Yesterday, embattled Christian Porter resigned from the Morrison cabinet, as he could not prove there is no conflict of interest arising from a blind trust established to help him pay the legal costs, incurred after he sued the ABC following its linking him to decades-old allegations of asexual assault.
The blind trust arrangement that brought Porter down didn’t pass the pub test, let alone the federal code of ministerial conduct.
Porter’s Pyrrhic victory in his legal settlement has come to nothing. Those in the ABC and elsewhere who accepted uncritically the allegations against him, or merely hate Porter or the Morrison government, have won. They have got their man. Porter’s reputation will never recover. Despite his insistence he will contest his seat at the upcoming federal election, his political career is all but finished. The allegations thrown at him are almost impossible to prove, given the complainant is dead, but equally they are almost impossible for Porter to disprove.
But, as Gerard Henderson noted in The Weekend Australian, most politicians are not fabulously wealthy. If they aren’t indemnified against legal costs – if, for example, a minister is sued over actions taken in his ministerial role – they risk being liable for costs, let alone damages, of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars. A Clive Palmer, Malcolm Turnbull or Kevin Rudd could afford it but, for most MPs, it could cost them everything to take on a deep-pocketed media organisation like the taxpayer-funded ABC.
If the fall of Christian Porter further emboldens not just the ABC, but any broadcaster or publisher, to make or repeat unproven allegations about the private life of a serving minister or MP who has little in assets besides their home, salary and pension – of whom John Howard was one in his parliamentary career – is that truly in the public interest? Is that truly going make a career in public service more attractive for the best and brightest, rather than the wealthiest? Is it really going to ‘restore’ integrity in government?
His antagonists should resist schadenfreude at Porter’s political demise. Whatever the truth of the allegations levelled at him from the grave, no one has won from this tragic affair. We all are losers.
Terry Barnes edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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