It’s a pity Barnaby Joyce’s stirring defence of Christian Porter on his demotion to the back bench wasn’t an out of season April Fool’s joke. Recently The Guardian reported
On Monday, Joyce told reporters in Canberra Porter was “incredibly intelligent” and had been an “incredibly capable” minister, suggesting he could return after seeking re-election in his Western Australian seat of Pearce.
There is no denying that Porter earned the academic achievements he can claim, and he is probably quite a good lawyer. With some caveats, you could also agree with Joyce’s comment that Porter was ‘incredibly capable’. He did convince an unnamed trustee to co-ordinate the donation of a million dollars to the cause of assisting to pay his legal expenses in the defamation case he brought against the ABC — which was settled out of court when he withdrew the claim. Furthermore, Porter had the capacity to discuss with the media how this unnamed trustee and the people that contributed to this cause did it for purely altruistic reasons. Apparently they don’t expect anything in return for their generous donation because even if they did, Porter claims he doesn’t know who they are so he can’t assist them in the future.
But ‘incredibly intelligent’? Give us a break. Let’s assume for a moment that the motives here are perfectly ethical and the group of, let’s call them benefactors, really don’t want their money back at some point. Is he seriously suggesting there is no potential for influence over Porter’s potential future ministerial (or higher) decisions or any other benefit from their largesse? If that is the assertion, it’s pretty obvious those of us that don’t have unnamed benefactors that are prepared to give us a million dollars apparently don’t understand the world where the former Federal Attorney-General and Innovation Minister seems to believe this is common practice.
Prime Minister Morrison’s justifications for accepting Porter’s ‘resignation from the ministry’ were reported in The New Daily
He said the ministerial code of conduct compelled ministers to “conclusively rule out a perceived conflict”, which Mr Porter was unable to do.
“It is a blind trust. He cannot disclose to me who those donors are,” Mr Morrison said.
“Our discussions today were about upholding the standards. We believe they are incredibly important, and it is not just about actual conflicts, it’s about the standards for ministers to have an obligation to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest that is ultimately what has led the minister to make that decision this afternoon.”
Porter might have been deeply upset and humiliated by the ABC reporting, causing him to resort to legal redress. The distress may have blinded his claimed ‘capable’ judgement. Morrison’s public comments regarding the upholding of ministerial standards are appropriate assuming Porter is not elevated back into the ministry when the storm blows over. But sadly, Joyce is probably closer to predicting what will happen. He knows from personal experience that the issue will not be front and centre forever and there is plenty of opportunity for the resurrection of the career of Christian Porter at some point in the foreseeable future.
Joyce was the subject of public shaming while a Minister for having an affair with one of his staff (and not knowing about his ancestry) and eventually bounced back. Joyce is unfortunately probably correct in suggesting that sooner rather than later Porter will resume his ‘rising star’ career.
The New Daily reported
“Mr Morrison might think that because Christian Porter has resigned from the ministry, that’s the end of the matter but it is not the end of the matter,” Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.
The New Daily
“It is no more acceptable for a member of parliament to keep a donation secret than it is for a minister to keep a donation secret … What the register of interests requires is that you disclose the amount of the gift and who it’s from.”
He said Labor would “raise this in every possible way” through the parliament, including a referral to the House of Representatives’ standing committee on privileges, or potentially a censure motion.
also reported the thoughts of The Greens’ leadership
Greens leader Adam Bandt has said his party will consider moving a no-confidence motion in Mr Porter when parliament resumes in mid-October.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted “it doesn’t matter whether it’s the front, back or [cross] bench, MPs all have a responsibility to uphold the intent of parliament’s transparency and accountability measures.”
“Mr Porter took the money, he must report, repay or resign.”
Which is all well and good, but it appears the only ‘punishment’ that can be handed out is a light slap over the wrist by the Parliamentary Ethics Committee. The voters in Porter’s electorate could choose another candidate — which would probably only happen if the Western Australia Liberal Party doesn’t endorse Porter as their representative.
The lack of accountability is endemic — the South Australian Liberal Government passed laws to emasculate the state’s ICAC in the same week as Joyce was telling the world that Porter would do his time in the ‘sin bin’ and return to the front bench
. The laws were passed with indecent haste
The bill passed the Lower House on Thursday evening, within 24 hours of the first debate in the Upper House, with no MP from any party voting against the changes.
It then went back to the Upper House, where it was unanimously supported again.
The real issue here is the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. While Joyce is probably correct that there is no illegal activity here, the morals and ethics stink to high heaven. If others in the Parliaments around the country see the standards that are acceptable according to the leadership, those will be the standards they aim for.
Parliamentarians should be looking for accountability rather than loopholes. There is a higher standard required than ‘did it break the law’ to retain the accountability of public office — regardless of whether the office is Attorney-General in the Australian Parliament or the Treasurer of the local Rotary Club. Those in a position of trust have to be able to demonstrate that any decisions affecting others were made independently, without consideration for those who may peddle influence to gain an outcome beneficial to their interests.
What do you think?