Labor fears Porter lawsuit muzzles debate

Labor is concerned about the political ramifications of Christian Porter’s defamation action and how it will be used by the Morrison Government.

Labor’s shadow attorney-general says he is worried the Morrison Government might use Attorney-General Christian Porter’s defamation action to “muzzle” political discussion.

Mr Porter is suing the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan over their coverage of historical rape allegations, although he was not named in the reports.

Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, who was attorney-general under the Gillard and Rudd governments, told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that Mr Porter would have to prove he was identified by the ABC reports despite the fact they did not name him.

However, he said he was more concerned about other ramifications of the legal action.

“I’m more troubled about the use that the Government might seek to put this defamation action to, as an attempt, which they’re already making, to muzzle further discussion or to suggest that because this matter is now part of a private defamation action by Christian Porter that that should be enough,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“It’s nothing of the kind. It’s just as I’ve said, a private defamation action and it will resolve only that question of Mr Porter’s reputation. It won’t resolve his fitness for office. That’s why we need an independent inquiry.”

RELATED: PM asked Porter to give up duties after legal advice

Mr Dreyfus said he thought Australia’s defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on public interest journalism in the country.

He also thought Mr Porter should not be able to return to his role if he is unable to perform all his duties. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Tuesday that Mr Porter would return as Attorney-General but won’t perform certain functions involving the ABC or Federal Court to avoid a conflict of interest.

“He should have stood aside some weeks back,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“It’s not appropriate that there be these serious allegations of sexual assault hanging over the Attorney-General of Australia. He should have stood aside and there should have been an independent inquiry commenced some weeks back.”

Mr Dreyfus said that the move is also “making the point more clear”.

“We’ve got the Prime Minister saying that, in his opinion, the Attorney-General can return to work but he won’t be able to do some parts of his work because of what the Prime Minister accepts is a conflict of interest,” he said.

“This Attorney-General has to establish that he’s fit for office, fit for the high office that he holds as the first law officer.

“The Prime Minister seems to be pretending that all of this has been made to go away because the New South Wales Police can investigate no further.

“We had the Prime Minister today, disgracefully, pretending in Question Time that the NSW Police had fully investigated this matter.

“They didn’t, and that needs to be made clear and I think it is clear to Australians because that’s why Australians are calling for there to be an independent investigation. They know that there has not been an investigation of these serious allegations.”

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