For Christian Porter, life has always been about privilege, about being at home inside public institutions while enjoying their benefits, about having your cake and eating it.
The party boy law student with eyes on high political office. The twice-married man who confessed, if not to carrying on affairs with staffers, then being a poor husband. Now, the attorney-general who wants to use his own courts to sue the ABC.
At least to his credit, Porter doesn’t hide his cynicism. Representing him in his action against the ABC will be Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s most eminent barristers and the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor — though just three months ago Porter refused to let Walker join Bernard Collaery’s defence team, claiming Walker didn’t have the right security credentials, as part of a long-running effort by Porter to drag out that trial as long as possible.
Collaery shouldn’t have Walker, but Porter will.
Porter’s vexatious, personally approved prosecution of Witness K and Collaery is intended to publicly punish the two veteran patriots who revealed the Howard government’s criminal conduct against Timor-Leste.
His attempt to keep those prosecutions secret, however, is designed to prevent any information about those crimes from being revealed — so much so that Porter even insisted that material subpoenaed from Woodside, the energy corporation that benefitted from the conduct, be handed to him for review first on the grounds that it could include national security material.
The other goal of Porter — required by regulation to ensure the commonwealth is a “model litigant” — is to wear Collaery, 76, down and wreck his legal practice by endlessly delaying his trial — so much so that three separate judges have criticised Porter’s own barrister in the case, Tim Begbie, for the commonwealth’s delays.
Be the nation’s first law officer, preach the rule of law, portray yourself as a martyr for it, but use that office to punish those you perceive as your party’s enemies.
It was impossible to watch Porter stand up at his media conference and tearfully complain about being wrongfully accused and not be aware of the hypocrisy of a privileged man-child using the legal institutions of the Commonwealth as part of a partisan vendetta against patriotic men who have done more for Australia than he could dream of doing.
Perhaps Porter will seek to have his own case heard in secret as well?
But Porter wants to remain attorney-general and in cabinet while this case proceeds. Again, have his cake and eat it. Even the government — an outfit deeply corrupt and plagued with scandals — is dimly aware of just how wrong it is that an attorney-general should remain in his position while the very courts and judges that he oversees hear his own personal grievances against a media outlet.
It has briefed friendly journalists that right-wing junior minister Amanda Stoker could take on parts of his job, or perhaps acting attorney-general Michaelia Cash, whose commitment to the rule of law was well demonstrated by her refusal to cooperate with an AFP investigation of a crime in her office.
The idea, however, is absurd on its face. Is Porter going to be half an attorney-general for however many years it takes to resolve this case? Will Australia go to the 2024 federal election with Porter still only doing half his job while lawyers battle it out in the High Court over whether he was defamed?
And are potential federal court appointees — conscious of the extraordinary way Porter has stacked the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with Liberal mates — and current ones, supposed to simply forget that Porter would revert to being the first law officer at the conclusion of his action?
But the government sees nothing wrong with such behaviour. And certainly not Porter, a child of privilege who has spent much of his life enjoying it, often at the expense of the taxpayer.
Nor should Porter remain in cabinet while the government debates related matters such as the ABC’s funding (wouldn’t further cuts to the ABC’s funding be just the thing to encourage the broadcaster to settle?), media law reform, changes to defamation law, or any issues relating to the status of women.
But he will, of course. Porter has spent his time as attorney-general using his position. Why stop now?