Christian Porter found a huge loophole in our election laws

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Christian Porter has the right to remain silent about who funded his legal bills, but thanks to the draconian laws drafted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, you have no right to remain silent.

Forget what American TV has taught you, in Australia you don’t always have the right to remain silent.

Whistleblowers in Australia can be jailed for revealing embarrassing secrets of our governments.

Journalists can be jailed for refusing to reveal who these whistleblowers are.

And the fact that you read this story online, along with all the rest of your web history, is being stored by the Morrison government in case National Security agencies want to go through them.

But who gave Minister Porter up to $ 1 million to fund his failed libel hearing against TUSEN? It is his secret to keep.

To be clear, there is nothing to suggest that Christian Porter broke any laws.

Indeed, the problem is much more serious than that. It seems our former first lawyer found a loophole in our election laws big enough to smuggle a million dollar truck through.

But where other parliamentarians could have seen such a discovery as an opportunity to reform the laws, our former attorney general decided instead to put it to good use.

According to the Australian Election Commission: The electoral law does not prohibit parliamentarians from receiving anonymous or foreign donations on an individual basis outside a period of (electoral) candidacy. The framework also does not require Members of Parliament who personally receive gifts to report such gifts (outside of an election period) to the Australian Election Commission.

Who knew? I mean literally, who knew? As a keen observer of Australian politics over a long period of time, I confess that I have no idea that the personal million dollar gifts to MPs made “outside of an election period” were, according to Australian law, completely dumb.

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But now that we all know it, the question is, what is the Morrison government going to do about it?

What should happen next

The best solution would be for Christian Porter to reveal the identity of his generous benefactor or, if he is unable or unwilling to do so, simply return the money.

As a former GA, Porter undoubtedly understands the need for justice and for those in positions of high responsibility to hold themselves to high standards.

In the absence of an ethical epiphany on Mr Porter’s part, the next best option for the health of our democracy would be for the Prime Minister to order Mr Porter to return the gift or remove it from cabinet if he refuses to do so. to do.

Mr Morrison’s statement on ministerial standards demands that ministers “comply with the requirements of Parliament and the Prime Minister regarding the declaration of gifts.”

He goes on to say: “Ministers should ensure that they are not subject to any financial or other obligation to individuals or organizations to the extent that they may appear to be unduly influenced in the performance of their official duties as as minister.

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Of course, it’s open to Mr. Porter to pretend he has no idea who his benefactor is, but that then raises the question of why he was so confident that such a generous stranger would show up before he turned up. get into a million dollar court case?

Or maybe they showed up months ago and he just revealed it?

But assuming Scott Morrison chooses to do nothing when the opportunity for leadership presents itself, his code of conduct leaves an intriguing third option open.

Christian Porter’s use of a blind trust is a test of the Prime Minister’s leadership. Photo: AAP

No confidence looms

Given that the Prime Minister explicitly requires ministers to comply with Parliament’s demands, and given that the Coalition holds a minority of seats in both Houses of Parliament, there is a good chance that Parliament will ask for more of him. information about his gift as the AEC.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has already announced that his party will present a motion of censure against Mr Porter, who, according to Green sources, is receiving “positive reactions” from the opposition and the Cross Benches.

Some of the sharpest procedural minds in the country will sharpen their political knives.

While there are multiple paths to decorum, the real problem is that if this ridiculous situation is maintained, then our politicians, who are already among the highest paid in the world, will be free to accept huge “gifts” of money. ‘undisclosed friends through brown paper trusts, friends who may represent foreign governments, crime syndicates, real estate developers or billionaires looking for another tax break.

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The purpose of our donation disclosure laws and our anti-money laundering laws is to provide transparency to limit the ability of those who might seek inappropriate influence to find opportunities to exercise it.

The purpose of such laws is not to prevent politicians from receiving gifts, but to prevent those who would distort our democracy from having the chance to do so.

No one likes blind trust

It is not a question of knowing if we can trust Christian Porter; it is a question of whether our democratic structures are regarded as trustworthy.

The vast majority of Australians want a lot more transparency from their governments, not less.

And the vast majority of Australians support the creation of the kind of federal anti-corruption watchdog that Christian Porter promised and never delivered.

Without such a body, we are expected to have blind faith that there is no corruption in the Morrison government.

But as the last 24 hours show, no one likes blind trust.

Living in a democracy requires all of us to give up certain freedoms to ensure that greater freedoms are protected.

Whether they like it or not, Australians do not have the right to keep a wide range of secrets from their governments.

Government ministers should not demand the right to keep secret the source of million dollar gifts to those they govern.

Richard Denniss is the chief economist of independent think tank The Australia Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @RNS_TAI

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