Christian Porter asks to keep ABC defence confidential in defamation suit

By Melissa Coade

Friday May 7, 2021

Christian Porter. (AP Photo/Richard Wainwright)

A request has been made to the Federal Court by Christian Porter’s legal team to strike out parts of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) defence case in his defamation claim against the broadcaster and journalist Louise Milligan.

Lawyers representing the former attorney-general have applied to have parts of the ABC’s defence case omitted on the basis it contains material that is either scandalous, frivolous, vexatious, evasive or ambiguous, or ‘are otherwise an abuse of the process of the court’.

According to The Guardian, Porter’s team of lawyers made an interlocutory application to make confidential and strike out parts of the defence case when it was filed on Tuesday.

Mr Porter is suing ABC journalist Louise Milligan and her employer for a news item that he says made several defamatory imputations against him, including the allegation that when he was 17, he perpetrated a rape of a 16-year-old girl in 1988. 

Mr Porter also claims that the ABC’s article, entitled Scott Morrison, senators and AFP told of historical rape allegation against Cabinet Minister, suggested that the alleged violence contributed to the victim ‘taking her own life’ decades later.

In Porter’s application to strike out parts of the ABC’s defence, his legal team have sought to make the entirety of the defence document confidential and not be distributed to any party outside of the proceedings. They have also asked that no access be granted to any party who may apply to view the documents.

More consequently, Porter has asked the court to strike out a key paragraph and three schedules of the defence case; or that these sections be removed from the court file altogether.

Porter has also asked that the court consider the question of defamatory meaning separate to any question of liability; and that the ABC and Ms Milligan pay his legal fees. 

The former attorney-general is pursuing aggravated damages from the ABC for failing to omit material in its online article that may have cast doubt on the veracity of the claim of historical crime. 

The ABC issued a statement saying that it “supports having all materials in these proceedings, which are in the public interest, open to public scrutiny”.

Details of the number of people who viewed the online story that were released by the public broadcaster show that there were 287,233 unique page views of the article across Australia between February and April 2021. 

Mr Porter stood down from the role of Commonwealth attorney-general and was sworn in as minister for science, industry and science minister in late March. He has strenuously denied the allegations since he outed himself as the minister at the centre of growing rumours earlier that month. 

The court hearing for Porter’s interlocutory application will be heard before Justice Jayne Jagot, and the next case management hearing for the defamation suit has been set for 7 May.

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1 year ago

Thanks for this update. Best Porter can hope for is an (ugly) Pyrrhic victory, but also it’s very damaging, for his own government’s national broadcaster. I assume (hope?) Hooke will testify. But what about NSW Police, suddenly canning the interview trip to SA? I will believe that wasn’t a political fix, whenever I start to believe in the tooth fairy.

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