Christian Porter has resigned from the federal ministry over accepting money from a “blind trust” and not being able to disclose who gave him the funds, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.
“The inability for him to be able to practically provide further information because of the nature of those arrangements, if he were able to do that, that would allow the minister to conclusively rule out a perceived conflict,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference in Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
“As a result of him acknowledging that, 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.”
But Mr Porter defended his decision not to ask for more information on donors to the trust, claiming he had already complied with the disclosure requirements.
Porter slams ‘social media mob’
Mr Porter, now the ex-minister for industry, will return to the backbench and continue as the Member for Pearce.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor will temporarily take on Mr Porter’s ministerial responsibilities.
Mr Porter had come under intense criticism for accepting an unknown sum of money from a “blind trust” to pay “part” of his legal bills for a defamation case against the ABC.
He had been questioned over why he had accepted the money without disclosing who it came from.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison defended the former minister by saying “it is a blind trust. He cannot disclose to me who those donors are”.
In his statement, Mr Porter claimed he was “not entitled” to know the donors to the trust. He further added that he had chosen not to ask, partly due to his claim that donors would be subjected to criticism from a “social media mob”.
“They contributed to a trust on the basis of confidentiality and a belief that their contribution would remain confidential within the rules of disclosure,” Mr Porter said.
“Whilst I have no right of access to the funding or conduct of the trust, on my request the trustee provided me an assurance that none of the contributors were lobbyists or prohibited foreign entities.
“No doubt the desire of some, possibly many, of those contributors to remain anonymous was driven by a natural desire to avoid the inevitable fact that for supporting me, the trial by mob would inevitably turn on them if they were identified.”
Mr Porter stated that he believed he had complied with the requirements of the register of interests, but admitted “any uncertainty on this point provides a very unhelpful distraction for the government in its work”.
Mr Porter’s legal 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.
Mr Morrison said he had asked his department for advice on whether the nature of Mr Porter’s disclosure, and his decision to accept the money, constituted a breach of the code of ministerial standards.
The PM said he was taking the case “seriously” and last week said he was prepared to take “difficult decisions”.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison said he had not yet received the advice from his department, but that Mr Porter had resigned of his own volition.
The PM claimed the matter of ministerial standards was “now concluded”, as Mr Porter was no longer a minister.
“He is upholding the standard by resigning as my comment. If he doesn’t believe he can provide what we believe is necessary then it is the appropriate course of action for him to do that,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is the minister being the beneficiary of an arrangement that prevents him from being able to disclose to me in a way that would allow him to satisfy that he does not have a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest.”
‘Untenable for a minister’
Labor leader Anthony Albanese had demanded Mr Porter resign or be sacked from the ministry.
“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,” Mr Albanese said on Thursday.
On Sunday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Mr Porter’s circumstances “raises some serious questions”, and said ministers should “all act in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Ministerial Code of Conduct.”
“The reason that we have the code of conduct in place, the reason we have disclosure obligations in place is to provide transparency,” Senator Birmingham told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“The Prime Minister is rightly seeking that advice to make sure that in this case, where a disclosure has been made, he is appropriately and fully informed around whether that disclosure meets that standard and if it doesn’t, what action needs to be taken.”