A contribution to cover the legal fees of Christian Porter’s recent defamation suit against the ABC was provided by a ‘blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust’, according to updated records of the industry, science and technology minister’s interests register.
The cabinet minister’s disclosure was made on Monday, with Porter updating his members’ interests register to note the ‘part contribution’ of the blind trust to cover his legal fees.
In little under 300 words, Porter’s declaration explained that the suit he filed against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan was finalised at the end of August, 2021. The matter was dropped by the minister in May, with an agreement that no damages would be paid and no apology made, but costs of mediation were covered by the ABC.
The defamation claim was made in a ‘purely personal capacity’, he said and ‘in the interests of transparency and out of an abundance of caution’ reduced fee or pro bono legal services should be disclosed pursuant to item 14 of the register for members’ interest.
Two of three disclosures related to the payment of Porter’s lawyers Rebecca Giles and barrister Sue Chrysanthou. But a third disclosure – a mere two sentences – said:
“Part contribution to the payment of my fees by a blind trust known as the Legal Services Trust. As a potential beneficiary I have no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust.”
The structure of a blind trust means that a beneficiary is excused from knowing how much money is contained in the trust, where it came from and who is managing it.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus described the declaration as a disgrace and said it was ‘an abuse of office’. He said it was unacceptable that a declaration about payment of money to a serving parliamentarian should redact specific information like how much was donated, who the donors were, and what – if anything – they received in exchange for the money.
“The prime minister must immediately demand Mr Porter come clean about who his donors are,” Dreyfus said in a statement.
“The Australian people need to know who set this trust up, who funded it, how much they donated, and whether they expected to get anything in return for these donations.”
Dreyfus said it was important to discern whether the donors were based overseas, if they were lobbyists, or the beneficiaries of any decisions the minister might make (or stand to benefit from).
“The Australian people deserve immediate answers to these questions,” the Labor MP said.
“If Mr Porter genuinely doesn’t know who his donors are he shouldn’t accept their money. Did the money come from criminals? A foreign power? Apparently Mr Porter doesn’t care.”
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 Porter, who was then serving as the Commonwealth Attorney-General.