Former attorney-general Christian Porter is trying to control how a defamation proceeding is reported and what information is made public, the ABC’s legal team has argued in the Federal Court.
Mr Porter is seeking to strike out parts of the ABC’s defence in defamation proceedings concerning historical rape allegations, which he denies.
The public broadcaster’s defence contains material that is “evasive or ambiguous” and/or scandalous, according to an application filed on behalf of Mr Porter.
On Friday Renee Enbom QC, representing the public broadcaster and journalist Louise Milligan, said it was unfair to publish all 13 pages of Mr Porter’s submission if significant parts of their defence were suppressed.
“The principles of open justice that are fundamental to this court … require these proceedings to be reported in a fair and accurate way, not in a one-sided way or that suits one party,” Ms Enbom said.
The now-industry, science and technology minister launched defamation action in March against the ABC and Ms Milligan for publishing what he says are “false accusations” that he was the subject of a historical rape allegation.
The woman at the centre of the allegations died in June 2020.
Ms Enbom said her party received a midnight call on Tuesday after filing their defence that evening, asking for it not be made available by the court.
The defence report contains material that is “evasive or ambiguous” and/or scandalous, according to the application by Mr Porter’s legal team.
Sue Chrysanthou SC representing Mr Porter said they were just seeking to suppress a number of schedules that made up part of the defence.
It was wrong to suggest people are being deprived of knowing what was going on or that they were hindering the availability of documents, Ms Chrysanthou said.
But Ms Enbom said the schedules effectively contain the substance of the defence case.
“If the schedules are to be suppressed then the reply should be suppressed, otherwise the principles of open justice are eroded even further and the reporting will be of only one party’s case,” Ms Enbom said.
There was an enormous amount of work that went into the ABC and Ms Milligan’s reporting, in response to an allegation of malice made by Mr Porter’s legal team, she said.
Justice Jayne Jagot said it would be obvious to the public that part of the defence had not been published and would know this extra information existed.
The court needs to protect its processes, and to prevent prejudice or the improper administration of justice, Justice Jagot said.
Ms Chrysanthou submitted the defence had made some “unusual denials” which she expect they will want to explain, and asked for the earliest possible trial date the court could find.
“My client had to step aside as attorney-general,” Ms Chrysanthou said.
“We really want to get this case moving.”
The trial could last up to six weeks with the defence calling up to 15 witnesses, the court was told.
Ms Chrysanthou asked for a hearing date to be reserved in September or October to ensure the trial is finalised this year.