Christian Porter, the minister for Industry, Science and Technology, has dropped his defamation claim against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and journalist Louise Milligan.
A statement published by the ABC on Monday confirmed that all parties had agreed the matter would be discontinued and no damages would be paid.
Porter brought the defamation suit against the ABC earlier this year over an article it had published in February about a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which contained historical rape allegations against a senior cabinet minister. Although he was not named, the article was about Christian Porter, who was then serving as the Commonwealth Attorney-General.
An editor’s note that now appears alongside the article (which remains published) reads:
“The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged. The ABC did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil.
“However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”
The national broadcaster said that the article in question reported on matters of significant public interest, and that it continued to stand by Louise Milligan and its other investigative and public interest journalists.
“The ABC stands by Louise Milligan, one of Australia’s foremost and most awarded investigative journalists, and all our journalists in their independent and brave reporting on matters about which Australians have a right to be informed,” the statement said.
Christian Porter has discontinued his case. The ABC will pay him no damages. I stand by my journalism & proud to work @4corners & grateful to the ABC & our brilliant legal team for supporting public interest journalism. Thanks, everyone, for your support. https://t.co/1l0h3SjlAQ
— Louise Milligan (@Milliganreports) May 31, 2021
The news follows recent stalls experienced by Porter’s defamation suit, including a dispute over whether parts of the ABC’s defence should be struck out or suppressed, and a Federal Court ruling that barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC was unable to act for Porter because she had a conflict of interest.
In a post made to Twitter on Monday, Milligan said Porter had initiated settlement conversations. The journalist also said that she was considering how to get the 27 redacted pages of the ABC’s defence made public.
“We are still absolutely committed to the 27 redacted pages being in the public domain,” Milligan said.
“I am sure our colleagues in the media are too. We stand by the truth and the excellent witnesses who came forward and were prepared to put themselves on the line.”
Not long after the ABC’s story was published, Porter came forward and identified himself as the accused senior cabinet minister. He strenuously denied the allegations.
The Prime Minister also declared Porter was an innocent man under the law and declined to conduct an independent inquiry into the matter. Towards the end of March the controversy had refused to die down and a cabinet reshuffle saw Porter dropped from the AG’s post to take on the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio.
During a press address on the steps of the court in Sydney’s Phillip Street, Porter maintained that he would be contesting his seat at the next election. He also declared the defamation settlement a victory: “They regret the outcome of that article. That is a humiliating backdown for the ABC, no matter what way they want to spin it.”