The Morrison Government has issued a formal ‘Hey, what the fuck!’ to the ABC in regards to its bombshell Four Corners report, which aired allegations of inappropriate personal conduct by two senior Liberal MPs.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher today revealed his list of grievances to ABC Chair Ita Buttrose about November’s Inside the Canberra Bubble report, which focused on MP Alan Tudge and now-Attorney-General Christian Porter.
The Four Corners episode addressed the consensual extramarital affair between Tudge and a staffer, which he eventually apologised for. It also aired allegations that Porter was spotted being “very intimate” with a staffer while he was married. Porter has “categorically rejected” the show’s representation of events.
Beyond individual allegations of inappropriate personal behaviour, the report suggested Canberra’s sexist power dynamics can often leave women feeling sidelined or discarded, while their male counterparts are allowed to carry on as per usual.
According to Fletcher’s letter, his problem isn’t really with that claim. It’s the fact Four Corners highlighted Liberal MPs to make it. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Over 15 dot points, Fletcher argues it was needless, unfair, or otherwise unethical for the ABC to broadcast the exposé, and asks why Buttrose chose to defend the report before its broadcast.
Take, for instance, point eight, which asks Buttrose, “Why, in the judgment of the Board, are the personal lives of politicians newsworthy?”
I’ll take this one on: former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Porter his alleged conduct “exposes [him] to the risk of compromise”, which seems pretty newsworthy.
That’s before we even get started on the idea that voters may be interested in how politicians treat their staff – and have a right to know which of their elected officials will defend ‘traditional’ marriage in Parliament while actually upholding different values in private.
Right, let’s go to point ten, which asks why a relationship between an MP and a staffer is newsworthy, if it occurred before the introduction of the infamous ‘Bonk Ban’, aka the Ministerial Code.
As pointed out by Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan, Rachelle Miller, the other party to the Tudge affair, says she was effectively shut out of Canberra after the dissolution of their relationship. That seems notable, regardless of whether it happened under the purview of a ministerial code or not.
#4corners Rachelle Miller: Very brave woman. “If you are experiencing this behaviour in parliament, it’s not OK. And you should know that.”
— Louise Milligan (@Milliganreports) November 9, 2020
In point 11, Fletcher gets to what may be the crux of his argument, which is why the ABC used Liberal MPs to make their point.
Here’s Four Corners producer Sally Neighbour on the issue:
For those asking, the reasons tonight’s #4Corners focuses on Liberals are: 1.The Liberal Party is in government 2.The politicians concerned are Ministers of the Crown 3.The conduct identified is now banned in the PM’s Ministerial Standards introduced in 2018 #4Corners #auspol
— Sally Neighbour (@neighbour_s) November 9, 2020
Pretty straightforward. This wasn’t prurience for prurience’s sake.
As an aside, the report also made it clear that it’s a Canberra bubble, not a Liberal Party bubble.
The reporters involved in the episode, and Buttrose, have defended the program, with the latter last month saying attacks against Four Corners are “malicious garbage”.
But, if you’d like to see what Fletcher is worked up about, you can do so below:
Today I have written to ABC Chair Ita Buttrose with questions concerning the Four Corners program “Inside the Canberra Bubble” that was broadcast on 9 November 2020. pic.twitter.com/7acqFpdAL4
— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) November 30, 2020