PAUL SHEEHAN June 14, 2012
It is rare for an Australian politician to hold an audience in laughter for more than a few jokes. The first time I ever saw Christian Porter he had a large and savvy crowd in stitches. He was opening the Perth Writers Festival. It was 2009. I had no idea who he was.
As the newly-appointed Attorney-General of Western Australia, and having been in the Parliament for less than a year, he was a stranger to most in the room. That didn't matter as he recounted his youthful experience as an author when he wrote Christian v The Gollons, a science fiction work.
Later that night we met at the opening reception and then exchanged emails. I asked about Christian v The Gollons. He replied: ''It was Brett, Kylie and of course, Christian, who battled the Gollons (with some considerable success) in the year 5001 - indeed, as I noted in my speech, it is quite extraordinary to think how such typically suburban Western Australian names of the 1970s survived to find favour in that advanced year of 5001.''
During a visit to Perth in 2010 I interviewed two politicians, Colin Barnett and Porter. Barnett because he was Premier and Porter because he had the potential to go a lot further than West Australian politics. A lot further.
Since then he has been promoted to Treasurer, while remaining Attorney-General; has become the best performer in the State Parliament; and has the mantel of Next Premier.
All that ended this week. On Tuesday, he turned away from his meteoric career in state politics and announced he would spend the rest of the term on the backbench while seeking a seat in the Federal Parliament.
Apparently the wait for the top job was going to be long and open-ended. Barnett, at 62, shows no signs of stepping aside and is expected to win a second term in the March elections. Having been rescued from obscurity in 2008 by a political fluke (then-opposition leader Troy Buswell's chair-sniffing implosion) Barnett continues to exude the exuberance of a man given a second life.
Porter, in announcing he would seek Liberal pre-selection for the federal seat of Pearce, told reporters: ''You've got to be absolutely certain that you're living your own version of your career and not someone's expected version.''
He had come to believe that the issues he cared most about were best served in federal politics: ''I have formed the view that my greatest chance of making any kind of impact … is in a Federal Parliament setting.''
Turning 42 next month, Porter has made his choice and made his move. Given what he has walked away from, he must have eyes on a greater prize. He is certainly equipped to indulge such ambitions. Should he go to Canberra he will bring a quick-witted verve to a Federal Parliament which is lacking in verve of any kind. He also has a beautiful wife, Jennifer.
Porter has been in Parliament for only four years. He won a byelection in 2008 and when he was re-elected in the state election that year, which saw the Labor government defeated, he was suddenly Attorney-General and Minister for Corrective Services within seven months of entering the Parliament. In 2010 he became Treasurer as well as Attorney-General.
He graduated from the University of Western Australia with a hat-trick of degrees - economics, arts and law - and topped his class at the London School of Economics when earning a Masters of Political Theory. He went into private legal practice, became a senior state prosecutor, then a senior lecturer in law at his alma mater.
He is steeped in Liberal Party pedigree. His father, Chilla Porter, was state director of the party in Western Australia and a key fundraiser for many years. His grandfather, Charles Porter, was a Liberal member of the Queensland Parliament from 1966 to 1980.
Now Charles Christian Porter must win pre-selection for Pearce. He evokes comparisons with another Liberal treasurer and political raconteur, Peter Costello, who was 38 when he became federal Treasurer and Parliament's best lion-tamer in 1996. Porter now seeks this larger, brighter stage, where an alien antagonist awaits - the federal Labor machine.
Christian v the Gollans: the sequel.
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