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Back in finance estimates, Katy Gallagher is back on the case of inquiries in the prime minister’s office.

She’s moved from the Gaetjens inquiry to a separate process being conducted by John Kunkel into whether or not Scott Morrison’s media office backgrounded negatively about Brittany Higgins or her partner.

Kunkel is Morrison’s chief of staff, so the questions being posed are going nowhere at this point (because ministerial staff don’t front estimates committees, only public servants).

But Gallagher is painting a disturbing picture. She says her information is the Kunkel inquiry has gotten to the point where Higgins is under pressure to name the journalists who told her the office was saying negative things about her or her loved ones after the story broke.

Gallagher says that is pretty rough on Higgins, having to out people.

Gallagher concluded that section of the evidence by asking whether three members of the prime minister’s staff had been interviewed by Kunkel, because it was Higgins’ understanding that the three staff she named were the people backgrounding against her loved ones.


I note you’ve named those staff, I will seek what information I can,” Simon Birmingham, the minister at the table, says.

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At the end of Phil Gaetjens’ appearance the Labor senator Katy Gallagher asked him whether he was planning to retire soon.

Apparently there have been media reports to that effect which I confess I’ve missed.

Gaetjens characterises those reports as “fake news”.

Gallagher persists. So you aren’t retiring? Gaetjens then cautions Gallagher against putting words in his mouth.

Gallagher is confused. So are you retiring? Or not?

Gaetjens says:


Who knows what might happen soon, in a week’s time, in a month’s time, that I have no control over.




Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens.

Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

All very Delphic. Gaetjens notes he’s the subject of false characterisation in the media regularly but he isn’t disturbed by that.

The minister at the table Simon Birmingham notes that everyone in the room can relate to that.

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The urgent federal court hearing to decide whether barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC can represent Christian Porter in his defamation bid against the ABC may now run into Thursday.

Yesterday we told you that Porter’s lawyers lost their bid to block a last-minute affidavit from Macquarie Bank managing director James Hooke which the former attorney general’s lawyer’s had argued could “derail” the timing of his high-stakes defamation bid against the ABC.

It came on the first of what was supposed to be a three-day hearing into whether Porter’s high-profile Sydney barrister, Sue Chrysanthou SC, should be stopped from acting for the former attorney general in his case against the national broadcaster and journalist Louise Milligan.

Jo Dyer, who was a debater with the woman in the late 1980s, claims Chrysanthou has a conflict of interest because of a meeting the two women had late last year in relation to an article in the Australian newspaper by Janet Albrechtsen about a November ABC Four Corners episode Dyer appeared in. Hooke, a friend of both Porter and the woman who before her death accused Porter of raping her three decades ago, was also at the 20 November meeting.

After justice Thomas Thawley ruled the affidavit was “central” to the question of whether Chrysanthou could act for the former attorney general, new documents produced by the ABC and Hooke led to the case being adjourned until Tuesday afternoon while Porter’s lawyers prepare to cross-examine both Dyer and Hooke on the new information.

I should say we don’t know what is in the new Hooke affidavit, other than the comment yesterday from Dyer’s barrister, Michael Hodge QC, that it “sweeps away the last vestiges” of Chrysanthou’s argument that she does not have any confidential information from the meeting.

On Tuesday morning Christopher Withers SC, Porter’s barrister in this hearing, raised the possibility the case may now run “a little bit” into Thursday.

That could have some implications for the main Porter defamation case.

A case management hearing in that case is listed for Wednesday, after justice Jayne Jagot effectively stalled the case until it was clear whether Chrysanthou could continue to act.

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Back in finance estimates, the minister at the table, Simon Birmingham, won’t answer questions about whether staff in the PMO have hired lawyers and whether the government is paying for that legal advice.

Labor’s Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher are moving to sum up. Wong lists the main points of the evidence (meaning the main points about the lack of clarity courtesy of the evidence this morning).

Wong and Gallgaher’s point is Brittany Higgins deserves better than this. Birmingham says:


I think Brittany Higgins deserves a thorough process completed with integrity.

Wong shoots back:


I think everybody watching knows what you are doing. There should be some things that should be beyond politics and this should be one of them.

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The legal and constitutional estimates committee chair, Sarah Henderson, has just clarified her earlier threat to eject media.

Responding to an earlier post on our blog, Henderson said:


Yes I certainly did suggest media would be removed if Senator Keneally did not comply with my order that she didn’t have the call. I certainly did not suggest that I would kick the media out if she continued her line of questioning. [Keneally is entitled to continue her line of questioning when she has the call.]

I did not suggest I would make the committee private, it is a public hearing. It is open to call a private meeting – that is different to making the [entire hearing] private.”

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