Former Attorney-General Christian Porter has updated his register of members’ interests, noting part of his legal fees incurred from his defamation case against the ABC have been paid by anonymous donors.
Porter, who is currently the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, says he has no way of finding out who these anonymous donors to a “blind trust” are, and as such, won’t be able to declare the donations.
“Part contribution to the payment of my fees by a blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust. As a potential beneficiary I have no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust,” reads Porter’s statement.
The revelations come after Porter pursued a defamation case against the ABC in March regarding an article that said a current cabinet minister was facing historical allegations of rape in 1988. Porter publicly identified himself as the minister accused in the article, and strenuously denied the allegations. The case was settled in May this year, with no payout.
Porter’s costs for the defamation case have been estimated to be as high as $1 million.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has slammed the situation regarding Porter’s anonymous donors as “outrageous” and said Porter shouldn’t accept the money.
“Christian Porter’s claim to have no idea who funded his million dollar legal case is an outrageous abuse of his office,” Dreyfus said in a statement. “The Australian people need to know who set this trust up, who funded it, how much they donated, and whether they expected to get anything in return for these donations.”
“If Mr Porter genuinely doesn’t know who his donors are he shouldn’t accept their money. Did the money come from criminals? A foreign power? Apparently Mr Porter doesn’t care.”
Dreyfus said other questions Porter must answer include:
“Were any of these donors from overseas?
“Were any of these donors lobbyists?
“Were any of these donors beneficiaries of decisions made by Mr Porter – or do they stand to benefit from decisions Mr Porter may make in the future?
Former Prime Minister, and colleague of Porter, Malcom Turnbull has also criticised Porter’s use of anonymous donors’ money, saying he would be “staggered” if Porter could get away with it.
“[Porter] has not disclosed who the trustee is. The money is clearly not his. It’s been contributed by others and we don’t know who those others are,” Turnbull told RN Breakfast radio on Wednesday.
“This flies in the face of every principle of accountability and transparency in public life.
“I am staggered that Porter thought he could get away with it and I will be even more staggered if the prime minister allows this to stand. It is a shocking affront to transparency.”
Turnbull reiterated that political parties, ministers, and MPs are not allowed to receive cash from unknown sources, as it leaves them open to compromise and corruption.
“What Porter is saying is that it is ok for an Australian cabinet minister, a former attorney-general, to take a large donation, a large gift, to himself without disclosing who the donor was and apparently without him knowing who the donor was,” Turnbull said.
“This flings open the door to such extraordinary abrogation of responsibility and accountability.
“It honestly cannot stand. There should be absolute outrage about this.”
“I think it does leave the question of, why are you taking money from people [if] you don’t know who they are?” – @latingle on Christian Porter confirming anonymous donors covered some of his legal fees in his recent defamation case against the ABC. #abc730 pic.twitter.com/xea6fOQMJk— abc730 (@abc730) September 14, 2021
In a statement detailing federal parliament’s ministerial standards, it is noted as a rule that “Ministers shall ensure that they do not come under any financial or other obligation to individuals or organisations to the extent that they may appear to be influenced improperly in the performance of their official duties as Minister.”
A spokesperson for Porter said his declaration of interests was “consistent with previous members’ disclosure of circumstances where the costs of personal legal matters have been mitigated by contributions or reductions in fees”.