Christian Porter quits cabinet, refusing to find out who gave him money for legal costs


AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraIndustry Minister Christian Porter has been forced to resign from cabinet after declining to seek and provide to Scott Morrison the names of the anonymous benefactors who have helped fund his legal costs.

Morrison has appointed energy minister Angus Taylor acting industry minister and sources say he is likely to continue in the dual role.

Porter’s resignation comes as Newspoll shows the government slightly reducing Labor’s two-party lead, from 54-46% to 53-47%. Labor’s primary vote fell 2 points to 38%; the Coalition rose a point to 37%.

Both leaders took hits in approval: Morrison is on a net negative of minus 4, while Anthony Albanese is on a net negative of minus 11. Morrison’s lead as better PM has fallen to 47-35%, from 50-34% three weeks ago – this is the closest since March last year.

In a three-page statement, Porter renewed his attack on the ABC and said a statement provided by the now-deceased woman who accused him of historical rape – which he denies – showed the allegation lacked credibility and was written by someone “very unwell”.

Porter is keeping the funds donated to a “blind trust”, the amount of which is unknown. He also says he will seek to run again in his Western Australian seat of Pearce, which is on a 5.2% margin.

Last week, Porter updated his parliamentary register of interests to reveal a “part contribution” to his legal bills for his (now settled) defamation case against the ABC from “a blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust”. Porter said he did not know the names of donors.

Morrison asked his department to advise whether the arrangement breached ministerial standards.

But Morrison indicated at a news conference on Sunday he and Porter had finalised his future ahead of the advice.

Morrison was clearly anxious to have it settled before his trip to the United States, so it would not be a distraction during what he hopes will be a time of positive news following last week’s announcement of the AUKUS security agreement.

Bad publicity around Porter has been a running sore for the government for much of the year.

The historical rape allegation surfaced publicly in February, when the ABC reported material about it had been sent to several politicians, including the prime minister. Porter was not named but later identified himself, declaring the alleged assault had never happened.

Initially, he hoped to retain his position as attorney-general, but this was politically untenable and he was moved to the industry job in a reshuffle.

With an outcry over the “blind trust” and an election approaching next year, Morrison could not afford another prolonged scandal around Porter. He indicated Porter’s future was in doubt when he said last week he was taking the matter very seriously.

Morrison said on Sunday that in their discussions, Porter had been unable to “practically provide further information because of the nature of those [trust] arrangements”.

That Porter couldn’t provide the information meant he could not conclusively rule out a perceived conflict of interest.

Morrison said Porter was upholding the ministerial standards by resigning.

Porter said in his statement that while he had no right of access to the trust’s funding or conduct, he had asked the trustee for an assurance, which he received, “that none of the contributors were lobbyists or prohibited foreign entities.

“This additional information was provided as part of my Ministerial disclosure,” he said.

He said no doubt the desire of some or many of the donors to remain anonymous was driven by wanting to avoid “trial by mob”.

Porter said he believed that he had provided the information required under the Members’ Register of Interests, and that the additional disclosures he provided under the Ministerial Standards were in accord with its additional requirements.

“However, after discussing the matter with the Prime Minister I accept that any uncertainty on this point provides a very unhelpful distraction for the Government in its work.”

He said to the extent the uncertainty might be resolved by seeking further information about donors’ identities, “this would require me to put pressure on the Trust to provide me with information to which I am not entitled.

“I am not prepared to seek to break the confidentiality of those people who contributed to my legal fees under what are well-known and regular legal structures, including the confidentiality attached to the Trust contribution,” Porter said.

He had explained he “could not assist any process that would ultimately allow people who have done nothing wrong to become targets of the social media mob.”

“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.”

In his renewed attack on the ABC, Porter said that “seemingly with great care and effort – [it] has reported only those parts of the information that it has in its possession which feeds into its narrative of guilt.

“I have recently been provided from a source outside the ABC with a copy of the only signed document that the person who made and subsequently withdrew the complaint ever made.

“Many parts of that 88-page document are such that any reasonable person would conclude that they show an allegation that lacks credibility; was based on repressed memory (which has been completely rejected by courts as unreliable and dangerous); which relied on diaries said to be drafted in 1990/91 but which were actually words composed in 2019; and, was written by someone who was, sadly, very unwell.”

Albanese said Porter needed to answer where the money had come from. He also said Morrison had not sacked Porter – Porter had resigned.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor MP Tim Hammond quits for family reasons, creating byelection in WA


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Labor Party faces a byelection in the seat of Perth after first-term MP Tim Hammond announced he was leaving politics because of the difficulties of being separated from his young children.

“I thought I had an appreciation of how to manage my duties as a federal member of parliament in a way that did not have such an impact on my family,” Hammond said. “I got that wrong. I just did not anticipate the profound effect my absence would have on all of us.”

His children are aged six, two-and-a-half and seven months.

“As a direct result of me being away from home, the strength of the relationships that I have built with my children have suffered in a way that is simply unsustainable for us as a family, and me as a dad,” he said.

Hammond, 43, elected in 2016, was already a shadow minister and was seen as having a very bright future in politics. He said he would leave politics entirely, ruling out any future tilt at state parliament. He planned to go back into the law, representing the sick and dying, and Aboriginal victims, while being “at home every night”.

Hammond is well respected on both sides of politics. Finance Minister and fellow Western Australian Mathias Cormann said he was “genuinely sad” to hear Hammond would be leaving.

“While we are political competitors, we are also friends and colleagues involved in the same profession focused on making a positive difference to our community and to our country. Tim is a very decent, highly capable individual with a bright future in whatever he decides to do next,” Cormann said.

“It is our state’s loss that Tim will now not continue to pursue his federal political career to its full potential,” he said.

The electorate of Perth is considered a safe Labor seat and is on a margin of 3.3%.

Labor was already waiting anxiously on the High Court’s decision on the status of ACT Senator Katy Gallagher, which is expected to indicate whether three House of Representatives Labor members and one crossbencher will have to face byelections as a result of dual citizenship issues when they nominated in 2016.

Hammond said he would resign “in the near future” after discharging obligations to his electorate and staff. He said he very much regretted that a byelection would be an inconvenience for his community. “The decision to cause a byelection now is the thing that gave me the greatest angst,” he told reporters.

In a detailed statement explaining his decision, he said that “as much as I have tried desperately, I just cannot reconcile my life as a federal member of parliament with being the father I need and want to be”.

“I am not saying that the life of a Western Australian federal member of parliament is unmanageable. Many of my colleagues make it work. But it is time to be brutally honest and admit that I am not one of them.”

Hammond said he had “sought professional advice and assistance to try and preserve our family unit in a way that I felt confident would not suffer from my absence. But my time from home simply means that the strength of my relationships with my daughters and my son has been compromised.”

He said he had privately agonised over his decision for many months.

In a Perth radio interview he said the baby in his family had been “an unexpected but wonderful blessing that wasn’t on the cards when I was elected almost two years ago”.

He said he had spent many years seeking to become an MP. But now “it just wasn’t working”. It was very important to him as a professional person that he give the job 120%.

At a news conference Hammond said the travel – which is often mentioned in relation to MPs from WA – was just one part of it. It was not so much the travel per se – it was just “about absence”. To do his job properly, he had to put down his bags and immediately get out again, to fulfil his obligation to the community.

He said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had been “understandably surprised”, wanting to make sure he had thought through his decision.

The ConversationShorten said that he was disappointed Hammond would not be part of the next caucus, “but as a husband and a father, I’m glad he’ll be with the people he cares about most in this world”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.