The Politics    Friday, July 30, 2021

27 reasons to wonder

By Rachel Withers

27 reasons to wonder

Image via Twitter

Another “win” for Porter in the case that he desperately didn’t want made public

Former attorney-general Christian Porter has won his bid to have redacted evidence from his dropped defamation case against the ABC scrubbed from the public record, in another blow for transparency and truth. Justice Jayne Jagot today ordered that the documents (which Nine and News Corp have been asking to be made public since the May settlement) be physically removed from court files, put in an envelope and marked “DO NOT OPEN” – “on the grounds that it is necessary to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice”. In many ways it feels like another setback to those who would like some answers, with this crucial information now out of reach. But the lengths to which Porter and his team have gone in order to have the details scrubbed provide their own imputations. Why did Porter so desperately want those 27 pages – which were alleged by him to contain “scandalous” and “vexatious” material, and were apparently enough to make him walk away from his all-important name-clearing legal bid – kept secret? Who could say? Here is where I remind you that Porter strenuously denies the allegations. But at every turn in his bid for justice, which began with such fanfare on the same day women were marching on parliament demanding change, Porter has made things worse for himself. In attempting to clear his name, he has muddied it further; in attempting to save his reputation, he has weighed it down with 27 ominous black pages. It will forever remain the case that Porter decided to drop his defamation case not long after he saw this evidence, whether or not it was because of it, and did everything in his power to prevent its release. 

So why did the federal court order the removal of those parts of the ABC’s defence that Porter wanted gone? It’s not that it wasn’t in the public interest, or that the information itself was somehow prejudicial to the truth. As Marque Lawyers partner Michael Bradley explains in Crikey, Porter invoked a rarely used provision to have the files removed, and the court agreed on the basis that to refuse to do so would undermine the settlement he had struck with the ABC – a “lawful contractual bargain which the parties struck to compromise all of their claims”. The ABC had agreed in the settlement to have those documents scrubbed from the file; the court not doing so would be, in effect, “rewriting the contract of the parties”, with the settlement in many ways having rested on their removal. But the information isn’t totally gone. Jagot earlier this week permitted the release of the redacted documents to the South Australian coroner, who is still considering whether to hold an inquest into the suicide of Porter’s accuser. Could some of this info still come out through the coronial process? The fact that it was deemed relevant to the coronial decision-making process is noteworthy, in and of itself. And as Jo Dyer, a friend of the deceased accuser, tweeted following the decision, while those documents cannot be made public, those whose stories are contained within them still have the right to tell them, if they dare. “Some will now do so,” she noted.

While many beyond the walls of Nine and News Corp had hoped for this information to be released by the Federal Court today, this is certainly not the end of the process – there will be no end to it until Porter properly clears his name or steps down from parliament. Demands for a formal independent inquiry into his fitness for office have already recommenced, now that it’s clear we’re not getting any more information out of the abandoned defamation showdown. As shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus argues, there is no longer an excuse for the prime minister not to call one, with the legal matter well and truly settled. There was never, of course, any real excuse, and such an inquiry was always the best way to resolve the situation, which cannot be allowed to go on festering. There is also the little matter of the upcoming election, with Porter’s seat of Pearce, already having lost some safe Liberal ground in a recent distribution, now under threat from a resurgent Labor – in spite of the alleged “amazing support” he has received from his constituents.

Time has dulled this shocking scandal into a gnawing sorrow for many of the women of Australia. But time has not made anyone forget, as shown by the ongoing public interest in each and every legal outcome. Porter has had some details scrubbed from the public file, but no amount of legal manoeuvring can scrub the past five months from the public record. What we have learned is seared into many people’s memories, but it is what we have not learned – that Porter so badly didn’t want us to learn – that may have us wondering forever.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“The army’s here to defend its people, not to be used against them.”

Cumberland Mayor Steve Christou criticises the deployment of ADF troops to Western Sydney, saying the army should have been brought in to help with vaccines and logistics, not as a secondary police measure.

“That sort of behaviour is exactly why we need strong health orders, law enforcement and defence, getting the highest level of compliance.”

NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller says reports (later disproven) that a man knowingly went to work after testing positive to COVID-19 is the reason we need a heavy-handed approach. 

Labor’s great surrender
While many Australians were focused on watching the Olympics this week, the federal Labor Opposition quietly made some significant policy changes. The party has now fallen in line with the government’s tax cuts for the wealthy, despite previously labelling them unfair and ineffective.


The vaccination rate needed before Australia can safely reopen, according to Grattan Institute modelling.

“The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair said assets that governments are earmarking for sale should either have to pass a competition assessment before being sold, or otherwise face regulation if they have significant market power.”

The competition watchdog has called for curbs on state and federal government privatisations, saying the public has lost trust after seeing prices rise following sell-offs.

The list

“This is a moment in which the individual has an obvious and practical power to improve the public life of their country. In this moment, the individual’s influence is not abstract and requires no sentimental exaggeration. The values the prime minister invokes in Anzac speeches should be repeatedly invoked now. The cost of vaccination is extremely low. It is not without risk – though that risk is astonishingly low – but risk is precisely what those Anzac values are about, right? Assuming some risk for family, community, country. It’s called selflessness. It’s called being part of something larger than yourself. So, why not appeal to it?”

“On the day of the wedding, Coffs Harbour locals celebrated the first extended period of sunlight in ages by mowing their lawns in unison. The ceremony had been relocated from the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden to the Sawtell RSL. An Australian flag flapped at full mast in the car park. The jingle of pokies drifted up the stairs to accompany the makeshift ceremony. Some guests settled the butterflies in their stomachs with Bundaberg Rum and Cokes.”

“Today’s cultural climate demands ‘good politics’ even from the rich. Take Kim Kardashian, who now spends her spare time freeing wrongfully incarcerated people from prison, or Paris Hilton’s rebranding from American royalty to an advocate against abuse at adolescent rehabilitation programs. It’s now cool to care – or at the very least, it’s mandatory to gesture towards caring on social media. High society virtue signalling – often a thinly veiled cover for the same old ruthless social order – is ripe for scathing analysis or frothy parody. But four episodes in, Gossip Girl’s capacity to deliver either remains unclear.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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