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Christian Porter: Senior public servant Stephanie Foster appears to wink when asked in Parliament

Today I resigned my position as a Minister in the Morrison Cabinet.

I thank the Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues for the strong support they have shown me throughout my period in Cabinet.

On 26 February 2021, I was the subject of an allegation in an article published by the ABC that was not true. That article depicted events that never happened and which the ABC, in settlement of a defamation case, acknowledged was an allegation that could not ‘…be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil.’

As I tried my best to say at a media conference shortly after the allegation was reported, the initial article and subsequent media reporting has created a new standard under which literally any Australian can be the subject of an accusation widely published and, without due process or fairness, be tried and judged in a trial by media.

After my experience it now seems to be a part of modern public life that if you are a politician, particularly a conservative politician, a mere allegation is considered enough to warrant an accusation being widely published, regardless of its inability to be proven to a civil or criminal standard.

From the moment the ABC article was published, I entered what appears to me now to be an inescapable media frenzy where the evidence, or in this case lack of it, appeared to be irrelevant. Instead, all that appeared to matter was the presence of an accusation.

To my disbelief, even in some mainstream media the onus of proof was completely reversed. The Sydney Morning Herald summed up the new reversed standard of proof in its declaration just days after the ABC article was published that: ‘It’s up to the Government to convince Australians that the Attorney General is innocent.’

It is almost impossible – for anyone – to prove that something did not happen, let alone to positively disprove what are at times completely bizarre allegations about something claimed in an unsigned document about a night 33 years ago, where the person withdrew the complaint and is now sadly deceased.

From that point, when the reporting on both social media generally, and in parts of the mainstream media, shifted from a presumption of innocence to one of guilt, an impossible standard was set for any person to meet – politician or not.

The most frightening indicator that the public broadcaster was central to this shift to a presumption of guilt in a trial by media is the fact that the ABC – seemingly with great care and effort – has reported only those parts of the information that it has in its possession which feeds into its narrative of guilt.

I have recently been provided from a source outside the ABC with a copy of the only signed document that the person who made and subsequently withdrew the complaint ever made.

Many parts of that 88-page document are such that any reasonable person would conclude that they show an allegation that lacks credibility; was based on repressed memory (which has been completely rejected by courts as unreliable and dangerous); which relied on diaries said to be drafted in 1990/91 but which were actually words composed in 2019; and, was written by someone who was, sadly, very unwell.

This material, which remains unreported, clearly does not feed the ABC’s predetermined narrative of guilt by accusation. And presumably because this document detracts so substantively from the credibility of the allegations there has been careful and deliberate avoidance in reporting it or publishing the parts of it that run counter to the chosen narrative.

Having set in motion its trial by accusation, the ABC unleashed the Twitter version of an angry mob. In this online mob environment the mere accusation – reported by Australia’s national broadcaster – was determined adequate to assign guilt, with no regard to evidence or, indeed, lack of evidence. All that seemed to matter was the fact that the accusation had been made and the identity of the person accused.

The target of the Twitter mob then extended to anyone who contradicted the narrative of guilt by accusation.

So fierce and vengeful is the response of the Twitter mob to anyone who dares say anything contrary to the narrative of guilt that those people then come to be deemed to commit a form of social crime for defending the subject of the unproven allegation and the mob turns on them. This happened to my two female lawyers, amongst many others.

The journalists who said anything in support of what were once accepted principles of due process, rule of law and presumption of innocence in the context of the accusations against me felt the full force of the Twitter mob.

Thousands of ordinary people contacted me, expressing disgust at what the ABC had done. Even though I suspected action against the taxpayer-funded broadcaster was probably going to be financially unsustainable, as it ultimately was, I decided I had to commence action against the ABC.

Some people wanted to help in that course by supporting my defamation case. They contributed to a Trust on the basis of confidentiality and a belief that their contribution would remain confidential within the rules of disclosure.

Whilst I have no right of access to the funding or conduct of the Trust, on my request the Trustee provided me an assurance that none of the contributors were lobbyists or prohibited foreign entities. This additional information was provided as part of my Ministerial disclosure.

No doubt the desire of some, possibly many, of those contributors to remain anonymous was driven by a natural desire to avoid the inevitable fact that for supporting me, the trial by mob would inevitably turn on them if they were identified.

Facing a false allegation is an experience that places your family, friends and staff under enormous and cruel pressure. It has resulted in constant abuse and ongoing threats.

For me personally, the physical threats of violence, the experience of being spat at and publicly abused for something I didn’t do has been nearly beyond comprehension in a civilised country.

To my family, friends, staff, colleagues and supporters who have helped me get through these most difficult days, words will never be able to adequately express the deep gratitude I feel.

I understand the questions raised in the media about the financial arrangements to help fund the now settled litigation. But I consider that I have provided the information required under the Members’ Register of Interests.

I also considered that the additional disclosures I provided under the Ministerial Standards were in accordance with its additional requirements. However, after discussing the matter with the Prime Minister I accept that any uncertainty on this point provides a very unhelpful distraction for the Government in its work.

To the extent that that uncertainty may be resolved by seeking further information in relation to the identities of the contributors, this would require me to put pressure on the Trust to provide me with information to which I am not entitled.

I am not prepared to seek to break the confidentiality of those people who contributed to my legal fees under what are well-known and regular legal structures, including the confidentiality attached to the Trust contribution.

Ultimately, the Prime Minister is a person for whom I have great personal and professional respect. But fully understanding the consequences, where I am not willing to put pressure on the Trust to provide me with any further information, I respectfully informed the Prime Minister that I would not place pressure on the Trust to provide me with information to which I am not entitled.

I explained my reason for this was that I could not assist any process that would ultimately allow people who have done nothing wrong to become targets of the social media mob and I would continue to respect their position.

Ultimately, I decided that if I have to make a choice between seeking to pressure the Trust to break individuals’ confidentiality in order to remain in Cabinet, or alternatively forego my Cabinet position, there is only one choice I could, in all conscience, make. Consequently, I provided the Prime Minister with my resignation earlier today. It is effective immediately.

It has been a great honour to serve as a Coalition Cabinet Minister over the past six years and as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister before that. I believe the Morrison Government has been a good and considered government in the most difficult time our country has faced since World War II.

If the last decision I was a part of in Cabinet was to provide Australia with the future deterrent of nuclear-powered submarines, then I have been part of a Government that works to change the face of Australia’s future security with a decision that our children will thank us for.

My greatest privilege has always been to serve the people of Pearce as their representative in the Australian Parliament since 2013 and to be re-elected by them in 2016 and 2019.

I have previously stated my determination to contest the next election in Pearce and have nominated for preselection, and I have no intention of standing aside from my responsibilities to the people of Pearce.

Again, I thank the Prime Minister, my Cabinet and Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues for their fellowship and support. I have always tried my best to fulfil my role as part of a hard-working team in Government and now will work again to secure the return of the Morrison Government whenever the next election is held. 

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