Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers


Hushed money
Christian Porter manages to keep one more thing secret in his quest to suppress everything about the allegations against him

Image of former attorney-general Christian Porter. Image via Sky News

Former attorney-general Christian Porter. Image via Sky News

The plot surrounding the allegations against former attorney-general Christian Porter continues to thicken, amid his disclosure that he received a donation to cover his legal fees – but he supposedly doesn’t know who from. Porter has today updated the parliamentary register of interests, noting that a “part contribution” to his settled defamation case against the ABC was coming from a blind trust known as the “Legal Services Trust”, adding that he had “no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust”. It’s hard to believe that Porter doesn’t know where this money came from. There have long been rumours that he was to be helped out by a mysterious benefactor, and his costs in suing the ABC were expected to reach as much as $1 million, which would make it a difficult suit for him to have embarked upon without knowing from the outset that he had someone’s backing. (As Samantha Maiden reports, high-profile candidates Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, Nev Power and Gina Rinehart have all previously denied their involvement.) And yet this shadowy declaration is within the reporting requirements, if not within the spirit of them. Once again, Porter has played the system to his advantage in his quest to keep everything about the case hushed up. But the secretive donation, as with his previous attempts at suppression, has only raised further questions – more questions, no doubt, for the long called-for inquiry into his fitness for office (or perhaps even for a federal anti-corruption commission). Who made this donation to Porter’s legal fees? Why did they want to be anonymous? And what did they want in return? After all, money talks – unless of course you run it through a blind trust.

So who made this anonymised contribution? It’s very hard for us to know, given that money received through a blind trust is somehow within the disclosure rules. Trusts are not required to be registered in Australia, meaning details such as beneficiaries, trustees and revenues are not publicly available. (And while trusts where an MP doesn’t know where their money is invested are common, this would seem to open a whole new can of worms, as Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor notes.) It seems unlikely that Porter will be compelled to let on any further: the now industry minister has implied that he had only declared as much as he had about the “personal” donations “out of an abundance of caution”, while a spokesperson declined to say how much of his fees were covered, noting that no taxpayer dollars were involved. Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus – who has previously said that Porter must declare it if he is getting help with his legal fees, and say from whom – is not happy with today’s murky declaration, tweeting that Porter needs to rule out if his case was funded by criminals or foreign governments.

Regardless of who it was, or how much, it would be crazy to think that they didn’t want anything in return. After all, what kind of millionaire (or foreign government/criminal syndicate) donates enormous amounts of money, out of the goodness of their heart, to a politician, and one accused of a heinous rape no less (an allegation he denies) to pursue a defamation claim? While Porter no doubt has many good friends among the elite, this generous “gift” certainly feels political. Even if he truly doesn’t know who contributed to his very expensive legal action, he’s opened himself up to future favour call-ins with this very personal donation. 

And while the “blind trust” declaration may be within the rules, there is no doubt there is something extremely disconcerting about its anonymised nature. What kind of country do we live in when shadowy figures are bankrolling politicians’ legal pursuits? What interest do they have in helping someone who already holds vast power over his deceased accuser to use that money to further silence her? It speaks to something deeply broken about the rules themselves, under which politicians can apparently avoid disclosing the identities of private donors if they are able to plead ignorance themselves. As the Accountability Round Table notes, Porter previously went cold on the extension of anti-money laundering laws to lawyers, after once supporting them. Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst and journalist Ariel Bogle, meanwhile, wonders how this fits into the government’s own Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

The federal government has been less fond of transparency when it comes to its own dealings, what with its failure to introduce a federal anti-corruption commission more than 1000 days after promising it would, and its ongoing failure to produce documents requested under freedom of information laws, as it did again to Nine this week. But Porter takes this to a whole new level. He has succeeded, yet again, in keeping crucial information about his defamation action off the public record, this time through the use of a “blind trust”. But he remains, as ever, blind to how bad it looks.


“There are no viable reasons why the Berejiklian government members should not turn up to parliament today.”

NSW Opposition whip Mark Buttigieg pens an op-ed calling for government MPs to return to parliament, especially now that the premier has ceased her daily press conferences. The NSW parliament has not sat since June. They did not turn up.

“Kristina Keneally was born in the United States, came to Australia and is another great Australian success story of a migrant who’s come here and became the NSW premier.”

As backlash heats up over a white senator’s parachuting into the diverse seat of Fowler, Labor leader Anthony Albanese defends the party’s cultural diversity credentials by pointing out that Kristina Keneally was born in America.

How bad is Australia’s mental health crisis?
Despite government promises to fix Australia’s mental health system, experts have identified that young people in particular are still struggling to access urgent care and support. Today, Santilla Chingaipe on why this could be our one chance to fix the ailing mental health care system.

26%

The percentage of respondents who both understand and approve of the national reopening plan. More than half of respondents said they either don’t understand or lack confidence in it.

“More than 1 million people could be vaccinated at work after Australia’s businesses were given the green light to join in the rollout and turn offices, warehouses, construction sites, factory floors and mines into vaccination centres.”

AFR

From October, employers will be able to vaccinate their staff at work, in conjunction with an accredited vaccine provider.

The list
 

“Twenty years ago, I had reason to visit someone in the Maribyrnong detention centre, in Melbourne’s inner west. The people who sent me told me to meet a nun outside who would introduce me to the detainee. I spotted her in the car park: a small woman, casually dressed and watchful, propped on two crutches. In answer to my query, she muttered something about her hip. After we passed through security – a processing desk, a metal detector and some suspicious looks – we were dumped in an interview room and the door slammed shut behind us. Immediately, the nun began producing an astonishing array of stationery from within her clothing: pens, highlighters, Post-it Notes, paper. ‘They won’t give them stationery in here,’ she said. ‘And no one pats down a nun.’”

“This year’s Venice Film Festival – its second COVID edition – front-loaded most of its big titles in an attempt to prevent rivals Telluride and Toronto from claiming them as world premieres. I’ll deal with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog and Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers when they’re released – and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is too big, in every sense, to be addressed in a piece like this. But there was plenty to admire among the smaller films: as with Cannes in July, this was a program of unusual abundance.”

“David Smerdon didn’t know until the night before. That’s how late the next day’s fixtures were made for the Chess Olympiad. The Australian grandmaster was out smoking shisha with locals in Baku, the Azerbaijan capital, when he received the text message: Australia were drawn with Norway. Jesus Christ, Smerdon thought. I’m playing Magnus. Magnus Carlsen might be the game’s greatest player to date.” 

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.

@rachelrwithers

 

The Monthly Today

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Police watch protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Aftershocks

Melbourne’s earthquake presages faultlines in the Coalition over ongoing lockdown protests

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building


From the front page

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires