parliamentarians in 1990 were women.
Since then, Labor has dramatically increased its proportion of women in parliament, reaching 47% through party quotas as of the last election. The Liberal Party on the other hand, has made slower progress, reaching just 23% at the most recent election.
New research published in the journal Electoral Studies shows left-leaning women are more likely to support female candidates.
The Liberal Party’s ‘women problem’
So, even before the current crisis, the Liberal party was losing the electoral support of women.
The Liberal Party’s “women problem” has become a common criticism, not just by political opponents but also prominent Liberal Party figures including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The current crisis has the potential to exacerbate the gender gap in voting behaviour.
That said, election results are often influenced by the most important issues at the time of the election. The salience of different issues — shaped to a large degree by media coverage — can change considerably over time.
Approval ratings of Morrison from the Essential Poll show he lost a lot of support during the bushfires in late 2019 and early 2020, which he was perceived as handling poorly.
Since then, Morrison has benefited from Australia’s relative success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of a phenomenon known as “rallying ‘round the flag,” voters have supported him and the government during this time of crisis.
The electoral impact of current events will depend not only on the government’s response to the sexual assault allegations (and voter satisfaction with those responses), but also which issues are salient at election time. A historical sexual assault allegation against former Labor leader Bill Shorten was not a major factor in the lead up to the last election (he denies the claims and in 2014, police said they would not proceed with charges).
Interestingly, the Australian Election Study shows trust in government reached its lowest point on record in 2019 with just one in four voters believing that people in government could be trusted. In contrast, three quarters thought those in government were more interested in looking after themselves.
On the issue of sexual assault, recent polling data also suggests the government is similarly perceived as putting itself first. Of those polled, 65% agreed “the government has been more interested in protecting itself than the interests of those who have been assaulted”. This includes half of Coalition voters, and a similar proportion of men and women.
In the first week of 2020, hashtag #ArsonEmergency became the focal point of a new online narrative surrounding the bushfire crisis.
The message: the cause is arson, not climate change.
Police and bushfire services (and some journalists) have contradicted this claim.
We studied about 300 Twitter accounts driving the #ArsonEmergency hashtag to identify inauthentic behaviour. We found many accounts using #ArsonEmergency were behaving “suspiciously”, compared to those using #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.
The most effective disinformation campaigns use bot and troll accounts to infiltrate genuine political discussion, and shift it towards a different “master narrative”.
Bots and trolls have been a thorn in the side of fruitful political debate since Twitter’s early days. They mimic genuine opinions, akin to what a concerned citizen might display, with a goal of persuading others and gaining attention.
Bots are usually automated (acting without constant human oversight) and perform simple functions, such as retweeting or repeatedly pushing one type of content.
Troll accounts are controlled by humans. They try to stir controversy, hinder healthy debate and simulate fake grassroots movements. They aim to persuade, deceive and cause conflict.
We’ve observed both troll and bot accounts spouting disinformation regarding the bushfires on Twitter. We were able to distinguish these accounts as being inauthentic for two reasons.
There are various definitions for the word “bot” or “troll”. Bot Sentinel says:
Propaganda bots are pieces of code that utilize Twitter API to automatically follow, tweet, or retweet other accounts bolstering a political agenda. Propaganda bots are designed to be polarizing and often promote content intended to be deceptive… Trollbot is a classification we created to describe human controlled accounts who exhibit troll-like behavior.
Some of these accounts frequently retweet known propaganda and fake news accounts, and they engage in repetitive bot-like activity. Other trollbot accounts target and harass specific Twitter accounts as part of a coordinated harassment campaign. Ideology, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and geographic location are not factors when determining the classification of a Twitter account.
These machine learning tools compared the behaviour of known bots and trolls with the accounts tweeting the hashtags #ArsonEmergency, #AustraliaFire, and #BushfireAustralia. From this, they provided a “score” for each account suggesting how likely it was to be a bot or troll account.
We also manually analysed the Twitter activity of suspicious accounts and the characteristics of their profiles, to validate the origins of #ArsonEmergency, as well as the potential motivations of the accounts spreading the hashtag.
In late November, some Twitter accounts began using #ArsonEmergency to counter evidence that climate change is linked to the severity of the bushfire crisis.
Below is one of the earliest examples of an attempt to replace #ClimateEmergency with #ArsonEmergency. The accounts tried to get #ArsonEmergency trending to drown out dialogue acknowledging the link between climate change and bushfires.
The hashtag was only tweeted a few times in 2019, but gained traction this year in a sustained effort by about 300 accounts.
The narrative was then adopted by genuine accounts who furthered its spread.
On multiple occasions, we noticed suspicious accounts countering expert opinions while using the #ArsonEmergency hashtag.
Since media coverage has shone light on the disinformation campaign, #ArsonEmergency has gained even more prominence, but in a different light.
Some journalists are acknowledging the role of disinformation bushfire crisis – and countering narrative the Australia has an arson emergency. However, the campaign does indicate Australia has a climate denial problem.
What’s clear to me is that Australia has been propelled into the global disinformation battlefield.
The sharp rise and subsequent fall in Bitcoin’s value places it among the greatest market bubbles in history. It has outpaced the 17th-century tulip mania, the South Sea bubble of 1720, and the more recent Japanese asset price and dot-com bubbles.
The rapid price rise garnered attention from an increasing number of academics and investment advisers. Some have suggested that Bitcoin improves portfolio performance and can even be used as a potential “safe haven” asset in place of gold.
Our work finds that much of this research is flawed and overlooks some important attributes that any investor should consider before allocating funds to such a speculative investment.
This is particularly relevant if investing in Bitcoin is rationalised as a prospective safe haven in times of market turmoil.
Hard to value
The first attribute investors consider is how to value Bitcoin. Typically, assets are valued based on the cash flows they produce. Bitcoin lacks this property.
This leads to ongoing debate as to the true value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Some, such as the Winklevoss twins and other Bitcoin entrepreneurs, believe the price will soar far higher. Others, including Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama and esteemed investor Warren Buffett, believe the real value is closer to zero. Another Nobel winner, Robert Shiller, suggests the correct answer is “ambiguous”.
There is even wide variation in price across the various Bitcoin exchanges. This is common in fragmented markets and makes it difficult for an investor to find the best market price at any point in time – a process called price discovery.
Bitcoin prices also have a high level of variation (volatility) when compared to other possible investments including bonds, stocks and gold. Even tech stocks such as Twitter, which are considered relatively volatile, are found to have less price variation. This adds to the difficulty investors face when trying to value Bitcoin and any portfolios that contain it.
This is of particular concern given the large daily losses that Bitcoin has experienced in its relatively short life. The largest one-day decline experienced by the popular S&P500 index since 2011 is 4.2%. Bitcoin has had nearly 200 days that were worse (and over 60 days worse than the biggest decline in the gold price of 10.2%).
Put another way, Bitcoin has had 200 days worse than the worst day on the stock market. This hardly seems like an enticing investment for most.
Investors should also consider the ease with which they are able to buy and sell any assets in which they invest. One method used to measure this liquidity attribute is the bid-ask spread – the difference in the price at which one is able to buy and sell the asset.
More liquid assets have a narrow bid-ask spread. Bitcoin’s bid-ask spread varies from one exchange to another, but in general it is much larger than for other assets.
While bid-ask spreads provide one measure of implicit trading costs, investors also consider the explicit transaction fees they are charged when trading. Transaction fees for trading traditional investments are typically well known and have trended down over time.
While Bitcoin fees have recently declined, they have proven to be highly variable, ranging from over $30 to under $1. The time taken to process a transaction can also be greater than 78 minutes. This is much longer than for stocks or bonds and creates another layer of uncertainty for investors.
Only for the most risk-loving
Bitcoin is harder to value, more volatile, less liquid, and costlier to transact than other assets in normal market conditions. Potential investors should be wary and carefully consider whether such highly speculative assets are appropriate additions to any portfolio.
Given safe havens are typically in demand during financial crisis, when markets are more volatile and less liquid, it is highly unlikely that Bitcoin is even worth considering as a safe-haven asset.
This one takes the cake (poor pun I guess) – apparently ‘big music’ claims to own the copyright for ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ which means every time we sing it we are potentially breaking the law – unless we have an arrangement for paying royalties. However, this all seems very dubious and someone is finally challenging the ‘copyright.’
The link below is to an article concerning a pastor in Georgia, USA, who sought the right to bear arms in church. Not sure what he was hoping to achieve my taking guns to church other than it being just a stunt. He claims it would be for protection – must be very vigorous debates over membership issues there. Crazy!