While ever Christian Porter keeps the anonymous money deposited to cover his legal fees, his position as a minister is untenable. That the Prime Minister needs someone else to check if accepting this anonymous gift of cash breaches ministerial standards is a laughable pantomime of integrity, even for this government.
As former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull observed, "It is a shocking affront to transparency ... it's like saying 'My legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash'."
Shocking is the right word. Brazen is another. We are all guilty of making poor decisions from time to time, but members and senators - and ministers in particular - are (and should be) held to a higher standard of integrity, honesty and accountability given the power and authority they can exert. The fact that Porter not only made the decision to accept this money, but then disclosed the anonymous gift of cash on his register of interests as if it were the same as listing a new investment property, shows balls as big as those that allegedly ended the wedding of Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend in Trinidad.
Porter lacks judgment. He could not see that it was inappropriate for him to stay as attorney-general while allegations of a historic sexual assault, which he denies, remained unresolved; instead, he likened calls for him to stand aside as tantamount to ending the rule of law in Australia. Whether or not to accept this large anonymous gift of cash is a much more straightforward decision.
The Prime Minister too has shown a lack of judgment in this matter. Morrison knows this is an unacceptable breach of the ministerial standards and should not need a bureaucrat to tell him so. It is the Prime Minister who sets and enforces the standards.
Let's be clear, if Porter is allowed to keep his ministerial position while he keeps the money and keeps secret the identity of the donor, then the Prime Minister will set a new ministerial standard: that large anonymous personal donations to ministers are completely acceptable in the Morrison government. The ministerial standards will become the stained, lumpy carpet under which all manner of grubby actions are swept.
The manifest inadequacy of the Ministerial Standards as a tool of accountability, enforced at the whim of the Prime Minister, only intensifies the need for an independent federal anti-corruption body to investigate and expose serious and systemic corruption.
It is more than a thousand days since then attorney-general Christian Porter promised a Commonwealth Integrity Commission that still does not exist. Despite the urgent and obvious need for an anti-corruption watchdog with teeth, Porter's proposed model is deeply flawed. The National Integrity Committee - an independent body of former judges auspiced by the Australia Institute - found that it was not even clear the proposed Commission even covered Ministerial conduct which may be deemed to be corrupt.
They found the proposed model fell "disastrously short of providing an effective body to counter and expose corruption at a national level" and was "a deliberate political diversion designed to shield the public sector, and in particular politicians and their staff, from proper scrutiny and accountability."
Government ministers have certainly shown little regard for accountability when it comes to wasting taxpayer dollars on the many discretionary grants programs that have earned the "-rort" suffix. But the disastrous $90 billion submarine program must surely take the cake in terms of government waste. It's not clear yet how many hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars the government will have to pay to break Australia's submarine contract with the French, but the government has wasted at least six years of time it can never recover. Which minister will be held accountable for this massive waste of time and money?
The Defence Department manages a huge budget but scrapping a 20-year $90 billion program almost halfway through is surely a sign that someone somewhere has not, or is not, making sound decisions with taxpayers' money. The lack of accountability for the failures of the program is egregious. There's every chance the new nuclear-powered submarine deal with the US and the UK - a massive strategic change announced with zero democratic debate - will exceed $90 billion. There is no suggestion there has been any corruption of submarine program, but the risk of corruption in such huge government contracts is obvious.
It is only 11 years ago that investigative journalist Linton Besser examined $48 billion worth of defence contracts over four years and found large-scale rorting to pay for things like oil paintings, gym equipment and the use of private Learjets. Most concerningly, he uncovered a number of phantom contracts that 'mystified the companies to which they were meant to have been awarded'.
Australia should have an independent anti-corruption body with broad jurisdiction, the investigative powers of a royal commission and the ability to hold public hearings. Instead, our federal system of integrity seems consist of Phil Gaetjens and the National Audit Office. As much as the ANAO does great work, it's not enough.
In his inaugural speech to Parliament, Christian Porter talked about how important moments in history are determined by all kinds of factors, the single most important being "the quality of the people in charge of decision making ...for anyone who believes this, it makes some sense to aspire to a place that offers the toughest opportunity to prove oneself over time in the art of decision making."
Christian Porter has been given the toughest of opportunities to prove himself in the art of decision making and, time and again, he has failed himself, the Parliament and the people. The Prime Minister should demand he hand back the money or disclose the identity of the donor. If he does not, then to paraphrase the Prime Minister, "he can go". Otherwise, it will not be just a matter of Porter's lack of judgment, but the Prime Minister's lack of integrity.
- Ebony Bennett is deputy director at the Australia Institute and a regular columnist. Twitter: @ebony_bennett