The mystery surrounding who contributed to a blind legal trust established to help pay for former attorney-general Christian Porter’s defamation suit against the ABC will not be investigated by the House privileges committee.
Labor asked the Speaker, Tony Smith, to consider allowing a debate about whether to refer Porter (who resigned as a minister over his inability to disclose who had contributed to the blind trust in September) for an alleged breach of parliamentary rules to the House privileges committee.
Information about the existence of the blind trust came to light in September when Porter updated his members’ interests register to note the ‘part contribution’ of the blind trust to cover his legal fees over a defamation action that was finalised the month before in August.
Porter dropped his lawsuit in May, with an agreement that no damages would be paid and no apology made, but costs of mediation were covered by the ABC.
Despite Smith’s view that the blind trust, which paid an undisclosed ‘part contribution’ figure to his lawyer’s fees, presented a ‘prima facie case’ against Porter, members of the Coalition government defeated the motion 52 to 49 on Wednesday.
Voting to protect Christian Porter from scrutiny over his secret $1 million donation is a vote to green light corruption, to open the door to bribery of MPs and to cover up foreign donations. A day of utter disgrace for the Morrison Government. pic.twitter.com/I0G139EgQB
— Mark Dreyfus (@markdreyfusQCMP) October 20, 2021
According to the ABC, the House blocking a referral to the committee after the Speaker has found there is a case to be reviewed is unprecedented.
“An opinion by the Speaker that a prima facie case has been made out does not imply a conclusion that a breach of privilege or contempt has occurred,” Smith said in parliament on Monday.
“In giving precedence for a motion to be moved, I’m simply allowing the House the opportunity to consider a motion immediately, and debate and decide on whether the matter should be referred to the committee for inquiry and report.”
The Opposition has been a loud opponent of the protection being afforded Porter, describing the vague disclosure in Porter’s members’ interests as a farce.
Yesterday Scott Morrison got every one of his MPs to vote to protect Christian Porter and his secret donations, but can’t get his divided government to support action on climate change.
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) October 20, 2021
Labor leader Anthony Albanese told ABC radio on Thursday morning that the House had never before gone against the view of the Speaker in this way in 120 years.
“I have had the position of leader of the government in the house of representatives for six years during the Rudd and Gillard governments … I would not have even thought about doing anything other than moving a referral consistent with the speaker’s ruling,” Albanese said.
Although the privileges committee (which met on Wednesday) is within its powers to commence an independent infestation without a referral from parliament, it is not obliged to report its findings.
At the risk of offering a penetrating glimpse of the obvious…an obligation to disclose gifts to MPs plainly requires the identify of the donor. Saying “I received a gift of an undisclosed sum from a secret donor.” is not a disclosure and suggesting it could be is gaslighting.
— Malcolm Turnbull 💉💉 (@TurnbullMalcolm) October 21, 2021