Former prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Christian Porter of “gaslighting”, after the government denied referring the former attorney-general to the privileges committee for his use of a “blind trust” in paying his legal fees.
It comes as the Opposition leader accused the Government of throwing out “120 years of precedent” after blocking the investigation on Wednesday.
Manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, attempted to refer the former Attorney General to the privileges committee to probe whether he had been in contempt of parliament after failing to properly disclose donations he received to fund his defamation case against the ABC.
The Speaker, Tony Smith, told the parliament on Wednesday that there was a “prima facie” case to refer Mr Porter to the committee.
But, for the first time since federation, the government voted down the referral and the Speaker’s precedent 52 to 49.
Instead, the leader of the house Peter Dutton asked the committee to clarify the rules surrounding the identity of donors to crowdsourced funds.
The move sparked outrage, including from Mr Turnbull, who took to social media to vent his frustration.
“An obligation to disclose gifts to MPs plainly requires the identity of the donor,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Saying ‘I received a gift of an undisclosed sum from a secret donor’ is not a disclosure, and suggesting it could be is gaslighting.”
Camera IconFormer prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Christian Porter of ‘gaslighting’, after the government blocked a referral to the privileges committee. Credit: News Regional Media
Labor leader Anthony Albanese on Thursday who called the events “extraordinary” and “a tragedy”.
“(There was) a deliberate attempt by Christian Porter to hide donations to him for what is a private legal matter,” Mr Albanese said.
“The facts are these – you can’t, in this parliament, continue to say ‘I got donations for a private matter’ without declaring it. That’s what the register of peculiar interest is.”
Mr Albanese said the belief that Mr Porter “didn’t know” where the donation from the blind trust – which is speculated to be somewhere between $500,000 and $1m – came from “defies belief”.
Camera IconChristian Porter will not be referred to the privileges committee over the blind trust donation to his legal fees. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia
“Mr Porter has an obligation to declare where these donations come from,” Mr Albanese said.
“If that doesn’t occur, then the register of pecuniary interests, a vital principle and process to avoid corruption in the parliament, is rendered redundant.
“ … It is a tragedy, I think, that (so many) Australians don’t have confidence in the integrity of our political processes.”
In blocking the Speaker, Mr Dutton said he opposed Mr Burke’s motion but noted there were “further issues” around anonymous donations being used to fund defamation trials that needed to be investigated by the committee.
Camera IconOpposition leader Anthony Albanese said the ‘unprecedented move’ would be a shock to the government’s integrity. Gary Ramage / NCA NewsWire Credit: News Corp Australia
“The same principle applies to a number of other members in this place over a period in relation to defamation trials,” Mr Dutton said.
“This gives rise to a much bigger issue… I think there is a sensible discussion to be had at the appropriate time between the government and the opposition to see what the appropriate next step might be for parliament.
“We… as a government, are prepared to have that discussion.”
Speaking to Channel 9 on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the parliament needed to have “very clear” rules about crowd sourcing funds for legal proceedings.
“There are many members of parliament who’ve been in this situation about how they fund legal costs to pursue defamation actions,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s not just one member… We’ve got to get the rules clear.
“That’s why we’re referred that matter to the Privileges Committee… I want to make sure the rules are tight so the integrity is protected… and everybody can be judged on the same basis.”Internet Explorer Channel Network