A deeply disillusioned man from Parliament, with hopes of an illustrious career dashed by allegations unfolding from his youth, will be dragged by scandal.
Despite some criticism and ambition for higher things remaining unfulfilled, the second would leave a solid record of performance.
Christian Porter, 51, announced on Wednesday that he would not run again for his Western Australian seat, Pearce. This was no surprise to anyone. Health Minister Greg Hunt, 56, is also set to resign in next year’s vote, to be announced on Thursday.
Both had earlier said that they are seeking re-election from their seats.
Porter – the subject of a historical rape allegation (which he vehemently denies) – had no practical choice but to leave.
His political career was effectively over. His guilt or innocence could never be proved, as the woman is dead.
There was a sense of bitterness in his statement on Wednesday. “There are few, if any, constants left in modern politics.” he said. “Perhaps the only certainty now is that there is no limit to what some will say or accuse or do in order to gain an advantage over an alleged enemy.”
After a high-flying career in state politics, Porter entered the federal parliament in the 2013 election, rising to the pinnacle of attorney-general, before the rape charge began to decline slowly.
First he was moved to another portfolio while in the cabinet. He was later forced to go to the backbench after refusing to disclose secret donors for his legal costs in his defamation action against ABC.
In terms of his political fortunes, his decision to initiate a defamation case was a largely wrong decision, given his legal expertise by all strangers. Had he not done so, he might still have been in the cabinet, as he would not have needed money from secret donors.
Porter was a capable attorney-general, much more qualified than his successor, Michaelia Cash. He saw himself as the prime minister of the future, and many observers and colleagues saw him as a potential competitor for leadership.
Read more: Government shut down for referring Christian Porter’s secret money for privilege investigation
One wonders, if Porter had remained attorney-general, would the government move on an integrity commission. He prepared the original model, from which now the Prime Minister will not back down. If Porter was still in the job, he would have had the authority to persuade Morrison to accept some necessary changes.
Politically, Porter seemed to have it all, until he had nothing, and the Liberal strategy was weighing whether he would be a liability among his electorate, which is on a 5.2% margin. This seat is a matter of concern for the government but sources believe that it will be easier with a new candidate.
In contrast, Hunt, who lacks the high intelligence of Porter, will inherit his share (shared with others, including the states) in Australia’s strong health record in managing COVID, despite some negativity on the ledger.
Hunt has been tireless in a difficult, uncertain and rapidly changing pandemic world, where advice is always changing and the outlook is often uncertain.
A tool of his trade, in his public appearances, has been an order of the numbers, which comes out in his press conferences and interviews. He is a positive spinner. Mistakes are not accepted.
The downside, however, was the inaccuracies in ordering the vaccine and the slow rollout, which put the government on the backfoot for months. There was growing criticism of Hunt’s health department, and a military man was appointed the roll-out chief.
Before that, the country was stunned by the 2020 wave of deaths among aged care residents. Although many factors were involved, aged care is a federal responsibility, which falls under the Department of Health, and what happened reflects weaknesses and lack of preparedness in the sector.
The pandemic has put Hunt at the center of federal government decision-making over the past two years. His prospects looked very different when, in the 2018 leadership turmoil, he was trounced for deputy Liberal leadership by his good friend Josh Frydenberg.
Read more: Grattan on Friday: outspoken liberals curry Scott Morrison
That vote demonstrated that he would not move up in the Liberal hierarchy, and that minister would have been in the background if it were not for COVID.
His decision to leave Parliament has been discussed for some time now. His Victorian seat of Flinders stands at 5.6% and the Liberals are not particularly worried about it.
Hunt came from a political family – his late father Allen was a Victorian government minister. Elected in 2001, Hunt became Parliamentary Secretary in the Howard government.
In opposition, he was a spokesman for climate change and the environment, which included some clever footwork when Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by Tony Abbott, noting the two leaders’ completely different views on climate policy.
In government, as Environment Minister, Hunt implemented the Coalition’s Minimum Climate Policy. He was transferred to health in early 2017 after a short stint in the industry portfolio.
He is very familiar with the retail politics of portfolios, often with a news conference announcing drugs added to pharmaceutical benefit lists, sometimes with a beneficiary.
In personal terms, Hunt is an unstable character, who can blow people up. His then departmental head, Martin Bowles, had formally complained about him after an incident a few years earlier. Bowles was not the only senior bureaucrat he found difficult to deal with.
Hunt, who in his youth had made a plan for his life, would move on to the next stage smoothly and seamlessly, whatever it may be. For Porter, who would return to the law, rebuilding would be a difficult slog, and the thought of what might happen would never leave him.