Christian Porter has launched a defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan, confirming he will go under oath to deny an historical rape allegation they aired.
The broadcaster published the claim that a Morrison government minister raped a 16-year-old in 1988, when he was 17, an allegation he vigorously denied.
Milligan, a Four Corners reporter, broke the news of an anonymous letter outlining the unsubstantiated allegations had been sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, and Greens senator Sarah-Hanson-Young.
Milligan did not name Mr Porter, referring to a “senior cabinet minister”, but he revealed himself publicly just days later.
A statement from Mr Porter’s lawyers on Monday confirmed he had begun defamation proceedings against the ABC and Milligan.
It claimed the allegations were false and Mr Porter had been subjected to “trial by media without regard to the presumption of innocence”.
“Although he was not named, the article made allegations against a senior cabinet minister and the Attorney-General was easily identifiable to many Australians as the subject of the allegations,” he said.
“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.
“The trial by media should now end with the commencement of these proceedings.”
Mr Porter will be represented by a powerful legal trio made up of Bret Walker SC, Sue Chrysanthou SC and Rebekah Giles, according to The Australian.
NSW Police were unable to pursue the matter after the alleged victim took her own life last year, and Mr Porter rejected calls for an independent probe into the allegation.
But in what could prove the only opportunity for the Attorney-General to air his version of events in a legal setting, he confirmed he would be prepared to give evidence under oath during the defamation proceeding.
“The claims made by the ABC and Ms Milligan will be determined in a court in a procedurally fair process,” his lawyers said.
“Mr Porter will have and will exercise the opportunity to give evidence denying these false allegations on oath.
“The ABC and Ms Milligan having published these allegations have damaged the reputation of the Attorney-General.
“This court process will allow them to present any relevant evidence and make any submissions they believe justifies their conduct in damaging Mr Porter’s reputation.”
The ABC and Ms Milligan first aired allegations of improper conduct against Mr Porter in November, in a Four Corners program entitled “Inside the Canberra Bubble”.
It claimed Mr Porter had been seen kissing a female staffer in a Canberra bar. The Attorney-General said the following month he would have a “cold, hard think” about suing the broadcaster.
But after Mr Porter revealed himself as the cabinet minister at the centre of the historical rape allegation in March, Four Corners aired a second episode — “Bursting the Canberra Bubble” — outlining the claim in detail.
In the follow-up, Milligan revealed the ABC was aware of the allegation when the first program went to air, but was unable to broadcast it for legal reasons.
Under defamation laws, the ABC would be able to defend itself on the basis of truth if it could prove its reporting was accurate.
“If the ABC and Ms Milligan wish to argue the truth of the allegations, they can do so in these proceedings,” the statement read.
After publicly outing himself, Mr Porter announced he would take an leave on mental health grounds.
NCA NewsWire has reached out to the ABC for comment.