SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC PERTH MORNINGS
WEDNESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECT: Christian Porter hiding the source of his legal fees.
NADIA MITSOPOULOS, HOST: Questions are being asked this morning about the anonymous donors who paid for some of Christian Porter’s legal fees for his defamation action against the ABC and one of its journalists, Louise Milligan. Now, in a declaration to Parliament, the Industry Minister revealed that a blind trust has been set up to contribute to his legal bill, but as a potential beneficiary he has no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust. So, is there anything wrong with this one? The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus thinks so and he joins me now. Good morning.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Nadia, thanks for having me.
MITSOPOULOS: For those who don't know, explain a blind trust.
DREYFUS: A blind trust is something that American Presidents have used where you put all of your investments into a trust, appoint a trustee, and they make decisions while you are occupying the position of President. This is not really a blind trust because we're not talking about Mr Porter's investments, we're not talking about his superannuation fund. We're talking about gifts to him and frankly, it's an outrageous mockery of our donation rules. If he doesn't know the identity of the donor, or donors, he shouldn't accept the hundreds of thousands of dollars involved, and if he does know he's got to disclose it. I find this gobsmacking, actually. It's driving a truck through the disclosure rules. Someone who's been the Attorney-General ought to know better and in the past he's expressed concern about just this sort of thing. We had a Royal Commission which exposed our banks were funding terrorism and criminals because they didn't know where the money was coming from and as I recall Mr. Porter was rightly outraged about that. Mr. Porter passed laws which made it illegal for unions to hide the source of their donations. As I say, it's just making a mockery of our disclosure rules.
MITSOPOULOS: What's the issue here? What's the potential conflict that concerns you? Because what he's doing is not illegal.
DREYFUS: He claims that he's complying with the rules, and I say nonsense. The rules require that when Members of Parliament, ministers - and he's a senior cabinet minister - get a gift, they've got to disclose it. If he doesn't know the identity of the donor he shouldn't accept the money. And if he does know that you should disclose it. The conflict, the potential problem, is influence. That's why we have disclosure rules. That's why members of the public are entitled to know when ministers, and Members of Parliament get gifts, who are they getting the gifts from.
MITSOPOULOS: And could you then argue well if you don't know who's put money into that account how can they influence me if I don't know who they are? Would that argument stack up?
DREYFUS: No, it doesn't stack up because what if you find out six months or a year in a criminal gave you the money? Or that a foreign country gave you the money, and they put the hooks into you? That's what this is about. You are not permitted to receive gifts and not tell what they are. His obligation is to find out if he genuinely doesn't know - and he's being very, very mysterious about the details of all this arrangement. Who set this arrangement up? How much money has he received from it? Is it hundreds of thousands of dollars? Is it over a million dollars? All of this the public is entitled to know and Mr. Porter is being too smart by half, as he usually is, very tricky thinking that he's found some way around these rules. It's in complete breach of the spirit of these rules which are completely clear. You have to tell. If you're a Member of Parliament, or a Minister, you have to tell if you receive gifts, and better, you probably shouldn't be receiving gifts in the first place.
MITSOPOULOS: The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is my guest this morning and I'm very interested in your views, 1300 222 720. The text line I've got to say is going into meltdown at the moment over this issue, and I will get to some of your texts in a moment. Why then would it be done in this way? Is there any avenue that you have open to you, Mark Dreyfus, to be able to find out who has donated to this fund?
DREYFUS: No, because Mr. Porter has been completely secretive about it. He's trying to evade the public disclosure rules and hide these large gifts from the Australian public. It can't be allowed to stand. I'm calling on the Prime Minister Mr. Morrison, to do something about this. If Mr. Morrison himself had character and integrity he would be upholding his own Statement of Ministerial Standards and not allowing his former Attorney-General to get away with the obvious abuse of the standards and trashing our disclosure rules. He'd be saying no, you can't do that. You either have to not take the money, or, you have to take the money, if you want to, and disclose who it came from and it's your job to find out. Mr. Morrison should be saying - and he probably won't, because he's the most secretive Prime Minister we've ever had - Mr. Morrison should be saying this won't do. I'm not going to allow you, Mr. Porter, to do this. I'm going to insist that you either find out where these donations came from or not take them. That's the choice.
MITSOPOULOS: So then what would you do if you were in Government? Would you ban this practice? You're asking Mr. Morrison to. What if Labor wins the next election?
DREYFUS: We're some months off an election. It's the job of the current Prime Minister to put some standards and integrity back into a government which has got none by saying to Mr. Porter, I'm not going to allow you to do this. This is the Prime Minister's job.
MITSOPOULOS: And if the next Prime Minister is Anthony Albanese would you ask him what you're asking of Scott Morrison? Would you ban this practice?
DREYFUS: I don't think any Member of Parliament has ever dared to do this before.
MITSOPOULOS: But would you ban it? Simple question Mark Dreyfus.
DREYFUS: If we need to, definitely.
MITSOPOULOS: You clearly need to because you wouldn't be speaking to me today if you didn't need to.
DREYFUS: We clearly need to because this is a government without integrity, without standards, that doesn't want to have a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Imagine if we had a National Anti-Corruption Commission, it would be after this like a rat up a drain pipe, as my leader Anthony Albanese said this morning, and that's right, because you can't have secret, large gifts of money. We've got to do something about it, and absolutely we would ban it, if we were in government.
MITSOPOULOS: Okay I've got that commitment from you. I appreciate your time.