Labor leader Anthony Albanese has demanded Christian Porter quit or be sacked as Industry Minister, as fallout over his “blind trust” pecuniary interests again threatens to derail the federal government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “looking closely” at the situation, which has stunned public integrity experts and left former PM Malcolm Turnbull “astonished”.
Mr Morrison will not say what action he is considering, but noted he had taken “difficult decisions” in the past if members of his government had breached ministerial standards.
In his first public comments on the latest scandal to envelop his government, Mr Morrison said on Thursday he was “looking carefully” at the matter but would not confirm what action could be taken.
“I take the matter seriously and we are looking carefully at the arrangements and what the minister will be required to do in order to ensure he was acting consistent with the ministerial guidelines,” the PM said at a Canberra press conference.
He rebuffed a question about whether Mr Porter would remain a cabinet minister, but signalled he might take further action if he believed the ministerial code had been breached.
“I’ve taken decisions in the past, difficult decisions, when I believe they haven’t been adhered to and decisions that have been taken as a consequence of that,” Mr Morrison said.
“In the same way, on these issues, I will follow the same process. I will deal with it carefully and, as always, I will ensure that the ministerial guidelines are adhered to.”
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie was forced to quit the ministry in 2020 in the wake of the ‘sports rorts’ scandal.
A Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet report found she’d breached ministerial standards by not declaring her membership of a gun club that received government money from a fund she oversaw as sports minister.
Mr Albanese was firmer, saying Mr Porter could not remain on the front bench.
“It is simply untenable for a minister of the Crown to receive up to $1 million from sources unknown in order to pursue a private legal matter and then say that he doesn’t know where the money came from,” he said on Thursday.
“Christian Porter should go and he should go today.”
Mr Porter, the former attorney-general, has come under intense criticism for declining to give further details of a “blind trust” that paid some of his legal fees in a defamation case against the ABC.
The case related to reporting that Mr Porter had been accused of raping a woman in the 1980s. It is an accusation he strongly denies.
It is unclear how much money he accepted from the blind trust, but his legal fees have been reported to potentially be as high as $1 million.
In May, Mr Porter said the legal action would be a “massive personal financial drain on me and my resources”.
On Wednesday, his office declined to tell The New Daily how much he had accepted from the trust.
Mr Turnbull has called the secrecy a “shocking affront to transparency”, while public integrity and legal experts have been left flabbergasted, and Mr Porter could even face a no-confidence motion when Parliament returns next month.
Mr Morrison’s office said late on Wednesday that he was examining the matter, and seeking advice from the DPM&C about whether Mr Porter’s actions breached the ministerial code of standards.
Mr Albanese demanded Mr Porter’s resignation.
“You can’t just take money, as a cabinet minister, from persons unknown and not declare it,” he said in Sydney.
“It is the Prime Minister who established prime ministerial guidelines. They’re his guidelines. He doesn’t need another inquiry … There is such a stench around this and around Christian Porter that all that is missing is a cloud of blowflies. This stinks.”
Independent MP Helen Haines, who has supported a federal integrity commission, said Mr Porter should return the money if he couldn’t specify where it came from.
“It raises so many questions around transparency and accountability, and what risks are created when accepting funds in this way,” she told TND.
“It is astonishing that a former attorney-general would assume there was no risk in accepting such a donation.
“Just because a donation is declared on the register of interests doesn’t mean it is ethical or beyond scrutiny.”
Stephen Charles QC, a retired judge and a board member with the Centre for Public Integrity and the Accountability Round Table, said he was shocked by Mr Porter’s disclosure.
“The problem is the secrecy. We have political donation rules,” he told TND.
“You can’t give a large bag of money to a politician without expecting to be in trouble. If the people made their names public, there’d be no complaint.”