Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has expressed ‘regret’ amid revelations he had a consensual affair with a staffer in 2017, behavior which would breach ministerial standards instituted a year later.
In the latest integrity scandal to hit the Morrison government in recent weeks, ABC Four Corners has exposed allegations of dishonest conduct and sexual harassment at the highest levels of Australian government.
Rachelle Miller, a liberal party member and former staffer for Tudge during his stint as Human Services Minister in 2017, told the program she had an affair with her boss and was pressured to keep it a secret, feeling powerless amid a culture of misogyny across Parliament House.
Miller—introduced as a whistleblower—also told the program Christian Porter engaged in intimate conduct with a ‘young liberal staffer’ at a public bar in Canberra in 2017, weeks before he was appointed Attorney-General by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—who himself revealed he warned Porter about ‘compromising’ activities in an interview with the ABC aired on Monday.
Porter denied having such a relationship, while Tudge seemingly acknowledged a consensual relationship with Miller, expressing regret in a short statement as the program aired.
“Tonight, matters that occurred in my personal life in 2017 were aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program,” Tudge said.
“I regret my actions immensely and the hurt it has caused my family. I also regret the hurt that Ms Miller has experienced.”
Under Ministerial Rules created in 2018 after it was revealed former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce had an affair with a staffer, Ministers are not permitted to engage in sexual relations with staff.
Turnbull told Four Corners he created the so-called ‘bonk ban’ not just in light of Joyce’s affair, but with an eye on what he regarded as a widespread view among Coalition cabinet members that relationships with staffers were private matters.
In a response to the program, Porter noted he had a “significant disagreement” with Turnbull over whether Peter Dutton—who at the time was rallying numbers to oust the Prime Minister—should be eligible to sit in Parliament because of financial links to the Commonwealth.
In a statement on Monday morning, Porter said he “categorically rejected” Four Corners depiction of his activities at a Canberra bar, deriding the “defamatory nature” of the documentary.
“The journalist, Louise Milligan, never contacted me or my office, despite my awareness that for many months she has been directly contacting friends, former colleagues, former students—even old school friends from the mid 1980s—asking for rumours and negative comments about me,” Porter said.
Porter later walked back these comments, conceding the ABC did contact his office on multiple occasions.
Christian Porter has now acknowledged on 6PR that Four Corners did contact his office multiple times over two weeks. We requested an interview and put direct 21 questions to him.
— Lucy Carter (@lucethoughts) November 10, 2020
Porter did, however, apologise for material aired by the program revealing misogynistic comments he made in a University of Western Australia law school magazine two decades ago.
The revelations come as Porter progresses consultation on the Commonwealth Integrity Commission draft legislation.