Mark Dreyfus MP

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Hopelessly Conflicted Attorney-General Must Stand Aside

23 March 2021

The Prime Minister now has no other option but to stand Christian Porter aside, after Senate Estimates confirmed the Attorney-General’s private defamation action against the ABC has left him hopelessly conflicted. 

MARK DREYFUS
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS 
 
 
HOPELESSLY CONFLICTED ATTORNEY-GENERAL MUST STAND ASIDE

The Prime Minister now has no other option but to stand Christian Porter aside, after Senate Estimates confirmed the Attorney-General’s private defamation action against the ABC has left him hopelessly conflicted. 
 
Under questioning from Labor Senator Murray Watt, Acting Attorney-General Michaelia Cash was unable to confirm what parts of his job Mr Porter would be able to continue with when he returns on March 31.

SENATOR WATT: We can cross out constitutional law, courts and tribunals, human rights, law reform including defamation, administration of criminal justice, legal services to the Commonwealth, courts and tribunals. We haven't even got into IR Workplace Health and Safety.
 
We've got legal services, including the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Australian Human Rights Commission, I mean, how can any Attorney General return to work and perform their duty? 

Senate Estimates, 23 March 2021

Mr Porter would also be responsible for issuing warrants to ASIO, including in relation to the ABC or even individual journalists.


MURRAY WATT: There’s other roles that the Attorney-General has. Under the ASIO act the Attorney- General issues ASIO warrants. Will Mr. Porter be responsible for issuing ASIO warrants when he returns next week?
 
MICHAELIA CASH: Again, I’d have to refer to the previous advice that I’ve given to you.

Senate Estimates, 23 March 2021

 
Mr Porter would also have the final say on whether to prosecute journalists for a range of offences – at the same time as he is personally suing the ABC and one of its journalists.
 
In September 2019, Mr Porter issued a direction to the Commonwealth DPP, under which Mr Porter, as Attorney-General, has the final say on whether or not to approve the prosecution of journalists for a number of prescribed offences.

 
SENATOR WATT: So given Mr Porter is currently suing the ABC and an ABC journalist in his personal capacity, isn't it completely untenable for him to have the final say over whether a journalist is prosecuted?
 
SENATOR CASH: As the Prime Minister has stated, the advice will now be carefully considered, the advice that has been received from the Solicitor-General, so that arrangements can be put in place that are consistent with it.

Senate Estimates, 23 March 2021

As Attorney-General, Mr Porter could even direct the ABC on how it ought to conduct its defence and order the ABC to provide him with any legal advice it receives.
 
Australia deserves more than a part-time Attorney-General whose position has been so hopelessly conflicted he cannot do his job.
 
It’s long past time Mr Morrison showed some leadership and stood Mr Porter aside while a proper independent inquiry is held into the serious allegations hanging over him.
 
TUESDAY, 23 MARCH 2021