Dark side: Christian Porter’s night life intensifies deep concerns over political integrity

by | Nov 11, 2020 | Government

ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night raised questions about Christian Porter’s personal behaviour. Michelle Fahy reports on the Attorney General’s political integrity and concerns over dealings with multinational arms manufacturer Thales.

The role of federal attorney general is a uniquely powerful position, one that is supposed to sit, unblemished, above party political wrangling and the reach of vested interests. Yet the Coalition’s Christian Porter in his role as federal attorney general has demonstrated a disturbing acquiescence to powerful corporate interests. It should come as no surprise that Porter has proposed such a feather duster of a national anti-corruption commission.

There was his “brazen attack on Parliament and the public interest” by censoring key parts of the auditor general’s report into defence’s procurement of the Hawkei vehicle, following a request to do so from multinational weapons maker Thales, the manufacturer of the vehicle.

The parliamentary committee that oversees the auditor general was so concerned by Porter’s irregular use of his special powers to inhibit transparency it launched an inquiry.

There’s his breach of the law, three times, by failing to publish the required annual reports documenting his use of secret national security (NSI) orders for three years in a row, until this failure was revealed on the ABC’s Q&A by Nick Xenophon.

Attorney General Christian Porter breaches law over three years, claims it was a mistake

And there’s his extraordinary push for a secret trial of Bernard Collaery and Witness K, described by lawyers as the behaviour of a tinpot dictatorship.

Coalition’s push for secret trials: behaviour of a tin-pot dictatorship

Evidence of the need for a national anti-corruption commission mounts daily. The widespread ‘culture of cosiness’ between government and military industrial companies is just one strand.

‘Culture of Cosiness’: colossal conflicts of interest in Defence spending blitz

While part 2 of this story will investigate the serious concerns about the Thales/Hawkei procurement process, along with potential fraud by Thales and arms maker BAE Systems in a separate arena, this article focuses on Christian Porter’s role and the lengths he went to in order to protect Thales.

Porter censors Australian National Audit Office

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), in its 2018 report on the Hawkei procurement, noted the “extensive industry lobbying” undertaken by Thales to win the contract.

During its audit, the ANAO engaged with the Defence Department in line with its usual procedure to ensure there was no breach of national security in the material being included. It showed the department its draft reports for comment, and made adjustments as discussed and agreed.

Given Thales’ interest in the report’s content, the ANAO also provided Thales with an extract from the proposed public report. Thales was not pleased with the text and asked for certain sections to be cut. The ANAO refused.

Thales upped the ante considerably in early January 2018 by writing to attorney general Christian Porter requesting that he take the very unusual step of using his power to issue a certificate preventing publication of the information to which Thales objected. Thales stated its reason as being that, in its view, the report unfairly prejudiced its commercial interests.

A few weeks later, Thales piled on more pressure by also taking legal action against the auditor general in the Federal Court.

The auditor general, Grant Hehir, advised Porter that the ANAO report was required to be tabled in parliament as soon as possible after the audit was completed. Porter told Hehir he would make a decision without unreasonable delay, but then took six months to do so. Meanwhile, the procurement process for the Hawkei continued.

This six-month delay forced the ANAO to continue its audit process, and update its report before it could be tabled, costing taxpayers more money, on top of the $223,000 the ANAO had to spend from its overstretched budget fending off the Thales court action.

Porter eventually issued the certificate as Thales requested, and Thales dropped its federal court action.

Porter defied 100 years of best practice

The auditor general is Parliament’s principal officer of accountability and transparency. The decision by Christian Porter to prevent the auditor general from making public key sections of his audit report defied more than a century of public audit practice and sent ripples of alarm through the parliament, the public service, academia, and the wider community.

“Gagged: a brazen attack on Parliament and the public interest,” was the Canberra Times headline on a column by the ANU’s Emeritus Professor at the Crawford school of public policy, Richard Mulgan. In the column, Mulgan wrote:

“The activation of a dormant statutory mechanism to silence an auditor-general’s capacity to scrutinise a private contractor is an unwelcome extension of the Executive’s avoidance of accountability (my italics).”

On top of all that, in August 2018 Thales asked Christian Porter for a second certificate on a different section of the report. To avoid further delays, the auditor general decided to remove the section in question, saying it was not material to the report.

Senator Rex Patrick has waged an ongoing battle to get the unredacted report released via Freedom of Information. His quest has reached the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and continues. As Senator Patrick noted:

“The lengths the Morrison government appears willing to go, to hide embarrassing information knows no boundaries.”

‘No limits to what Coalition will do to hide embarrassing information’

Parliamentary inquiry examined the use of the certificate

When Thales asked Porter to issue the certificate it cited only the prejudice to its commercial interests as justification.

In making his decision on whether to issue the certificate, Porter requested advice from the auditor general and the defence ministers (and the defence ministers in turn requested advice from the Defence Department).

With no public explanation, Porter added a second reason to that of Thales’ commercial interests being prejudiced, claiming that the security, defence or international relations of the Commonwealth were also prejudiced by sections of the report.

In response to such an irregular use of the attorney general’s special powers, particularly his inexplicable use of national security as a justification, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, which oversees the ANAO, launched a parliamentary inquiry.

In his submission to the inquiry, the auditor general made various pointed suggestions, one of which was that the attorney general should be required to provide substantive reasons when a decision to issue a certificate is made.

Porter sets ‘appalling precedent’

Julian Hill, deputy chair of the parliamentary committee, said that any suggestion that the cloak of national security may have been used as a protective cover for the commercial interests of Thales “is appalling from the point of view of the parliament and sets an absolutely unsustainable precedent”.

In the wake of the Thales certificate, the auditor general noted that two other corporations had already indicated they were considering requesting the attorney general to issue a certificate.

The committee said it was “extremely concerned” that the Thales case would set a precedent.

The auditor general Grant Hehir said he had addressed security concerns as part of the audit process by consulting closely with Defence. At the inquiry, he said Defence had not raised any outstanding national security concerns with him about the report in the three months since the certificate was issued.

The committee recommended that several issues raised by the auditor general in his submission be referred for further consideration to the next periodic review of the Auditor General Act. This review has commenced. Members of the public have until 30 November to make a submission (here).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Fahy

Michelle Fahy

Michelle has had a long career in writing and research, initially in the financial services sector producing plain language investor communications. For the last 10 years, she has been involved in research and campaigning for various organisations seeking to reduce warfare and militarism. An abiding interest has been the prevention of corruption via increased transparency and accountability. She is currently researching the links between current and former politicians, public servants and military personnel, and weapons-making corporations. You can contact Michelle by email: [email protected] and Twitter @FahyMichelle.

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    when the top law officer of the nation is so obviously corrupt – this bodes badly for Australian democracy

    time to follow the US and vote out the greedy and selfish conservative a$$$holes

  2. Avatar

    Never thought I’d say this, but can we get him back on to his Religious Persecution Bill? He might do less damage there.

    • Avatar

      Doubtful.

  3. Avatar

    I really AM electrified by this journalist. Again, apiece so accurate it hits the very heart of the target, the same sort of thing that has characterised Trumpist politics.

    The sly and furtive behaviour was graphically typified on this weeks 4 Corners concerning the behaviour of Porter himself and another Robodebt monster, Dickensian Alan Tudge, paradigmatic of an utterly amoral egoistic and self gratificationary pathology, infantile and heedless of harm done others…preppies sadistically pulling wings off butterflies.

    I am deeply intrigued that the rotten Thales issue was raised again, so much concerning this organisation and its City of London type behaviours over time, swept under the carpet like a dirty secret.

    Porter is a dark, spectral creature, not unlike Ralph Nickleby or Dorian Grey. Tudge wold be more than easy to identify in such novels also, colourless, cold and sanctimonious. How much better off this country would be without the top echelons of the LNP betraying us in the truest Vichy collaborationist ways.

    All Malcom Turnbull said of Paul Kelly, another “party functionary” type on QA this week applies to a whole regiment of entitled, self absorbed, often corrupt and ignorant and arrogant individuals in deep denial in control of our country at this time.

    • Avatar

      Given the obscene public conduct of the students of private boys schools, we can anticipate the Liberal Party, which shall enlist the worst of these students, tradition to infect the Commonwealth for many more years to come. God save the Queen because nothing will save the Liberal Party.

      • Avatar

        Yes, they are nice people. Dumped out in the Friday trash is the horrible story of the callous removal of a respected refugee family from Kempsey, NSW, in the middle of a bereavement. Are these preppies psychopaths?

      • Avatar

        Yes.

  4. Avatar

    Terrific research and writing; thank you. Porter should resign or be sacked.

    • Avatar

      Two chances of that, Buckley’s and none.

      Morrison is enabling this behaviour by doing nothing, because nothing is what he does.

      • Avatar

        Pontius Pilate, you reckon?

      • Avatar

        Indeed.

        We know who the Emperor is, that’s Murdoch, and like Pontius Pilate, not much was known about him before he became Governor of Judea, nor the circumstances of his appointment to the Governorship.

      • Avatar

        I suppose if things turned out too badly over Defence procurements we could be thinking of another NT character, ended up throwing out thirty piece of lucre, a traitors name?

      • Avatar

        NT character”?

  5. Avatar

    Excellent article.
    Michelle do you know about Sarawak Report and what a single journalist provided with constant inside information can do? Such a website/person can replace a cumbersome expensive ICAC or any government established entity. There needs to be one in every country.

    • Avatar

      Thank you Colin. Yes, I heard Clare Rewcastle Brown speak about her mind boggling Sarawak investigation at a talk she gave at ANU.

  6. Avatar

    Cosiness is only one of the “C” words which could be applied to this rotten government.

    Capture, collusion, corruption, craven, conspiratorial, crass.

    We should not be surprised by Porter. The Liberal Party is allergic to scrutiny, and will stoop very low to hide their sins.

  7. Avatar

    Yes top notch investigative journalism. Incidently Thales along with Defence finance Aust strategic Policy Institute to do its defence bidding by concocting strategic threats from foreign powers, yes you guessed it notably Russia and China… Interestingly the only issue of the many reports authored by ASPI that the ABC gives coverage are those which concoct the China threat notably Hong Kong and Uyghurstan. And if you read the associated diatribe from ABCs Bill Birtles clearly the smell of a rat is wafting in the air.

  8. Avatar

    There are many aspects yet to emerge due to the unsavoury behaviour of Porter as AG, both personal and of a regulatory nature, which has been covered extensively by MWM https://www.michaelwest.com.au/?s=Timor

    If I may, this article from Bernard Keane further serves to highlight the complete trashing of the Rule of Law, in addition to the protection racket that is being run by Porter on behalf of the Liberal Party ought to be a wakeup call to all Australians, as well as those who practice within the realms of jurisprudence:
    https://www.crikey.com.au/2020/11/12/christian-porter-four-corners-witness-k/

Instagram

QED

Case for Federal ICAC

Quad Erat Demonstrandum

Revolving Doors

Revolving Doors

Video Channel

The West Report

Support Us

subscribe to michael west media
Rortswear and ClimateCards
The West Report Banner
Michael West Email

Get Our Weekly Newsletter

Unsubscribe anytime.

Thank you! We'll also confirm via email.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This