Greens propose independent inquiry into Christian Porter’s fitness to be a minister

The Greens want federal parliament to set up an independent commission of inquiry into Christian Porter’s fitness to be a minister and an allegation of sexual assault against him.

In February, the ABC reported a cabinet minister had been accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old in 1988 when he was 17. Porter subsequently denied the allegation.

Greens senator Larissa Waters hopes to introduce a bill that would set up an inquiry into the matter given the allegation will not be directly tested in Porter’s defamation case against the ABC.

The ABC in its defence argues the story revealing the complaint was “substantially true” because Porter was “reasonably suspected” of the historic sexual assault.

But the public broadcaster has not pleaded the defence of truth to imputations that Porter “brutally” and “anally” raped the young woman.

Waters’ notice, seen by Guardian Australia, proposes the commission of inquiry would be led by a former judge.

The commission would make “a determination on the balance of probabilities as to whether the allegations have any merit and make recommendations about whether Porter is a fit and proper person to hold any ministerial position”, the senator’s notice states.

“Those recommendations will be tabled in parliament, subject to usual protections. Witnesses can also seek to have their evidence heard in camera and not published.”

The proposal for a commission of inquiry cannot be debated until ordinary Senate sittings resume on 15 June. A similar motion was supported by Labor in March but failed due to a tied vote in the Senate.

The bill would need to pass both houses of parliament and the Coalition would likely defeat it in the lower house.

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Commissions of inquiry have the powers of a royal commission but are established by the legislature – not the executive government.

In 2016, the Greens proposed such a commission into banks, a move that eventually contributed to Malcolm Turnbull establishing a royal commission.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has rejected calls for an independent inquiry, stating that Porter is an “innocent man under our law” because NSW police closed their investigation into the complaint.

The complainant’s parents have backed “any inquiry” that would shed light on the circumstances surrounding her death in June 2020. The South Australian coroner is yet to say if a coronial inquest will be held.

Meanwhile,a friend of the complainant says she raised concerns about one of Porter’s barristers weeks before she launched legal action to force her off the defamation case.

Jo Dyer, who was a debater with the complainant in the late 1980s, filed an application against Sue Chrysanthou SC asking the federal court to remove the expert defamation barrister from Porter’s case, claiming she had sought advice from Chrysanthou about a separate but related matter.

Porter has criticised the timing of the move, which came just days before his legal team was due to file submissions on Thursday supporting his application to strike out particulars of the ABC’s defence.

Dyer’s lawyers have responded that she had been in correspondence with Chrysanthou for eight weeks on the issue, rejecting any suggestion the court application was untimely or made in bad faith.

Porter is suing the public broadcaster, and journalist Louise Milligan, over an article alleging that an unnamed cabinet minister had been accused of a January 1988 rape in a dossier sent to Morrison and three other parliamentarians.

Porter was also the subject of a November Four Corners episode in which Dyer accused him of displaying “an assuredness that’s perhaps born of privilege”.

Dyer did not make a specific allegation against Porter but the episode was criticised in an opinion piece in the Australian newspaper as “a poorly executed political hatchet job”.

Chrysanthou then reviewed a legal letter sent on Dyer’s behalf, claiming the piece had defamed her and revealing that Porter’s alleged victim had disclosed “an extremely serious allegation” to her.

At a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, justice Thomas Thawley made orders in Dyer’s matter, published on Thursday, setting out a timetable for parties to make submissions before a hearing on a date yet to be set.

Dyer was ordered to make submissions by Thursday. Chrysanthou and Porter, who was joined as a party to the case, will have until Monday to file submissions and Wednesday to file evidence.

In a statement released through his solicitor, Rebekah Giles, on Wednesday evening, Porter said Dyer had sought “an order that Chrysanthou be restrained by the court from appearing as my barrister in my defamation proceedings”.

“It has been widely known for two months that Sue has been acting as my counsel in this well publicised matter – yet the action has come shortly before court appearances on significant issues in the proceedings and over eight weeks after they were commenced,” the statement said.

“I am therefore concerned about the timing of this application. Ms Chrysanthou is one of this country’s pre-eminent defamation advocates.

“It is a critically important right for any citizen in legal proceedings to choose his or her own counsel.”

On Thursday, Dyer responded through her solicitors, Marque Lawyers, explaining that she had “expressed her objection to Ms Chrysanthou acting for Mr Porter, on the basis of an alleged conflict of interest” on “the same day” she became aware Chrysanthou acted for Porter on 15 March.

Dyer’s “solicitors have been in continuous correspondence with Ms Chrysanthou’s solicitors since that date, attempting in good faith to resolve this dispute without the need for court proceedings,” her statement said.

“Those attempts having failed, Ms Dyer commenced proceedings against Ms Chrysanthou in the Federal Court on 10 May.”

“Any suggestion that Ms Dyer has not acted in a timely manner or not in good faith is false. Ms Dyer will not be making any further public comment on the matter.”

Porter was contacted for comment.



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