Porter is seeking aggravated damages over a story published by the ABC on February 26 headlined: “Scott Morrison, senators and AFP told of historical rape allegation against Cabinet Minister”.
The attorney-general’s lawyers allege the story, which did not name him, was defamatory because it imputed he raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 and that contributed to her taking her own life.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Porter would not perform all of his usual duties when he returns from mental health leave on March 31.
“The attorney-general when he returns will not perform certain functions of his office that may relate to the Federal Court or the ABC,” Morrison told parliament on Tuesday.
The prime minister said the decision was based on “an abundance of caution and to avoid any perception of any conflicts of interest that may arise”.
It means Porter will have to recuse himself from discussions in cabinet concerning the ABC’s funding.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says the job should be handed to someone else in the Morrison government if the legal case against the ABC means Porter can’t conduct his role in full.
“He should have stood aside some weeks back,” Dreyfus told the ABC on Tuesday.
“It’s not appropriate that there be these serious allegations of sexual assault hanging over the attorney-general of Australia.
“This attorney-general has to establish that he is fit for office, fit for the high office that he holds as the first law officer.”
Labor is continuing calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations, which the government has rejected.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Morrison could have handled the situation better when it first arose.
“He has created a much more difficult situation for the attorney-general than it needed to be,” she told Sky News.
Porter identified himself as the subject of the article almost two weeks ago.
His lawyer Rebekah Giles said he was forced to go public after a series of news articles, social media posts and interviews made him “easily identifiable to many Australians”.
The statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court in Sydney says Porter’s character and reputation was gravely injured as a result of the story, and he is seeking aggravated damages, costs and removal of the article and related material on the web.
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