A bombshell Four Corners report has revealed a pervasive culture of sexism and inappropriate behaviour behind the scenes of the Liberal Party in Canberra.
Say what you will about the party’s policies and public attitude towards women, but now a series interviews with current and former politicians, as well as staffers, has brought to light not only hidden patterns of unwelcome behavior, but even secret relationships between senior ministers and junior staff.
“There’s no question that some of the most trenchant opponents of same-sex marriage, all in the name of traditional marriage, were at the same time enthusiastic practitioners of traditional adultery,” former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the program.
Turnbull said that while he was in power, he instituted the so-called ‘Bonk Ban‘ not merely because of then-Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce‘s public affair, but because of what had also been going on behind the scenes.
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
One alleged affair was between Attorney General Christian Porter and a young female staffer. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told that the program the young woman had confided in her that she felt trapped in the unwanted relationship.
The party’s wider culture, and Porter’s past behaviour was also brought to light.
“For all of that time [since the age of 16], I’ve known him to be someone who was, in my opinion, and based on what I saw, deeply sexist and actually misogynist in his treatment of women, in the way that he spoke about women,” said a barrister who was coached by Porter for high school debating.
She had continued to be acquainted with Porter long after school, and said his attitude toward woman at uni was similar.
“The only point to women, as far as I could tell from Christian’s way of treating women, or for women to be made fun of – particularly for the way that they looked,” she told Four Corners.
“It is vitally important that all politicians maintain the highest possible standard of proper conduct.” An explosive expose from @Milliganreports, Monday on #4Corners Here’s a preview pic.twitter.com/9x4K89iFoL
— Sally Neighbour (@neighbour_s) November 4, 2020
Some of the women interviewed linked Porter to now-acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge.
One staff member said she felt objectified when Tudge wanted to be seen with her at the 2017 Midwinter Ball.
“I have a feeling that my appearance had a bearing on why Alan would want to walk in with me on his arm, and I felt at that time a lot like an ornament, and that I was being used as an ornament,” she said.
She said they ended up having an affair which, while consensual, she now bitterly regrets.
At the same event, Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, who was a Sky News commentator at the time and not actually a parliamentarian, said the general attitude among male Liberal politicians that night was gross.
“What I experienced was some Coalition men trying to have a crack,” Keneally told Four Corners.
“And it… it was clumsy, it was easily fobbed off. No harm was done to me, but it did make me feel uncomfortable.
“I hadn’t particularly experienced that at a function like that before and it made me wonder what kind of environment is this, where men think they can just have a crack at it?
“I’m a public figure, I’m pretty publicly well-known to be married. And I really was surprised and taken aback by that.”
“To critique a story that is not published yet is quite extraordinary.” ABC MD David Anderson in Senate Estimates on pressure on him & ABC management by govt representatives about our @4corners story tonight. “It is, I think, absolutely in the public interest.” #auspol
— Louise Milligan (@Milliganreports) November 9, 2020
The expose prompted a massive uproar from the Liberal Party before the show even went to air.
On Monday, the ABC’s managing director David Anderson said he had received a bunch of emails from senior government ministers about the then-upcoming Four Corners episode.
He also received an “extraordinary and unprecedented” gilling over the episode at a Senate estimates enquiry on the same day.
You can watch the full episode of “Inside the Canberra Bubble” for yourself here.