Last week, the nation clamoured for Christian Porter to stand down over the blind trust scandal. Today, it actually happened.
The other shoe has finally dropped for Christian Porter as he has resigned from Scott Morrison’s ministry in the wake of accepting an anonymous donation to pay his legal fees. As The ABC noted, “Mr Morrison announced Mr Porter had been unable to provide the necessary information to “‘void any perception of conflicts of interest’ and had decided to resign.”
“He has this afternoon taken the appropriate course of action to uphold those standards by tendering his resignation as a minister this afternoon, and I have accepted his resignation,” Mr Morrison said.
As the same publication noted, “Mr Porter updated his register of members’ interests last Tuesday, revealing a blind trust known as the ‘Legal Services Trust’ had made a ‘part contribution”‘to cover the costs of his lawsuit against a public broadcaster.”
It is believed that partial contribution is estimated to be around $1 million. A spokesman for Christian Porter said he had “undertaken disclosure in accordance with the requirements of the Register and consistent with previous members’ disclosure of circumstances where the costs of personal legal matters have been mitigated by contributions or reductions in fees”.
“No taxpayers’ funds were used in meeting the costs of the Minister’s actions against the ABC and Milligan, which have now concluded,” the spokesman said.
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.
So, here’s a question. If Porter is now out of Scott Morrison’s hair, will he now be investigated?
Michelle Grattan contributed to this report.