An ‘affront’ to democracy: Christian Porter has questions to answer. So does the PM
Christian Porter has just thrown a bomb under the government. By taking an undisclosed amount of money from a secret benefactor, he risks undermining some of the most basic principles of democracy: disclosing your financial interests.
The public is unlikely to accept that a sitting politician should be able to receive a bag of unmarked bills from an anonymous donor. Who’s to say the money isn’t coming from a foreign government?
It also puts the prime minister in a bind — is he really going to stand by while this happens?
Anthony Whealy QC, a former justice of the Supreme Court of NSW Court of Appeal and chairman of the Centre for Public Integrity, said the matter went way beyond a disclosure issue.
“This is an affront to our democratic principles, to have the concealment of major funding like this,” he told Crikey.
“It goes far beyond a slip up of disclosing something like Barry O’Farrell and his bottle of Grange. The public are entitled to know where this money comes from and if he doesn’t disclose it he is deliberately concealing it from the public.”
Porter’s position may be untenable unless he hands back the money or reveals who his benefactors are. In his declaration, he has claimed that as he is a potential beneficiary to the blind trust, he had “no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust”.
But this still doesn’t explain some basic mechanical questions. Where did the money turn up? And if it was in his bank account, how did the trust get his bank account details? Who told him the money was coming? And what steps has he taken to try to find out who was behind it?
Then there are the bigger questions about his decision to accept the money, such as:
- Does the minister know the benefactor(s) behind the trust? If not, why would he take the money?
- Why won’t he reveal how much money he received as per the rules of disclosure?
- What is his response to claims that taking money from an unknown source is undemocratic given the money could have come from a foreign government?
- If he won’t reveal how much he received or who gave it to him, why won’t he return the money?
The prime minister also has questions to answer, namely:
- Will the prime minister demand Christian Porter release the details of his benefactors and the total amount he received, as per the spirit of the disclosure rules?
- How is the prime minister confident that this money has not come from a foreign government or some other source that could breach national security?
- If the prime minister allows government members to take unknown sums of money from unknown sources, what is to stop them receiving money from a foreign government?