Accusations contained in the ABC’s unredacted defence to Christian Porter’s defamation battle with the national broadcaster will be permanently removed from the Federal Court file. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Adam YipSource:News Corp Australia
“Scandalous” accusations contained in the ABC’s unredacted defence to Christian Porter’s defamation battle with the national broadcaster will be permanently removed from the Federal Court file and kept in a sealed envelope.
The Federal Court has today ordered that the contents will not be made public “on the grounds that it is necessary to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice.”
However, the Federal Court also agreed that the South Australian Coroner will be given access to an uncensored copy of the ABC’s defence to assist in investigations with the death by suicide of Mr Porter’s accuser in Adelaide in June, 2020.
The SA coroner is yet to determine whether to hold an inquest into the woman’s death, but has tasked SA police with interviewing witnesses in preparation for these considerations.
The Prime Minister has previously indicated that if a coronial inquiry is held that Mr Porter would be prepared to give evidence.
Solicitor Rebekah Giles and Christian Porter leaving a press conference at the Queens Square Supreme Court in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Adam YipSource:News Corp Australia
In May, the former Attorney-General opposed an application by publishers represented by News Corp Australia and Nine Newspapers to release the full contents of the ABC’s defence document.
The document summarised what would have been the basis of the ABC’s defence against a defamation action brought by the former Attorney General. The action was subsequently settled outside of court.
Mr Porter argued “scandalous” elements of the ABC’s defence in a defamation case over the historical rape allegation should not be released to the public.
His accuser died by suicide last year shortly after telling police she did not want to proceed with the complaint. Mr Porter strenuously denies the allegations. He said he never had sex with the complainant.
But friends of the dead woman wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this year demanding an independent inquiry and naming Mr Porter as the alleged perpetrator. He strongly denies that allegation insisting the alleged rape “never happened.”
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It is the ABC’s report of that letter that was the subject of the defamation action. The original report did not name him but Mr Porter’s legal team argues he was easily identifiable and his name was circulating on social media before he chose to identify himself in a Perth press conference.
When the defamation action was first brought, it was proposed as a de facto inquiry into the matter where Mr Porter was prepared to give sworn evidence.
“If the ABC and Ms Milligan wish to argue the truth of the allegations, they can do so in these proceedings,’’ lawyer Rebekah Giles said.
However, Mr Porter settled the case with the ABC earlier this year and never gave evidence on the matter.
The original statement of claim lodged by lawyers acting for Mr Porter argued the article was defamatory of Mr Porter and contained a number of defamatory imputations including that it suggested “Mr Porter’s brutal and anal rape of a 16-year-old girl in 1988 contributed to her taking her own life” and that “Mr Porter is reasonably suspected by police of brutally and anally raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988, warranting criminal charges against him.”
The legal action also relates to a November, 2020 online article that Mr Porter’s lawyers argue suggested that the MP is “a sexist and misogynist” and has a “reputation for making unwanted sexual advances” and had been accused of an “inappropriate sexual relationship with a female ministerial staff member.”
Christian Porter speaking to the media at the Queens Square Supreme Court in Sydney. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Adam YipSource:News Corp Australia
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously also told Parliament that the defamation claim can be “rightly addressed through our courts.”
Justice Jago confirmed on Wednesday that she will allow the redacted 27 pages to be provided to the SA state coroner and senior counsel assisting the state coroner, Stephen Plummer, and such other persons as each of them may authorise for the purpose of the investigation into the death.
Under the agreement to discontinue the defamation case, the ABC added an editorial note to the story that states it “did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged” and “did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil”.
The ABC also agreed to pay $100,000 in mediation costs to Mr Porter’s legal team but no financial damages.
ABC managing director David Anderson has previously told Senate estimates that the ABC spent $780,000 on the legal case before it was settled out of court.
Mr Porter’s legal costs are estimated to be of a similar quantum. He is also potentially facing a $500,000 legal bill for a separate legal tussle over his lawyer Sue Chrysanthou who was forced to stand down from the case over conflict of interest claims. Mr Porter is yet to provide any information to Parliament detailing any donors or support he had obtained or plans to obtain to settle these legal bills.