Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has launched Federal Court defamation proceedings against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan.
Porter is suing the public broadcaster over an online article that he alleges portrays him as the perpetrator of a “brutal” rape that contributed to a woman taking her own life.
In a statement of claim lodged on Monday, it is evident that Mr Porter, who is on medical leave, is seeking damages, including aggravated damages, for a February 26 article published on the ABC’s website, headlined “Scott Morrison, senators and AFP told of historical rape allegation against Cabinet Minister.”
ABC journalist Louise Milligan, who broke the story, is also named as a party to the lawsuit.
Mr Porter, who is not named in the ABC article, has retained a trio of high-powered lawyers, including Sydney barristers Bret Walker, SC, and Sue Chrysanthou, SC, and solicitor Rebekah Giles to represent him.
“Over the last few weeks, the Attorney-General has been subjected to trial by media without regard to the presumption of innocence or the rules of evidence and without any proper disclosure of the material said to support the untrue allegations,” Ms Giles said in a statement on Monday.
“The trial by media should now end with the commencement of these proceedings.”
Ms Giles foreshadowed that Mr Porter would give evidence in the proceedings.
Mr Porter has strenuously denied allegations made by a woman that he raped her during a debating tournament in Sydney in 1988. The woman took her own life last year, after telling NSW Police that she did not wish to pursue her complaint.
The Attorney-General’s lawyers say Mr Porter was readily identifiable as the unnamed cabinet minister in the ABC’s online story, and his name was “trending prominently on Twitter” after it was published.
The article, they say, also conveys that Mr Porter was “reasonably suspected by police” of rape, warranting criminal charges being brought against him, and there were “reasonable grounds for suspecting” both that he committed the crime and that it “contributed to [the woman] taking her own life.”
Mr Porter was “obliged” to identify himself on March 3, they say.
Ms Chrysanthou and Ms Giles have acted successfully for a series of high-profile defamation plaintiffs, many of them women, including Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young against former Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm.
In recent days, Ms Chrysanthou and Ms Giles also acted for former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who has alleged she was raped by a former staffer in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
Ms Chrysanthou has even acted for actor Geoffrey Rush in his successful defamation suit against The Daily Telegraph, which resulted in a record $2.9 million payout.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald.