Tag Archives: Katharine Thornton

Porter and Morrison failed Katherine Thornton

On the issue of whether Christian Porter is a “fit and proper person” to continue in the role of the Attorney General there is no need to hold a public enquiry. As I have already stated, here The Porter case unfolds as classic Greek tragedy the enquiry will hit the same road-blocks that a formal trial would.

Without a witness, without proof of a crime, there is no resolution available. Christian Porter has asked us to imagine that the ‘crime’ never happened. The woman, who accused him, by name, died at her own hand. Incredibly, he and the Prime Minister both claim not to have read the accusation. Neither have they, as far as I can recall, mentioned her by name. Katherine Thornton was her name, should either of them need a reminder.

Any employer, with an ounce of intelligence and any ‘people skills’ whatsoever, would sit down and examine Mr Porter’s background, his track record, his demeanour, his strengths and weaknesses, and his ability to work in a team. That would just be the start. Has he been doing the job well, so far? If someone equally qualified presented his or herself, would you hang on to Porter in the role, or move him on, to something better suited to his abilities? Is he likeable?

The HR professional’s advice would be to look at the duties and responsibilities of the position, look at the candidate, and evaluate. Will he be able to perform, or continue to perform, to the standard required? Will he be able to work within the team? Will he, because it is essentially a ‘public service’ role, be able to represent the interests of all constituents? Will he be good for the unity of the country?

No need to call in the lawyers; no need to stall, or give misleading answers about police investigations which have finished without result; no need to cite a coronial inquest, which would only inquire into the cause of death, and would never include any underlying causes, real or imagined. That is the failing of the law as we know it-it only looks where it is permitted to look.

Those options are not going to eventuate. Morrison knows that; he is kicking the can down the road, a transparent ruse with which to buy time. Because this leader does not like to make decisions. He appears to rely on the passage of time. Perhaps it will all blow over. Could another plague appear?

What does the future hold for Mr Porter?

Will the consumers (voters) be able, or willing to place trust in his abilities, and his character, because the role, that of Attorney General, is one which encompasses a broad range of sensitive areas, from Family Law to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), to the administration of courts. He has, in the eyes of many, stumbled at every hurdle.

He has a history of pushing regrettable legislation through State Parliament as well. This includes mandatory sentences for manslaughter, when he was the Attorney General of Western Australia. He certainly lacks empathy, but then he has been shown to be no disadvantage in this neoliberal era.

In the federal arena, perhaps his worst decision was the sociopathic Robodebt, but his prosecution of Bernard Collaery and his client Witness K, in which he relentlessly set out to destroy a whistleblower, against illegal acts committed by an Australian Government, would rival it. Remember he is the person in charge of the operation of the courts in Australia, and he is currently operating a genuine ‘kangaroo court’.

His reactionary social views are well known. He is a fan of the current age of criminal liability, where children as young as ten, many with cognisant disabilities, are jailed. See here In Australia we jail children, as young as 10

Of course there should have been a continuing review process, which looked at the individual, and his performance, and whether he could improve, if improvement was needed. Any such review would have noted his seeming inability to act in a non-partisan way, for the good of the country.

His handing out of positions on the AAT has been scandalous. He appointed a Liberal Party ex-senator to a position as Deputy President and Division Head of the Social Services and Child Support Division, notwithstanding the fact that she was not qualified, according to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act, and also that she had no experience in the area, and she was not interviewed by the selection panel. She is paid close to a half million dollars every year. Whatever the ‘reasoning’ behind the appointment, it smells wrong.

After the Federal Court’s finding that Immigration Minister Alan Tudge had engaged in criminal conduct, by detaining an asylum-seeker for five days, in defiance of an order by the AAT, Mr Porter replied that the Minister was simply following Government policy. He expressly refuted the opinion of a Federal Court judge. If nothing else it does not support the judiciary in a dispute with the Executive. It is an unnecessarily partisan statement from the Commonwealth’s first law officer. (Tudge has since been cleared of the charge, on appeal.)

These are just some examples where Christian Porter has shown himself as being unfit for the office of Attorney General. If Scott Morrison had an ounce of integrity, and competence, he would show Christian Porter the door. But numbers count in a tight situation, and a majority of one is obviously too close for principled behaviour.

There is another, even more compelling reason why he should not be Attorney General. I do not think there are many Australian women who would be happy to work alongside Christian Porter right now. Regardless of enquiries held, or not, you cannot have, as a crucial part of your team, someone who is not wholly trusted, by close to half the population. Nothing will fix that situation.

And nothing will fix the lack of compassion, from the top down, for a woman who died proclaiming her hurt. True or not, her allegation deserved an adult, humane response. She is a political problem, now. And the leadership has failed us again.

The Porter case unfolds as classic Greek tragedy

The ‘facts’ of the case are that Katharine Thornton accused Christian Porter of a sustained and violent sexual assault, over an extended period of time, on one night in 1988. There were no witnesses, and there is no supporting forensic evidence. So it really is a case of “she said, he said”.

There can never be a criminal trial, because the alleged victim is deceased. That is because the accusations can not be tested, in court. Under our system of criminal law, the facts have to be proved, beyond reasonable doubt. Without the accuser, the case against Christian Porter is too weak to proceed.

There are only two possibilities here. He did it, or he did not. The law is an imperfect instrument, and especially under our system, if a case cannot be proved, then the truth of the matter remains unresolved.

The same situation applies to any form of enquiry. We can hold one, but it will not prove anything. It might serve as window dressing, but there were only two people who knew the truth of the matter, and one of them has died, and the other one has denied it.

This case has already divided the country, and in many aspects it is reminiscent of the Lindy Chamberlain case. The public didn’t like her then, and they decided that she was guilty, notwithstanding the weakness of the case against her.

Christian Porter is in a similar position. He has many detractors, and sections of the public have apparently made up their minds as to his culpability. However, if he is not able to be convicted then he is nominally free to continue his life. And he has vehemently denied the accusation.

That is where this Greek tragedy unfolds. If he did commit the atrocious crimes he is accused of, he is already being punished. His political life will probably wither and die, and he will carry the taint of his ‘crimes’ for the rest of his life. He will suffer the worst of punishments, a form of banishment from his peers; his family, even his children will be affected. The shame of the accusation will never leave him.

If he did not commit the crimes he is accused of, the punishment remains the same; but he will bear the added burden of knowing that he was innocent. For those who think Christian Porter has ‘got away’ with something, think again. He is damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

The other question is about Katharine Thornton. My strong inclination is to believe women who report rapes, because it is highly unlikely that they do so mistakenly, or even maliciously. It is a profound and courageous act to report your own rape, and so many victims speak of the re-traumatisation which occurs when they do. Believing rape victims in all cases is not foolproof, however, and so there is a possibility that Katharine Thornton was wrong, or malicious in her reporting. Whatever the truth, she paid with her life.

There is no way to be absolutely certain of the facts, because we cannot test either story. Katharine Thornton obviously suffered very much, for many years, and she has died as a seeming result of that suffering. But we cannot, with absolute certainty, blame Christian Porter, for her pain.

Christian Porter’s personality is not proof of criminal behaviour. He projects a born-to-rule persona, and a patrician disdain for his opponents. His political method is merciless, and many in the legal community condemn his seeming lack of compassion for those less favoured by fate.

He offends many, and his personal history has not shone a kindly light on his attitudes to women, but questions of his likeability do not prove anything. His dilemma is that, even during what must be a distressing time for him, there is no movement to award him the ‘benefit of the doubt’. Perhaps he is seen as paying for his ‘hubris’.

The Prime Minister has engaged in Olympic-standard fence-sitting, which allows him wriggle room, depending on how the court of public opinion decides. His responses are almost always political, and the political and the legal worlds are simply too small, and too self-interested, to deal with a human tragedy of this scale. Porter is on his own.

No matter where the truth lies, there are no winners in this tragedy.