Revelations that former Attorney-General Christian Porter’s defamation case legal fees were paid for by a mystery trust have drawn the wrath of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Turnbull has launched a scathing attack on the man he had previously promoted to the Federal Cabinet’s top legal position, describing Porter’s latest revelation as “so wrong”.
In a report published on News.com.au Turnbull said the mystery legal fund, used to pay for some of Porter’s defamation case against the ABC, was “unacceptable” and “did not pass the pub test.”
“It’s like saying ‘my legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash’,’’ Turnbull said.
“In Porter’s case, the trustee doesn’t tell him (supposedly) who contributed the money to pay his legal fees. So zero transparency, zero accountability.
“With a typical blind trust you know where the money came from. It is contributed by the beneficiary on the basis that the trustee then invests it in assets without reference to the beneficiary who is ‘blind’ as to how their money is invested.”
Porter has claimed he won’t be declaring on his register of interests the identity of the mystery donor who is funding his legal fees – which could run as high as $1 million – because he does not know who they are, but remained adamant that no taxpayer funds were being used.
In March this year, Porter – who is now the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology – launched a defamation case against the ABC over its reporting of a rape allegation involving a Federal Cabinet Minister and a woman, who is now deceased.
Porter, whose lawyers insisted was identifiable as the Minister in question, denied the claims with the case being settled before trial and the ABC paying $100,000 in costs as well as issuing an editor’s note stating ‘regret’ if some followers had read the article as a guilty accusation levelled at Porter.
According to News.com.au rules of the Federal Parliament stipulate that any benefit, or agreement to provide a benefit, must be declared on the pecuniary interest register within 28 days.
But the rules appear open to interpretation with a clause which allows politicians to decline disclosure of ‘a gift of legal assistance’ if they believe there is no conflict of interest.
However precedents exist where MPs have declared free legal assistance.
Speculation in Canberra has been rife about how Porter intends to fund his legal battle, with high-profile Australian business people including Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, Nev Power, and Gina Rinehart denying they have contributed to the case.