‘Not ordinary arrangements’: Prime Minister waits for advice on Porter
The blind trust that helped pay Christian Porter’s legal fees were “not ordinary arrangements”, the Prime Minister says, as it remains unclear whether the Industry Minister can save his frontbench position by repaying the anonymous donations.
Facing another day of questions over Mr Porter’s future in his cabinet, Scott Morrison said he was not prepared to make a decision until he received departmental advice about whether ministerial standards had been breached.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he won’t make on Industry Minister Christian Porter’s political future until he receives departmental advice about whether ministerial standards have been breached. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“These are not ordinary arrangements, and that’s why we’re seeking to have a full understanding of them,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Friday.
He would not be drawn on whether Mr Porter could remain Industry Minister if he repaid the money, saying, “I’m just not going to speculate on it”.
“I’m saying that we are taking the appropriate advice to make the right decisions to ensure ministerial standards are upheld,” he said.
Mr Morrison on Thursday said he had made difficult decisions in the past when ministerial standards were breached, alluding to the ousting of Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie from cabinet last year over her failure to declare her membership of a gun club to which she gave a $36,000 grant. She has since returned to the front bench.
But on Friday, Mr Morrison said it did not automatically follow that Mr Porter would face the same fate as a result of the standards review.
“I don’t think you can infer anything. I think you can just take that I’m following a process which you’d expect the prime minister to do who believes strongly in ministerial standards,” he told ABC radio.
He declined to say whether he knew about the trust arrangement before Mr Porter declared it in his register of interest this week, but indicated it was a recent development.
“He only most recently, as I’m aware, became aware of becoming a beneficiary in that beneficiary payment becomes available to him,” Mr Morrison said.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said on Friday he first learned of the arrangement through media reports this week. He refused to be drawn on whether he believed Mr Porter had breached the ministerial standards by accepting the money, but noted that ministers should act in line with the “letter and spirit” of the code.
“The right thing is what the Prime Minister is doing, which is seeking advice in relation to adherence to the ministerial code. Each of us should do so to the letter and the spirit,” Senator Birmingham said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese repeated his call for Mr Porter to be immediately sacked, saying, “Christian Porter should just go. He should be sacked.”
Little is publicly known about the “Legal Services Trust”, which Mr Porter declared this week had made a part contribution to his legal fees in his since-discontinued defamation action against the ABC. In an update to his register of interests on Tuesday, Mr Porter stated that “as a potential beneficiary I have no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust”.
Mr Porter sued the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan for defamation in March over an online article he alleged portrayed him as the perpetrator of a rape in 1988. He denies the allegation and the case was settled in May. Mr Porter obtained court orders removing crucial details of the ABC’s defence from the public file, and then orders prohibiting other media outlets from reporting those details.
Mr Porter did not respond to a request for comment, including whether he knows who set up the trust, who the trustees are, and the size of the contribution it made to his legal bills – and whether he has sought to find out this information.
He has previously maintained that he disclosed the trust arrangement in accordance with the rules and his actions were consistent with disclosures made by other MPs of personal legal matters that have benefited from contributions or reduction in fees.
He has never disclosed his total legal bill from the litigation, but estimates have placed it as high as $1 million. The ABC’s bill totalled $780,000, including a $100,000 payment for Mr Porter’s mediation costs to settle the matter.
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