Prime Minister Scott Morrison has doubled-down on criticism of the ABC after it ran an expose into consensual affairs among senior ministers, deriding journalists for ‘only focusing on one side of politics’ in an airing of claims about a misogynistic culture within senior ranks of the Parliamentary Liberal Party.
Morrison claimed he was ‘not familiar’ with emails sent by ministerial colleagues to ABC executives questioning the public interest value of the Four Corners program before it went to air, in what has become the latest inflection point in the debate about about politicisation of the national broadcaster.
ABC managing director David Anderson told a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday that several government ministers contacted the broadcaster questioning the report, which revealed allegations Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge and Attorney-General Christian Porter had consensual affairs with staffers.
Anderson said he received ‘about half a dozen’ emails from ministerial offices, raising the public interest value of the program, but did not see a ‘direct threat’ in their queries.
Anderson said the ABC provided government ministers with ‘all relevant information’ about the story before it went to air on Monday evening, but this was disputed by Porter, who said he was considering his legal options over the ‘defamatory nature’ of the program.
Porter, who is married with kids, has denied having an affair with a staffer while Tudge—also married—has seemingly acknowledged his own affair, expressing ‘regret’ for any hurt he had caused.
That Australia’s most senior legal officer is now considering suing the national broadcaster is just the latest breakdown in relations between the Coalition government and the ABC, following reports of political influence and ongoing controversy about funding levels in recent years.
The ABC has defended its most recent story, which explored claims about a culture of sexual harassment and misogyny within Parliament House in an interview with ‘whistleblower’ Rachelle Miller, a liberal party member and former staffer for Tudge during his stint as Human Services Minister in 2017.
Several other prominent former and current politicians were interviewed, including Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
Before the program aired Morrison foreshadowed disappointment with the broadcaster, saying the ABC needed to ‘stick to its charter’ and today doubled down on those criticisms, painting the story as biased reporting.
Morrison has spoken with Porter and Tudge about their conduct but dodged questions about whether an investigation should be launched into either minister over the ABC’s revelations.
The affairs allegedly took place in 2017, a year before new ministerial standards on prohibiting relationships with staffers were introduced, following a scandal involving Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—architect of the rules—told Four Corners he was aware of reports other ministers, including Porter, had engaged in their own inappropriate relationships at the time.
Morrison said he is an enthusiastic supporter of the prohibition on sexual relations between ministers and staff, characterising it as a “workplace issue” on Monday.
Morrison also reflected on the ‘hurt’ breakdowns in families can cause, without referencing any ministers by name.