Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Christian Porter is “an innocent man under our law” and will return to work as the Attorney-General.
Mr Morrison also resisted calls from former solicitor-general Justin Gleeson to refer the complex case to the current Solicitor-General, claiming critics were not “a particularly big fan of our government.”
The Attorney-General is being referred to the Legal Practice Board of Western Australia by a group of high-profile academics, the ABC first reported.
Mr Morrison is aware of the referral, but said he was not concerned.
“If anyone here at this press conference was accused of a matter, you face the same process the Attorney-General would, and you would have the same rights and the same presumptions made about you, as he would,” he said at a press conference.
“Now, that’s fair. That is the fair go you get under our rule of law in this country. And I, for one, will not be one to undermine that.”
The PM revealed on Tuesday that Mr Porter – the subject of a historical rape allegation from 1988 – will not be returning to work next week as scheduled, and was unsure when he would be back on deck. On Wednesday, on a visit to the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Canberra, Mr Morrison said he still retained confidence in Mr Porter to return to his role, and rebuffed questions on whether he would shift jobs.
“I wouldn’t consider moving him to somewhere else. He is a fine Attorney-General and a fine Minister for Industrial relations,” Mr Morrison said.
“He is an innocent man under our law. To suggest there should be some different treatment applied to him, based on what had been allegations that the police have closed the matter on; I think it would be grossly inappropriate to take actions against him on that basis.”
NSW Police will not press on with a criminal investigation into the rape allegations, claiming there was “insufficient admissable evidence” to probe. Mr Porter strenuously denies all allegations against him.
A reporter noted that, as Attorney-General, Mr Porter would be expected to take charge of implementing the recommendations of the ‘Respect@Work’ national inquiry into sexual harassment, from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
When asked if he would be comfortable with Mr Porter leading that process, Mr Morrison said “yes, I would”.
Amid mounting calls for a judicial or independent inquiry into the rape allegations, the ABC reported that Mr Gleeson believed the PM should refer Mr Porter’s case to the current Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue.
Mr Gleeson said the government should seek independent legal advice on whether Mr Porter is a fit and proper person to remain as Attorney-General.
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”.
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday he had not spoken to Mr Donaghue about the issue. On Wednesday, he defended that decision.
“[Mr Gleeson] is not someone who has been a particularly big fan of our government, I should say,” Mr Morrison said.
“That said, he is entitled to his opinion on this, but that is not the advice I have been provided at any time during the course of managing this matter.”
Separately, Mr Morrison said he would temporarily take over the portfolio of Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Mr Hunt is in hospital, being treated for cellulitis, a bacterial infection in his leg. He is expected back at work next week, meaning he will not add to the list of senior ministers on medical leave.
Mr Porter remains on an indefinite period of mental health leave. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will be off work until at least April 2, on advice from her cardiologist, after coming under intense scrutiny over her handling of rape allegations from former staffer Brittany Higgins.