The Government has voted to block an investigation into an anonymous donor who provided an unknown amount of money in support of Christian Porter‘s legal fees, even after it was found that there was a case for it to be formally reviewed.
The mystery donor provided an unspecified amount for Porter’s defamation case against the ABC and Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan. Porter’s legal fees are estimated to be as high as $1 million.
On Wednesday, Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith told the House that he believed a “prima facie case” existed for the issue of Porter’s donation.
Basically, this means that at first sight, Smith believed there was enough evidence to support an inquiry and report.
“Based on my careful consideration of all of the information available to me, I am satisfied that a prima facie case has been made out,” Smith said.
“An opinion by the Speaker that a prima facie case has been made out does not imply a conclusion that a breach of privilege or contempt has occurred.
“I’m simply allowing the House the opportunity to consider a motion immediately, and debate and decide on whether the matter should be referred to the committee for inquiry and report.”
breaking: House speaker Tony Smith believes a "prima facie case" exists for Christian Porter's 'blind trust' anonymous donation issue to be referred to the House of Reps' privileges committee
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 20, 2021
Needless to say, things did not go well, and the motion was defeated by the Liberal party 52 votes to 49.
This is the first time since 1901 that a motion has been blocked after being deemed a “prima facie case”.
So what happens now? Well, if the motion hadn’t been defeated, the Privileges Committee could have commenced an investigation into the anonymous donations, and report their findings back. But now, without the Parliament vote, they can still investigate, but cannot comment on their findings.
Mystery donors paid up to $1 million of Christian Porter’s law fees. He won’t say who.
Liberal Speaker Tony Smith found there was a prima facie case for it to go to the Privileges Committee.
The Liberal Party voted to block it.
This has never happened. Not since 1901. #auspol
— Andrew Leigh (@ALeighMP) October 20, 2021
“This is a brown paper bag stitched together by lawyers, we have no idea whose money is involved,” said Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke.
“[Porter] can find out where the money has come from, because he was able to say it’s not foreign donors and it’s no-one on the lobbyist register.
“So he has made clear that he can find out whose money is in this trust for which he has personally benefited for a personal bill… and he has chosen not to.”
Last month, Christian Porter resigned from Scott Morrison‘s ministry.Image: Getty Images / Matt Jelonek