Not so long ago Christian Porter received a wooden spoon from Tony Abbott for his less than record-breaking performance in Pollie Pedal, the former prime minister’s annual event that couples raising money for charity with daily, gruelling 120-kilometre bicycle rides.
But the 47-year-old West Australian is the winner in today’s ministerial reshuffle with his appointment as Attorney-General, a job he inherits from George Brandis, and continues his rapid rise through the ministerial ranks since his election as the member for the Perth seat of Pearce in 2012.
Cabinet reshuffle: big changes looming
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is tipped to make sweeping changes to his cabinet with the Nationals to feature prominently.
The graduate of the London School of Economics, public prosecutor, Star Wars tragic and one-time contender for Cleo magazine’s eligible bachelor of the year, came to federal politics after serving as treasurer and attorney-general in Liberal premier Colin Barnett’s government.
Until Tuesday Mr Porter was social services minister, a $165-billion-a-year portfolio.
On Wednesday, he will be sworn in as the country’s chief legal officer, albeit over a department that has changed since Peter Dutton successfully pushed for the creation and control of a super security Home Affairs department.
As Attorney-General, Mr Porter will retain power over issuing ASIO warrants as well as responsibility for the government’s foreign interference legislation.
The aftermath to the now-concluded royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse will follow Mr Porter from his previous portfolio to his new one.
In an interview with Fairfax Media on Tuesday, Mr Porter said he was open to the commission’s recommendation that the seal of confession be broken in cases of child abuse.
“My personal tendency is to favour the protection of children over other values,” Mr Porter told Fairfax Media.
He says although the public’s instinct is the system must be improved, how to improve it is a far more difficult task.
“There was clearly regulatory failure. There were law enforcement issues. There’s a strong leadership role for the Commonwealth but the Commonwealth’s powers are not unlimited,” he says.
“Is it the role of the state or the Commonwealth to legislate? These things would require enormous amounts of time and scrutiny. You have to have that debate in the community because it’s not just members of religious organisations that place value on religious processes.”
Mr Porter wants religious organisations to consider the commission’s recommendations, although comments made by senior Catholic leaders last week indicated they were not prepared to ask the Holy See to make celibacy voluntary for priests or break the seal of confession.
“Trying to get the right balance in decision-making in terms of children is very, very difficult. Clearly we have got that balance very wrong,” he told Fairfax Media.
The Law Council of Australia congratulated Mr Porter on his appointment.
“As a former senior prosecutor for the Western Australian Department of Public Prosecutions, and later state attorney-general, Mr Porter well understands the importance of the rule of law and the steps, which are not always popular, that need to be taken in its defence. We look forward to engaging constructively with Mr Porter on myriad issues in 2018, from legal aid and court resourcing to the careful balancing of important human rights and freedoms,” the council’s president, Fiona McLeod, said.
Mr Porter leaves the social services portfolio just as the 2020 target for the completion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is rapidly approaching.
His final act as minister is appointing a group of organisations, led by Ernst and Young, to oversee the employment of the estimated 60,000 additional full-time staff who will be needed to provide services under the scheme.
By the time the scheme is fully operational in 2020, it will employ about 162,000 workers.
Mr Porter says disability care is a career young people in particular should consider.
“There’s a moral virtue in caring for someone but if you’ve got a job in care you can be guaranteed work forever – and usually forever,” he said.