Mr Tudge breached the ministerial standards and Mr Porter has had, at the very least, long-term misogynistic behaviour incompatible with the role of Attorney-General revealed for the world to see. In light of the allegations which are undisputed with regards to Tudge, and apparently well corroborated with regard to those against Porter, presented in last night’s episode of Four Corners, both should resign immediately.
Last night, ABC’s Four Corners program (embedded below) brought to light utterly vile allegations. The program focused on the treatment of women in parliament, with a focus on alleged misconduct by two currently serving ministers: the acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge and the Attorney-General Christian Porter.
In the first part of the documentary, a former staffer to Mr Tudge, Rachelle Miller, disclosed to the program that she had an affair with Mr Tudge (both are married) in 2017, in breach of the ministerial standards which prohibit ministers having sexual relations with staffers. Mr Tudge has long professed a conservative kind of family values, as previous sex scandal figure Barnaby Joyce had two years ago, and opposed same-sex civil marriage on the grounds that it would allegedly trample on “traditional” marriage. Miller stated that although the relationship was entirely consensual, she had come to regret the affair as she constantly under pressure of being exposed, and that the affair had sucked away her self-confidence. Evidence of the power imbalance between Ms Miller and her boss included that Mr Tudge had allegedly told Ms Miller to practise lines in the event she was asked by the press about the relationship.
The allegations against Mr Porter, presented in the program’s second half, were more damning. The program painted a portrait of Mr Porter’s university life as one of a man who treated women with utter contempt – as sexual objects, a drunkard party boy, and who was destined to become Prime Minister one day as he was a private school boy, talented in debating, with a Liberal powerbroker father. A laundry list of misogynistic treatises in student zines edited and authored by Mr Porter, and a choice “self-portrait” of himself as a stick figure with a massive cock in Cleo magazine, were presented in gory detail.
This portrait was contrasted against his behaviour today. A video is seen of him dancing, apparently drunkenly, at a party. More worryingly, an allegation that Mr Porter, then-married, was seen making out with a staffer in the seedy Manuka pub Public: an allegation apparently substantiated by multiple people. Malcolm Turnbull would tell of a meeting between himself and Mr Porter in which Turnbull warned Mr Porter of the risk of being compromised by foreign intelligence agencies. Despite this fear, Mr Turnbull had Mr Porter appointed Attorney-General the following fortnight, though he insisted in the episode of Q&A which followed the broadcast of this episode of Four Corners that he was unaware of Mr Porter’s earlier misogynistic behaviour.
Even more damning was an allegation by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young that a female staffer had disclosed to her that she had had an affair with Mr Porter. Mr Porter, like Mr Tudge and Mr Joyce, also has campaigned on as a family man. Hanson-Young chose not to disclose the name of the staffer but said that the staffer had said that she no longer wished to be in the relationship and appeared distressed.
Mr Tudge will have no choice but to leave the ministry in the near-future. He has already admitted to his affair in a statement, the affair being a clear and obvious breach of the ministerial standards. Despite better judgement, Mr Porter appears to be digging his heels in. In a statement, typed on ministerial stationary, Mr Porter apologised for his past misogynistic behaviour but denied all the other allegations against him and ominously stated that he was “exploring legal options” surrounding the claims he deems to be “defamatory”.
As for this exploration of “legal options” in the aftermath of being revealed to be a lifelong misogynist, those options must include Porter resigning from his position as Attorney-General: the first law officer of the Commonwealth. Should he pursue the ABC or its staff, it would prove a massively compromising conflict of interest. The ABC is an entity owned by the Government and the Government is his client. To sue would be incompatible with his job. Should he do so despite this conflict of interest, proceedings must surely be brought to strike him off the roll of legal practitioners as he would show that he is more concerned with his own interests rather than those of his client and its dependents. Should he instead pursue Sarah Hanson-Young, the only person interviewed he lists by name in his statement, I don’t believe he will succeed. I find it unlikely that Senator Hanson-Young, who has sued for defamation on a similar matter before, and who has no record of manipulating this kind of disclosure for partisan gain, would risk her credibility, her career, or her assets simply to assassinate Mr Porter’s character. I think she was simply repeating a distressing allegation she heard first hand. I also find it unlikely that the Senator could held liable for how the ABC chooses to present her comments in this edited format.
Ultimately, both Mr Tudge and Mr Porter’s positions are surely untenable. It would be simply hypocritical for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who recently purged AusPost CEO Christine Holgate for purchasing Cartier watches on government money for staff bonuses, to not at the very least sack Mr Tudge. The potential compromise of Mr Porter through his allegedly licentious behaviour in public, notwithstanding the other examples of vile behaviour, as explained by Mr Turnbull in the program should be reason enough to end his career given the sensitivity of his role as Attorney-General.
That being said it would not be unprecedented for a government to ignore its own ministerial standards. 18 years ago next month, Simon Crean would accuse John Howard of rendering his own statement of ministerial standards – apparently the first such document – “worthless” when Howard refused to sack Assistant Treasurer Helen Coonan for pursuing an insurance claim using government resources (Coonan was then responsible for insurance policy).
However, that government corruption, and the Liberal Party’s record with women, is firmly on the agenda at the moment it would surely be unthinkable that Mr Morrison would not remove two people shown to have acted with impropriety from his own cabinet. After all, even after digging in his heels, Mr Morrison removed Bridget McKenzie after her misuse of $100 million in sports grants, even if only on the technicality that she had breached ministerial standards. Here at least one person has admitted to breaching the standards and another appears to have breached the standard of behaviour expected of a person in the office of Attorney-General. Action must follow.
You can watch the episode of Four Corners below, on the Four Corners website, or on iView.