Attorney-General’s internal investigation into judge reveals more complaints
A judge will decide whether defence documents in Christian Porter's defamation case are hidden away. Photo: Getty
An inquiry by the Attorney-General’s Department into whether former High Court justice Dyson Heydon faced any complaints of workplace behaviour during his time as the trade union royal commissioner reported back last week, finding two former staff members made “relevant disclosures” but did not want the department to take any further action.
The revelation comes as the minister to whom the department reports, Attorney-General Christian Porter, faces an allegation in an anonymous letter that he raped a 16-year-old girl 30 years ago.
This week at a press conference, Mr Porter strenuously denied the allegation.
“I can say categorically that what has been put in various forms in allegations, simply did not happen,” he said.
The NSW Police had already closed their investigation, citing a lack of admissible evidence. On Thursday, police said the woman involved had told them she did not want to proceed with her complaint just before taking her own life 2020.
There are growing calls for an independent inquiry into the allegation to be held by a retired judge.
Mr Porter has faced criticism for his stance on an inquiry into the allegations about him, after ordering the Heydon review on the back of a High Court inquiry into multiple claims of sexual harassment of female staff at the court.
An inquiry into the allegation against Mr Porter, similar to the one ordered by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel into the Heydon allegations, has been suggested by a range of people.
They include former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, parliamentarians, prominent lawyers and friends and family of the woman at the centre of the allegation.
“She [Kiefel] did not seem to share the qualms of Mr Porter, that conducting such an inquiry would reverse the onus of proof that would somehow catapult us into a lawless state, where we’d have no protection of the law in the country,” said Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman behind the allegation.
“We believe there are precedents in both the legal and the corporate world, where confidential inquiries can be sensitively handled, can be appropriately handled – that will allow everybody to have the opportunity to tell their story.
“It will give [Mr Porter] the opportunity to state that, and to try and clear his name.”
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed calls for an inquiry, suggesting this would be tantamount to a breakdown in the rule of law.
“I find those comments … of Mr Morrison to be quite extraordinary,” Ms Dyer said.
“If there is no independent inquiry, that is where you do have the Twitterati, the media, openly speculating, filling that void.”
At his press conference on Wednesday, Mr Porter differentiated the circumstances of the Dyson Heydon investigation by the High Court from any proposed investigation into the allegation he was facing, arguing that the Heydon case had been “about workplace relations accusations, which were contemporaneous, required by health and safety laws.”
Mr Porter ordered the review after damning allegations against former judge Dyson Heydon.
Internal investigation findings
7.30 can reveal that Mr Porter’s department attempted to contact all of the people who worked for the trade union royal commission that Mr Heydon chaired to check for any allegations of misbehaviour in June 2020.
The department told 7.30 it was contacted by two former staff members who made “relevant disclosures”, but did not want to take any further action.
It said its internal investigation was “finalised”, and a report was handed back to Christian Porter’s office on February 25.
The department also said: “If future contact from former employees raises further issues, the department would consider re-opening the investigation.”
This investigation only demonstrates how difficult it will be if the Attorney-General continues in his role. For he would be responsible for sensitive matters like this one or the Sex Discrimination Act with the unresolved allegations hanging over his head.
Critics agree that anyone facing allegations has the presumption of innocence, but say the public must be confident that the allegations have been fully investigated.
“It is now going to the question of whether Mr Porter is a fit and proper person to retain the role of Attorney-General,” Ms Dyer said.
“He serves as Attorney-General at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.
“Now, the Prime Minister has said that he does not believe there are any matters before him that require his immediate attention.
“Respectfully, we disagree.
“We think that there needs to be a more substantive inquiry into the claims that she has made.”