As a young reporter, the key ingredients of any story are drilled into you over and over again.
Who. What. When. Where. And why.
And as you climb the ranks, you understand the reason for those five crucial questions.
Examples pop up daily, but the saga involving former Commonwealth Attorney-General Christian Porter is a stellar example of why it is so, so important.
Porter says he doesn’t have a clue who paid for part of his legal fees for his defamation action against the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan.
We are told that it was simply a blind trust, known as a Legal Service Trust, and he has no idea who might be the source of those funds.
So we know the WHAT. Funds to pay for a defamation case.
We broadly known WHEN. During that celebrated case where he sued the ABC over an article that alleged a cabinet minister had been accused of rape 33 years ago in a dossier sent to the prime minister. Porter later identified himself – and denied strong the accusation.
And the WHERE has been raked over, and over.
But what about the WHO? Who provided the funds? Was it a wealthy friend? A member of his party? Someone who despises the ABC? Someone who had previously been charged with something like rape, and who felt it important Christian Porter won this case? Someone who believed it was unfair for the Minister to have a three-decade old accusation thrown at him?
Without the WHO, imaginations and accusations can grow. Could it have been funded by a men’s group? A political operative? Organised crime? A foreign government? Or as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull cheekily tweeted, it might be a bit like saying ‘My legal fees were paid by a guy in a mask who dropped off a chaff bag full of cash.’
Who set up this trust? Who funded it? How much did they donate to it?
And that then begs the question of WHY. Why would someone, anonymously, pay to help a Minister of the Crown in a defamation claim against the national broadcaster? What was their motivation? Did they expect something in return?
Why? Why? Why?
Voters have a right to know the who and the why, in this story. It colours-in the bare facts. Provides perspective. Creates transparency. Enforces accountability. And allows voters to make up their own mind about the motives of that anonymous donor or donors.
As a potential beneficiary of the blind trust, Christian Porter says he has no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust.
What? That’s simply not good enough. It’s not good enough in this case, and it’s not good enough in politics – and any other politician accepting gifts via a blind trust should now be on notice.
In Queensland, decades ago now, a roots-and-branch overhaul of our political and police systems followed a lack of transparency, that had led to systemic corruption.
Back then, the lack of transparency saw wads of cash being handed over in brown paper bags.
Of course, this is not the same. But hidden money – in this case a big anonymous gift – should have no place in good politics, irrespective of the motive.
Christian Porter shouldn’t accept this either. He should know who is backing him and why. So should his party, and his prime minister Scott Morrison should be demanding to know too.
The Liberals’ defence – that the donation was disclosed in line with the rules and the Opposition is embarking on an unfair personal smear – is laughable. Change the rules!
And how do they know that, when they don’t know the source, either?
Voters should not accept this.
Over years, voters have demanded greater transparency in politics, particularly around donations.
That transparency has just reflected the same requirement increasingly made on non-government bodies, including charities.
And it’s almost unbelievable that a former Attorney-General – the highest law officer in the land – would accept payment of legal fees without knowing the source.
Who? And Why?
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