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Why Porter canít claim victory after dropping ABC defamation case

By Augusto Zimmermann - posted Thursday, 3 June 2021


Former Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has discontinued his defamation action against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and journalist Louise Milligan, declaring that the settlement of the case was a "humiliating" outcome for the ABC.

Speaking late on Monday outside the court after a settlement was agreed to, Porter said, "That is a humiliating backdown for the ABC, no matter what way they want to spin it."

"They regret the outcome of that article," Porter said.

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"What I wanted was for the ABC to acknowledge that the way in which they reported this was sensationalist and wrong … And they have said that they regret the outcome of their reporting," he added.

The public broadcaster though spun the outcome differently saying in a statement on Monday that "All parties have agreed to not pursue the matter any further. No damages will be paid."

Porter was seeking aggravated damages over a story published on Feb. 26 and headlined, "Scott Morrison, Senators and AFP told of Historical Rape Allegations against Cabinet Minister."

The article begins as follows, "Australian Federal Police have been notified of a letter sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailing an alleged historical rape by a cabinet minister in the federal government."

It then argues that a cabinet minister may have raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988, which could have contributed to her taking her own life. The story referred to what might have happened as an allegation only. It did not affirm that it definitely happened, and it did not even name Porter.

However, Porter identified himself in a press conference held on Mar. 3, saying he was the cabinet minister accused of rape. He then took legal action against the ABC for defamation over the story.

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Attorney-General Christian Porter speaks to the media to address sexual allegations in Perth, Australia on March 3, 2021. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

But the case was always going to be difficult to prove because it rested primarily on whether a casual reader-rather than a highly politically engaged individual-would know "beyond any doubt" that the unnamed cabinet minister was actually the former attorney-general.

A point that was very difficult for Porter's legal team to establish as a fact given his lawyers needed to demonstrate that he was easily identifiable to many Australians as the subject of the allegations.

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This article was first published in The Epoch Times.



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About the Author

Augusto Zimmermann, LLB, LLM, PhD is a Lecturer in Law at Murdoch University, Western Australia.

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