The ABC paid Christian Porter’s legal team $100,000 in ‘mediation and related costs’, a court heard
The ABC agreed to pay Christian Porter’s lawyers the secret sum of $100,000 in mediation costs to settle their defamation case, a parliamentary committee has heard.
The public broadcaster’s managing director David Anderson disclosed the six-figure payment during a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday.
Mr Anderson said the two sides had agreed that ‘the ABC will pay to (Porter’s lawyers) Company Giles the sum of $100,000, in respect to mediation and related costs.’
The exact amount paid over for mediation had been kept confidential, however the parties agreed it could be disclosed to Parliament.
The revelation comes amid a public relations battle over a February article which revealed a historical rape allegation had been made against a senior minister – which Mr Porter later furiously denied.
The ABC boss confirmed the national broadcaster had agreed not to pay Mr Porter damages over the article and that it stands by its journalism.
However, broadcaster added an editor’s note to the article, which said that it ‘regretted’ it had been misinterpreted by some readers as making an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter.
ABC managing director David Anderson disclosed the previously secret sum to a parliamentary inquiry on Monday morning
The ABC added an editor’s note to the end of Louise Milligan’s February 26 article as part of the settlement – but it will not take the report down or pay Mr Porter damages
Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour deleted a tweet announcing the settlement last week which said: ‘BREAKING NOW! Christian Porter is dropping his defamation case against the ABC. No money was paid. We stand by our stories. #4 Corners #auspol.’
Some 15 minutes later, she posted an amended version, which removed the assertion that no money had been paid. ‘BREAKING NOW! Christian Porter is dropping his defamation case against the ABC. No damages were paid. We stand by our stories’, she said.
While the main part of the defamation fight has been dropped, the battle over whether an ABC defence document which Mr Porter’s lawyers have described as ‘scandalous’ continues.
Mr Porter and the ABC agreed the redacted, 27 page document could be purged from the court file as part of their settlement.
However, last week Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot said she was concerned by the proposed order, saying it was essentially a permanent suppression order,
Media outlets will oppose the order, the court heard, and Justice Jagot said: ‘It’s not a matter for simply the parties to agree.’
Mr Porter filed his case against the ABC and journalist Ms Milligan in March, claiming he was the victim of a malicious ‘trial by media’ regarding denied allegations that he raped his 16-year-old female debating teammate in Sydney 1988, when he was 17.
The court document is presently redacted
The former attorney-general was not named as the alleged rapist in the ABC report published, but later outed himself as the senior minister accused of the crime in a tearful media conference.
His lawyers claimed ‘many Australians’ could have figured out the story was about him and challenged the ABC to prove the allegations are true in the Federal Court.
But following mediation, Mr Porter decided to drop the case. He was not paid any settlement fee but the ABC was required to update its article with an editors’ note expressing ‘regret’ that readers may have thought the minister was guilty.
Mr Porter claimed victory and said the ABC had been forced in to a ‘humiliating backdown’ – however, the national broadcaster said it ‘stands by the importance of the article’.
Attorney-General Christian Porter (pictured denying rape allegations in a tearful presser) sued the ABC for publishing an article online accusing him of raping a debating teammate in 1988
Mr Porter said on Monday that he didn’t think the article should ‘have ever been printed and published in the way that it was.
‘It was sensationalist, one-sided, unfair and it is the sort of reporting that any Australian can be subject to unless people stand up to it,’ he said outside court in Sydney.
‘The ABC and Louise Milligan have been forced to say that the accusations in the article could not be proven to a civil standard or a criminal standard.
‘So the same people who were calling for some kind of civil hearing have now been forced to say that the accusations would not be proven to a civil standard.
‘Now, I never thought that the ABC would get to that point but that is the point that they would get to,’ he said.
He thanked his supporters and friends who stood by him, even when ‘the modern-day lynch mob was targeting me.’
The industry minister said he would not ask to return to his former role as attorney general and would contest the next election in his seat of Pearce in Perth.
‘I have aspirations to get on with the job of being a minister,’ he said.
The ABC’s editor’s note reads: ‘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.’
In its statement, the broadcaster added: ‘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.’
Following Mr Porter’s press conference, the ABC said it does not ‘regret’ the article.
A spokeswoman said: ‘The ABC has never and still does not accept that the article suggested guilt on the part of Mr Porter.
‘The ABC did not plead a truth defence to the ‘guilt’ meaning that Mr Porter alleged in his statement of claim.
‘The article was not ‘sensationalist’. It was an accurate and factual report on a letter that had been sent to the Prime Minister and two other senior politicians.’
Mr Porter categorically denied raping a 16-year-old fellow debater when he was 17 in March.
Christian Porter (pictured during a debate when he was a schoolboy) said the alleged rape ‘just didn’t happen’
‘The things that have been claimed to happen did not happen,’ he said at an emotional press conference, unveiling his identity as the senior politician alluded to in the article.
‘I did not sleep with the [alleged] victim. We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us,’ he added.
By unveiling himself, Mr Porter ended six days of speculation over the accused’s identity.
‘The things I have read did not happen. And to suggest that they could be forgotten is ridiculous, they just never happened,’ he said.
The accuser, who struggled with her mental health for years, told police about her allegation in February last year.
The woman, who has been named only as Kate, took her own life in June. NSW Police closed their investigation into the matter in March.
The rape allegation: A timeline
1988: Debating competition in Sydney at which woman later alleges she was raped
2013: Woman tells sexual assault counsellor about her allegation
Late 2019: Woman engages lawyers and prepares a statement
February 2020: Woman reports allegations to NSW Police
March 2020: Police postpone trip to visit her due to Covid-19
June 2020: Woman withdraws allegation and dies by suicide
February 24, 2021: Anonymous letter is sent to PM detailing allegations
March 1, 2021: PM says minister completely rejects the allegations
March 2, 2021: NSW Police close the case
March 3, 2021: Christian Porter goes public to deny allegation
March 15, 2021: Mr Porter sues the ABC for defamation
May 31, 2021: Mr Porter drops his case