Pressure on Porter
A lot is resting on our newish attorney-general
There is an extraordinary amount of responsibility being placed in the hands of Attorney-General Christian Porter, who has carriage of reforms that are a necessary part of Australia’s response to an increasingly threatening world, but that also threaten our free speech, free press, and the integrity of our democracy and public service. With the spectre of authoritarian home affairs minister Peter Dutton behind him, Porter must shepherd the crucial espionage and foreign influence bills through parliament, and argue the government’s case against a federal anti-corruption agency. For a relatively young politician, who has yet to put the robo-debt debacle behind him, it is a big ask.
And that’s not all. Last month, Porter announced plans to merge the Family Court into the Federal Court, in a move seen as pandering to One Nation. Yesterday, Porter was alongside the prime minister announcing the government’s response to the royal commission into child sexual abuse, and will facilitate delivery of the national apology to be delivered in October. On ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning, Porter fielded questions about whether Chinese telco Huawei, which reportedly faces exclusion from participating in building Australia’s 5G network, might need to register as an agent of foreign influence.
Later in the morning, Porter was at the Sydney launch of Elder Abuse Action Australia – a peak body of state organisations similar to community legal centre the Seniors Rights Service – which has received half a million dollars from the federal government, as part of a $22 million package announced in the May budget. Porter recalled that soon after he took over as attorney-general in December, he had a meeting with Age Discrimination Commissioner and former Liberal senator Kay Patterson to talk about elder abuse. Patterson told him that of the many issues that would be pressed upon him, “This is the most important issue you will deal with.” Elder abuse is escalating: Porter told how 1.3 per cent of the population over 55 had experienced physical violence (that’s almost 80,000 people) of which more than half said it had occurred in their own home, and three-quarters said they had not told a soul. Intergenerational financial abuse, through powers of attorney, for example, is also on the rise.
At the subsequent doorstop, I asked Porter about the possibility that companies would again be allowed to sue for defamation, as proposed by the NSW government ahead of last week’s Council of Attorneys-General, and canvassed here yesterday. Porter said that New South Wales had proposed points for discussion on defamation law reform, and that it was way too early for the federal government to take a position. When asked for his own personal view, he responded: “I don’t have a concluded view, I would wait to see the legal research and see the types of options that might be available and this research also has to document what kind of problems it is you are trying to fix by any particular change in the law.” I followed up: “We had a situation before where companies could sue and in 2005 …” to which Porter responded that he was well aware of the history, and that “part of this research from New South Wales will be documenting the history and whether or not previous reforms were of the type that actually achieved what they sought to achieve.”
As social services minister for two years, Porter was responsible for the introduction of Centrelink’s disastrous robo-debt program, which has traumatised thousands of welfare recipients and is now likely to be the subject of a second Commonwealth Ombudsman’s inquiry at the request of independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, according to this announcement yesterday. At the time, Porter was portrayed as a crusader for a revolutionary “investment approach” to break the intergenerational links that lead to welfare dependency; New Matilda described it as “Porter punch[ing] down on the poor”. Those memories linger.
At the same time, as attorney-general, Porter projects a degree of competence – of being across his brief – that his predecessor, George Brandis, rarely seemed capable of doing. Among other things, Brandis is remembered for flubbing obvious questions on metadata, hiding his ministerial diary from a freedom of information request, and defending people’s right to be bigots (but he did manage to hit one high note with a heartfelt response to the sight of Pauline Hanson taking her Senate pew in a burqa). Porter is squarely in the spotlight now.
RETURNING FOR A SECOND SEASON Episode 19: Bob Brown, more liberal
than the Liberals?
Former senator Bob Brown joins Richard Denniss to argue that political self-interests compromise the long-term prospects of our country.
The AFR reports [$] that banks fear the next round of royal commission hearings, examining the $60 billion agriculture sector, will be a “political powder keg given the emotion that could be stirred up by case studies exposing banks for trying to kick farmers off their land”.
According to The Australian, Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger will demand [$] that the Cormack Foundation directors resign from their posts and hand control of the $70 million fundraising body to the Liberal Party, after a federal court judge ruled that the party held a claim to a quarter of the foundation’s shares. The Age describes the ruling as a “partial win” that risks deepening the conflict between the Liberal
Party and the Cormack Foundation just months before the state election.
The Australianreports [$] that NBN Co paid $66 million in bonuses to its executives and staff last financial year, despite high levels of customer dissatisfaction with the network.
in case you missed it
Malcolm Turnbull and the Department of Defence have condemned Australian soldiers who flew a Nazi flag above an Australian army vehicle in Afghanistan in 2007, as shown in pictures obtained by the ABC.
Senator Brian Burston has quit One Nation amid warnings about Pauline Hanson’s “dictatorship” over her colleagues.
In this exclusive [$] the AFR’s Phillip Coorey reported that Chinese telco Huawei was almost certain to be excluded from providing equipment for Australia’s soon-to-be-built 5G wireless networks, but the company later said it is still talking to the Turnbull government about participating in the network and might not have to register on the proposed foreign influence transparency register.
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
There is an extraordinary amount of responsibility being placed in the hands of Attorney-General Christian Porter, who has carriage of reforms that are a necessary part of Australia’s response to an increasingly threatening world, but that also threaten our free speech, free press, and the integrity of our democracy and public service. With the spectre of authoritarian home affairs minister Peter Dutton behind him, Porter must shepherd the crucial espionage and foreign influence bills through parliament, and argue the government’s case against a federal anti-corruption agency....