Christian Porter discontinues defamation proceedings against ABC

Christian Porter has discontinued his high-stakes defamation claim against the ABC just days after the parties agreed to attend mediation behind closed doors.

Federal Court Justice Tom Thawley granted an order on Thursday restraining Mr Porter’s former barrister, high-profile defamation silk Sue Chrysanthou, SC, from acting for the federal Liberal minister in the defamation case on the basis that she had previously advised a potential witness for the ABC.

Christian Porter in Parliament on May 27.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

In a statement on Monday, the ABC said Mr Porter “has decided to discontinue his defamation action against the ABC and [journalist] Louise Milligan” over an online story published on February 26 this year.

“All parties have agreed to not pursue the matter any further. No damages will be paid,” the broadcaster said.

“The ABC stands by the importance of the article, which reported on matters of significant public interest, and the article remains online. It has been updated with this Editor’s Note:

On 26 February 2021, the ABC published an article by Louise Milligan. That article was about a letter to the Prime Minister containing allegations against a senior cabinet minister. Although he was not named, the article was about the Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged. The ABC did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil. However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.

“The ABC stands by our investigative and public interest journalism, which is always pursued in the interests of the Australian community.

“The ABC stands by Louise Milligan, one of Australia’s foremost and most awarded investigative journalists, and all our journalists in their independent and brave reporting on matters about which Australians have a right to be informed.”

The Federal Court had set aside Tuesday and Wednesday this week to hear an application by Mr Porter to strike out significant portions of the ABC’s defence to his defamation claim, which may have knocked out some of its defences entirely.

The parties had asked for an urgent hearing in the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday before Justice Jayne Jagot at 2.15pm on Monday, but the hearing was cancelled shortly before it was scheduled to start.

The former attorney-general, now the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, launched defamation proceedings in March against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over a February 26 online article about a rape allegation against a Cabinet minister. Mr Porter was not named but he alleged he was identifiable.

Mr Porter claimed the article defamed him in a number of ways, including by suggesting he “brutally raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988” when he was 17, and this contributed to her taking her own life last year, after she told NSW Police that she did not wish to pursue her complaint. Mr Porter strenuously denies the claims.

In a written defence filed in court, 27 pages of which were redacted ahead of an anticipated legal fight between the parties, the ABC said it did not say Mr Porter is guilty of rape. However, it said it could prove there were “reasonable grounds” for suspecting him of the crime.

It was also seeking to rely on the public interest-style defence of qualified privilege, among other defences.

The ABC and Mr Porter were expected to attend mediation as early as last Friday in an attempt to settle the dispute out of court. Mediation is common in Federal Court defamation cases.

In an order made with the agreement of the parties on Thursday, Justice Jagot said secrecy orders covering parts of the ABC’s defence did not prevent “any mediator appointed by the parties” from being shown a complete version of the defence and Mr Porter’s reply.

More to come

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