It’s unclear when Christian Porter will return to work, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he doesn’t “anticipate” the attorney-general in Canberra when Parliament sits next week.
Mr Morrison also further rubbished calls for an independent or judicial inquiry into the rape allegations against Mr Porter, saying he wouldn’t entertain “extrajudicial processes”.
“If we do that, we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law in this country. There are not two laws in this country and I won’t allow that to be eroded,” the PM said from Sydney, where he announced an extension to a wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees.
ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night aired another report into the 1988 rape allegation against Mr Porter, with friends of the woman – identified as Kate – calling for an inquiry into the claims.
As Labor, the Greens and the crossbench demand such a process, Mr Morrison and nearly every other Coalition member has outright dismissed calls for an inquiry.
Mr Morrison gave his strongest comments yet in opposition to the mounting requests, repeating earlier claims that it would impinge on the ‘rule of law’.
The PM’s stated logic is that, since NSW Police declined to pursue an investigation due to a lack of admissable evidence, it would be unfair to enforce an extra process on Mr Porter.
- Related: Geoffrey Watson: Why Christian Porter and Scott Morrison are utterly wrong about the ‘rule of law’
As The New Daily has reported in recent weeks, civil and administrative lawyers have pointed out that such processes are commonplace in workplace settings and professional sporting arenas, without complaints about the rule of law.
“I believe in the presumption of innocence and the rule of law, and [Mr Porter] is entitled to that. The competent and authorised agencies through the police and the court system, that’s what determines these matters at the end of the day,” the PM said.
“Every Australian is entitled to that, whether they’re a minister of the Government or anyone else in this country. There are not two rules. There are not two laws in this country. There are not two processes. There is one. And we’re all subject to it.”
Mr Morrison said he has not spoken to federal solicitor-general Stephen Donaghue QC about the allegations against Mr Porter.
The solicitor-general’s role, according to the attorney-general’s department, is to “furnish opinions on questions of law referred to him by the Attorney-General and to perform such other functions ordinarily performed by counsel as the Attorney requests”.
The Prime Minister said he was not going to “indulge in other extrajudicial processes that suggest that one Australian is subject to a different legal process to any other Australian”.
“If we do that, we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law in this country. There are not two laws in this country and I won’t allow that to be eroded,” he said.
Porter, Reynolds to miss next Parliament week
Mr Morrison added that he had spoken to Mr Porter in recent days, but was unsure when he would return to work.
“At this stage, he hasn’t advised the date he’s returning. I don’t anticipate him to be back in the Parliament next week, but he’ll give me further updates as we go through the course of this week,” the PM said.
The government had been due to guide its controversial industrial relations omnibus bill through parliament from next week’s next sitting fortnight. However, with Mr Porter – also the IR minister – to be missing, it’s unclear whether this will change the government’s legislative agenda and schedule.
Mr Morrison said the government was making arrangements to ensure “his responsibilities are handled by other ministers”, with employment minister Michaelia Cash is currently the acting attorney-general.
“Minister Cash has had quite a bit of experience getting important industrial relations legislation through the Parliament in the past,” the PM added.
Separately, Mr Morrison said embattled defence minister Linda Reynolds is dealing with a “quite serious” health issue, which will keep her away from work until at least April 2.
“I have, at the minister’s permission, spoken to her doctor about this issue and it is a serious issue,” Mr Morrison said.
“We are supporting her in getting the physical health treatment that she needs over this period.”
Mr Morrison said both Mr Porter and Senator Reynolds were being temporarily replaced by “highly competent” cabinet colleagues in Senator Cash and Marise Payne respectively. He said he was also maintaining “a very close watch” over their portfolios himself.