I do not know for sure if Christian Porter is a pants man. I do know that he was pashing a young woman in broad barlight, because I trust the ABC's battleship current affairs program Four Corners. I also know that when Four Corners' public investigators exposed Porter, they had six separate eyewitnesses to this event, including people sneezingly senior.
This is all truly old news. What's brought this into the spotlight again is Communications Minister Paul Fletcher's clammy 15 questions to Ita Buttrose, the chair of the ABC's board, in which he displays a truly shocking ignorance of what journalism is about. They were followed up by more absurd questions from Liberal senator Sarah Henderson. The pair illustrate the ignorance that the modern Liberal Party has of ethical journalism. These questions were designed to smear some of the best journalists in the country. And on top of that, Fletcher then dropped into an ABC board meeting this week. Where's the eyeroll emoji when you need it?
I have some questions of my own. Why did Fletcher and Henderson revive a story which was dying? Do they both hate Christian Porter and Alan Tudge so much that they wanted to bolster a story which was fading away anyhow? Frankly, if we can't get Barnaby Joyce to resign after multiple episodes of bad behaviour and hypocrisy, how on Earth would we get any minister to resign on the basis of some freelance philandering? All Fletcher and Henderson did with their questions was to remind us all how angry we were after the Four Corners program. When I say we, I mean women. Most women. Not Sarah Henderson, whose loyalties clearly lie elsewhere. But most of the rest of us, including a surprising sister in the form of Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
So, to my favourite silly question of Henderson's (there is a trope in education that there are no silly questions. That's just not true). Yes, it is the question about whether the ABC used private investigators. Was the ABC "provided with any information, reports or recordings arising from any covert surveillance of either of the ministers by any third party"? Were payments made to private investigators "to undertake or facilitate covert surveillance"?
Here is the answer. The ABC has lost a squillion dollars' funding in five minutes because of the punitive nature of the Coalition government. It has lost a truckload of absolutely brilliant reporters because it could no longer afford to pay them. It has axed the sacred 7.45am radio news bulletin, because it could no longer afford to produce it. If you think news management would sign off on an expense such as private investigators, you have no idea about the penury the ABC finds itself in. I hear people have to bring their own electric jugs and tea bags to work. What they do is public investigation on behalf of voters. Awesome.
Four Corners didn't need private investigators because it had 250 people willing to talk about the behaviour of these two politicians and of others. My goodness, the list is long. No wonder the Coalition is so desperate to slice more funding from the ABC.
As I have said so many times before, we deserve to know about our politicians' private lives. Births, deaths, marriages. Cheating, divorces and dating. And why is that? Because politicians use their personal lives as little badges of honour to illustrate the kind of Australians they are. Wholesome, parental, high standards. You don't see anyone advertising themselves as a proficient swordsman or a bully. We see politicians saying we mustn't have access to a vaccine which will prevent the spread of human papilloma virus because it will cause children to become promiscuous, while never once revealing they are a two-timer. I don't think having two relationships at once can be classified as being promiscuous, but it's certainly not family values as I understand people to use that term.
So why has the Coalition got its discarded knickers in a knot? Scott Morrison explained it so well a few weeks back: "If they are going to make inquiries, I would think that they would want to do them across the political spectrum ... we would just expect of the ABC always that they would act in an independent and an unbiased, bipartisan way."
Ohhh. So it just makes the Coalition look as if it is the only party with sex problems. The Coalition wants the ABC to adopt what we might call false balance - or bothsidesism - and report equally on the bad behaviour in other parties. But neither Labor nor the Greens is in power federally at the moment. And we already know that neither Labor nor the Greens is perfect. Far from it. The Greens have become infamous for ignoring complaints by women for the way they are treated. And Victorian Labor got a round bollocking for the way it handled Adem Somyurek, a factional powerbroker most famous for describing Gabrielle Williams, Victoria's Minister for Women, as "that f---ing stupid bitch ... She's a stupid, stupid moll ... I'm going to f---ing knock her f---ing head off. She's a f---ing psycho bitch."
Maybe not most famous. In 2015, Somyurek was forced to resign from cabinet by Andrews following bullying allegations made by his then chief of staff, Dimity Paul, and another staffer, Xavier Smith. There are plenty of stories about Labor, and I'm sure Four Corners will be happy to do them when they have those prepared to go on the record. It would be great to do them when Labor is next in power. Plus, that Four Corners episode was jampacked already. Maybe it could do an entire series of episodes on the bad behaviour of politicians and the way they exploit their staffers.
I can hardly wait. It might take up the whole next season.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed to the wrong government MP questions put to the ABC about whether it used private investigators to tail ministers.