Instead of taking action over Porter’s blind trust, Scott Morrison’s promise of “serious” action rings untrue.
Christian Porter’s ministerial future is again on the line, with Scott Morrison seeking advice on whether his receiving money for his legal bills from a “blind trust” breaches the ministerial standards code.
Morrison discussed the arrangement, which has attracted a storm of controversy, with Porter on Wednesday.
On Tuesday 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”.
“As a potential beneficiary I have no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust,” he said in the update.
The defamation action followed the ABC reporting a historical rape allegation against an unnamed cabinet minister. Porter, attorney-general at the time, later identified himself as the minister and strongly denied the allegation.
He was subsequently moved from attorney-general to the industry ministry.
A spokesperson for Morrison said late Wednesday: “The Prime Minister is taking this matter seriously and has discussed the matter with the minister today.
“The Prime Minister is seeking advice from his department on any implications for the Ministerial Standards and any actions the minister must take to ensure that he meets the Standards.”
The advice will come from the secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, Phil Gaetjens, and Stephanie Foster, deputy secretary for governance.
If Porter is not meeting the ministerial standard one course would be for him to return the money.
Earlier on Wednesday, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was “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 told the ABC.
“Basically 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 and apparently without him knowing who the donor was either. It is so wrong.”
Turnbull said it was “like saying ‘my legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash’”.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese ridiculed the proposition that Porter didn’t know the identity of his benefactors.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the PM seeking advice over the blind trust was “another farcical ‘inquiry’ by Scott Morrison’s right-hand man” which “follows yet another outrageous scandal in Mr Morrison’s government”.
“The idea that he doesn’t know, that just somehow out there random people are discovering this trust, finding out for themselves where to put the money and depositing the money with no knowledge to him, is, quite frankly, just unbelievable and absurd,” Albanese said.
Albanese said this was “yet another reason why we need a national anti-corruption commission.
“If there was a national anti-corruption commission, it’d be up this like a rat up a drainpipe.”
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the PM seeking advice was “another farcical ‘inquiry’ by Scott Morrison’s right-hand man” which “follows yet another outrageous scandal in Mr Morrison’s government”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended Porter, telling Sky that he “has disclosed in accordance with the requirements of parliamentarians on their register of interest”.
“The point about Christian Porter’s legal defence is that he did not use taxpayers’ money, and that is very important,” Frydenberg said.