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Morrison government rejects inquiry into Christian Porter

Christian Porter will not be investigated over his use of anonymous donations to fund a defamation action against the ABC.

The former attorney-general avoided a referral to parliament’s powerful privileges committee after the Morrison government cast a stunning vote.

Speaker Tony Smith recommended Mr Porter be referred to the committee for investigation.

Mr Smith told parliament he was satisfied a “prima facie” case had been made for further scrutiny and gave precedence for a Labor motion to proceed.

It would have seen Mr Porter examined over his use of a “blind trust” to cover part of his legal fees.

But Coalition MPs blocked the motion, which was defeated 52 votes to 49.

The extraordinary act of defiance broke with 120 years of tradition, as governments have always acted on the precendence set by the Speaker.

Camera IconPeter Dutton and Tony Smith during Question Time. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Manager of opposition business Tony Burke attempted to refer Mr Porter to the committee to probe whether he has been in contempt of parliament.

He focused on House of Representatives resolutions relating to the disclosure of members’ interests.

Mr Porter resigned as a minister after revealing an anonymous donor had paid for some of his defamation proceedings.

He sued the public broadcaster for airing reports of a historical rape allegation against a cabinet minister.

Mr Porter self-identified as the minister in question and strenuously denied the allegation.

He has maintained he properly disclosed his interests in accordance with requirements, but said he would not pressure people who contributed to the trust to name themselves.

Mr Burke on Wednesday said if politicians were allowed to do this “we may as well not have a register of members’ interests at all”.

“The whole reason it’s there is so the public knows if a member of parliament gets money, the public have a right to know where that money has come from,” he told parliament.

“This is a brown paper bag stitched together by lawyers. We have no idea whose money is involved.”

“(Mr Porter) can find out where the money has come from because he was able to say it’s not foreign donors and it’s no one on the political lobbyist register.”

Camera IconTony Burke during Question Time in the House of Representatives. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Leader of the House Peter Dutton said the government would oppose Mr Burke’s motion but said there were “further issues” around anonymous donations being used to fund defamation trials that needed to be investigated by the privileges committee.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was unprecedented for such a motion to be voted down.

“Since federation there has never been a time where the house has brought down a resolution where precedence was given,” he said.

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