Federal minister Christian Porter’s decision to accept mystery funds to pay personal legal fees has been described as a “shocking affront to transparency” by his former boss.
- Christian Porter has declared an unknown donor helped pay his legal fees through a blind trust
- Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says Mr Porter’s decision to accept the money flouts accountability
- The Treasurer says Mr Porter has followed all the rules in declaring the money
Malcolm Turnbull, who as prime minister appointed Mr Porter as his attorney-general, said he was staggered the minister used a blind trust to cover some of the costs he racked up in a defamation suit against the ABC.
The former attorney-general yesterday updated his register of members’ interests to include the blind trust, and declared as a potential beneficiary of the ‘Legal Services Trust’ he had no access to information about its conduct or funding.
Mr Turnbull questioned how Mr Porter could accept the money in good faith.
“This flies in the face of every principle of transparency and accountability in public life,” the former prime minister told the ABC.
“This is an absolute affront.
The ABC has asked Mr Porter’s office for comment on what efforts he has taken to determine where the money has come from, who manages the trust, how much money he received from the trust, and how he can justify accepting money from the trust if he does not know those details.
Questions have also been put to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, regarding whether he is comfortable with the transaction.
Within the rules: Treasurer
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not answer questions on whether it was appropriate to accept money in such a way, but argued Mr Porter had acted within the rules.
“Christian Porter has disclosed, in accordance with the requirements of parliamentarians on their register of interests,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.
“And he has done so in a way that’s consistent with what other parliamentarians have done.”
That argument did not satisfy Mr Turnbull.
“Politicians or political parties can’t take money from anonymous donors,” he said.
“If you walk in to the Liberal Party, you know, with a bag over your head, and a chaff bag full of cash and say ‘I want to make this donation’ they won’t, they can’t accept it.
“What Porter is saying is that it is okay for an Australian cabinet minister, a former attorney-general, not just of Australia, but of Western Australia, to take a large donation, a large gift to himself without disclosing who the donor was.”
The former attorney-general sued the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over an article which said a letter had been sent to the Prime Minister, including an allegation of historical rape against a serving Cabinet minister.
The article did not name Mr Porter, but he publicly identified himself soon after, and strenuously denied the allegation.
Mr Porter discontinued the defamation suit in May. The ABC has not paid any damages, or issued an apology.
The public broadcaster did cover mediation costs.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese described Mr Porter’s disclosure as “unbelievable and absurd”.
“It is time that this minister understood that being a cabinet minister requires transparency, and it’s time that Scott Morrison took action here,” Mr Albanese said.
“That’s precisely the sort of issue that undermines confidence in our political system.
“I know pubs are closed at the moment, but this does not pass the pub test.”