Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
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.
Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra
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