Attorney-General Christian Porter is considering legal action against the ABC after slamming as “defamatory” a Four Corners story that alleged he had a relationship with a junior political staffer.
Federal ministers Mr Porter and Alan Tudge are at the centre of the latest allegations of misconduct to rock Canberra, following an explosive report claiming they engaged in affairs with younger female staff.
But Mr Porter “categorically rejected” the program’s central claim that he had been seen kissing a younger woman at a popular Canberra bar.
Four Corners aired claims from an alleged eyewitness and said the story was backed up by five others, including Coalition staffers. But Mr Porter said they were “baseless claims” and “totally false”.
“Given the defamatory nature of many of the claims made in tonight’s programme, I will be considering legal options,” Mr Porter told The New Daily.
The ABC’s Four Corners aired the report on Monday night after a day of high drama in federal Parliament.
ABC journalists claimed they had been subjected to “extreme” political pressure over the report, while managing director David Anderson said he had been contacted by Coalition government staffers.
Rumours had swirled in Canberra for weeks about the program.
The Four Corners story centred on Mr Porter and Mr Tudge, the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure and also acting minister for citizenship and immigration.
Four Corners aired an interview with Rachelle Miller, a former staffer to Mr Tudge, who claimed they engaged in an affair in 2017 while Mr Tudge was married.
Ms Miller said the relationship was consensual.
But she said she felt as though she “didn’t have any power at all” and claimed Mr Tudge asked her to cover up their tryst from journalists and others.
Four Corners also aired allegations that Mr Porter had engaged in an affair with a younger staff member of another Cabinet minister.
The program did not feature an interview with that woman, but Ms Miller said on air that she had seen Mr Porter “kissing and cuddling” the woman at a popular Canberra bar frequented by politicians and journalists.
The program also claimed “five other people, including Coalition staffers” backed up her version of events.
Mr Porter denies this.
Malcolm Turnbull, who was prime minister at the time, claimed in the Four Corners program that he had heard reports about Mr Porter’s behaviour and counselled him against the “risks”.
“I reminded him that Canberra was full of spies and not all of them worked for us,” Mr Turnbull said.
“People who put themselves into positions where they can be compromised or blackmailed are really taking risks, and unacceptable risks.”
However, just weeks later, Mr Porter was promoted to Attorney-General.
Asked about the promotion on ABC’s Q&A after Four Corners concluded, Mr Turnbull claimed he was unaware of the full allegations against Mr Porter at the time.
“If I had known at the time what was broadcast tonight, I would have made further inquiries before I made him attorney-general,” he said.
Mr Porter rejects Mr Turnbull’s version of events.
The Attorney-General said he “never had any complaint or any suggestion of any problem from Malcolm regarding the conduct of my duties as AG” until Mr Turnbull’s final week in office, when they disagreed over the unrelated matter of Peter Dutton’s eligibility to sit in Parliament.
Mr Porter denied the claims of the 2017 incident, saying the “depiction of interactions in the bar are categorically rejected”.
Mr Porter claimed “the other party” allegedly involved in the incident had “directly rebutted the allegation to Four Corners, yet the program failed to report that”.
He also alleged other claims made were “never put to me”.
Four Corners journalist Louise Milligan tweeted this was “absolute nonsense”, saying the program gave him two weeks to respond to questions.
Mr Porter did, however, apologise “for material I wrote in a law school magazine” when he was in university, which was aired during the program.
“I obviously wouldn’t write that now and it is something I regret,” he said.
Four Corners said Mr Tudge declined to comment on the record for the program. However, in a brief statement to TND soon after the show, his office did respond.
“Tonight, matters that occurred in my personal life in 2017 were aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program,” Mr Tudge said.
“I regret my actions immensely and the hurt it caused my family. I also regret the hurt that Ms Miller has experienced.”
In 2018, Mr Turnbull famously introduced a rule forbidding ministers from having sexual relationships with their staff.
It came after then-deputy PM Barnaby Joyce engaged in a relationship with one of his staffers.
Mr Joyce was forced out of the job and remains on the backbench, but Mr Turnbull claimed he was aware of other ‘‘adultery’’ cases during his time as PM.
Yet it’s unclear whether the alleged actions of Mr Porter or Mr Tudge fall foul of the ‘bonk ban’ standard.
The relationships aired on Four Corners are said to have occurred before the rules came into force in February 2018.
The current statement of ministerial standards, last updated in August 2018, says that “ministers must not engage in sexual relations with their staff” and must “act at all times to the highest possible standards of probity”.
On Monday, Mr Morrison said he still supported the ‘bonk ban’.
“I was one of its strongest supporters and why it’s there, is to protect the culture in the Parliament,” he said.
“It’s important as a cultural change within the Parliament.
“Certainly the former prime minister and I supported it, and I continued it as Prime Minister to ensure that you have these sorts of standards that they are important to ensure you have the right sort of a workplace.”