Minister forced to resign from cabinet over 'secret' donation

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced a barrage of difficult questions over a diplomatic row with the French government and a cabinet minister who accepted an "anonymous" donation. 

Speaking to reporters on Sunday afternoon at Kirribilli House, Mr Morrison sought to defend his government's track record on ministerial standards and announced the resignation of former Attorney General and now former Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter.

Mr Porter has drawn widespread criticism for accepting an anonymous donation reported to be worth as much as $1 million to help pay his legal fees after bringing a defamation case against the ABC.

Mr Porter was forced to resign after he was unable to disclose who was behind the donation, according to the prime minister.

"It's about the standards for ministers to have an obligation to avoid any perception of conflicts of interest," Mr Morrison said.

"That is ultimately what has led the minister to make that decision this afternoon."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accepted the resignation of Christian Porter from the government ministry. Source: Getty
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accepted the resignation of Christian Porter from the government ministry. Source: Getty

"I want to thank minister Porter for his service in my government," the PM said. 

Mr Porter will remain in parliament and a member of the Coalition government but will move to the backbench. It is unclear at this moment if he will contest the coming federal election. 

Members on the backbench also have a standing obligation to declare their pecuniary interests.

Mr Morrison's government has been accused of degrading ministerial standards after a string of scandals including the so-called sports rorts saga, a carpark pork barrelling scheme which also saw taxpayer money brazenly used for partisan purposes, the Leppington Triangle land purchase which saw the federal government pay $30 million for land valued at $3 million, and the so-called Watergate scandal which saw the federal government pay $80 million to a company in the Cayman Islands linked to Energy Minister Angus Taylor, among others. 

"He [Porter] is upholding the standard by resigning," Mr Morrison told reporters. 

"I am the custodian of ministerial standards and I have acted in accordance with those ministerial standards, I take them very seriously."

Mr Taylor will now take over Mr Porter's portfolio.

As Attorney General, Mr Porter was previously tasked with setting up a federal commission on corruption, which the government has so far failed to deliver despite promising it ahead of the previous federal election. 

Christian Porter was accused of a historical rape charge, which he denies. Source: Getty
Christian Porter was accused of a historical rape charge, which he denies, leading to the defamation action. Source: Getty

Still questions to be answered, Labor says

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says Mr Porter's resignation from cabinet changes very little. 

"There are still many questions which need to be answered," he said.

"Questions of how much money was put into this fund, how did people know to put money into this fund, and who was it who contributed.

"All of these questions remain outstanding and Scott Morrison should, just once, fess up with Christian Porter, and say where the money came from ... and why it was given.

"These questions all demand answers."

PM responds to French fury

Mr Morrison heads to the United States this week after the fallout from a surprise deal to build nuclear-powered submarines using US technology announced on Thursday

France took the "extraordinary" step to recall its Australian ambassador for consultation this weekend after the Morrison government walked away from a lucrative deal with a French company to build Australia's new fleet of submarines. 

The French government has since accused the Australian prime minister of "lying and duplicity" and likened the "brutal and unpredictable" actions of his government to that of Donald Trump

Mr Morrison said he understands the anger of the French but said the decision was about Australia's "strategic interests".

"These are difficult decisions and there are implications for these decisions," he said. 

"Of course we are disappointed about the actions of recalling the ambassador but we understand them and we respect them and we understand the deep disappointment.

"Australia, like any sovereign nation, must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interest – and this is what we have done in this circumstance."

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