Barnaby Joyce backs ministers accused of sex scandals
Two federal cabinet ministers are embroiled in a sex scandal exposé aired by the ABC, igniting a political storm between the Morrison government and the public broadcaster.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said he "categorically rejected" claims aired on the ABC on Monday night about him kissing a woman in a Canberra bar, and that they were in "somewhat of a relationship".
He said he was considering legal action over the "totally false" allegations, as he disputed former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's account of a conversation they had about his behaviour in 2017.
Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge said on Monday night that he regretted his actions "immensely", after his former media adviser Rachelle Miller said she felt she was used "as an ornament" in their consensual affair.
Mr Turnbull told the ABC that the behaviour of his married ministers influenced his decision to institute a "bonk ban" in 2018, in the wake of Barnaby Joyce's affair with an adviser that tore apart his marriage and caused political chaos.
The bonk ban, which has been maintained by Scott Morrison, means it is a breach of the code of conduct for a minister to have a sexual relationship with a staffer.
But Mr Joyce says politicians from "all sides" could be caught up in staffer sex scandals.
The Nationals MP, who lost his position as party leader after his affair with an adviser was made public in 2018, said neither Mr Porter nor Mr Joyce should lose their cabinet roles.
He said the only things that mattered in a relationship within a workplace were around "age", "agency" and "consent".
"If it's a consensual relationship with two adults then, if you've got a problem with that, that's the role of the police or a priest, but not another politician to be the arbiter of that," Mr Joyce said.
"With Christian Porter, with Alan Tudge and with the others, who we all know on both sides of politics are there, and no I am not going to start outing them … that is their private business."
Mr Joyce said the cultural landscape had changed since his scandal broke two years ago.
"I don't think you can get away with that now," Mr Joyce said.
"If I was to say something derogatory about women around Bridget McKenzie or Susan McDonald, they would slap me.
When asked if his male colleagues would also reprimand him for speaking derogatorily about women, he said: "Some of them might as well."
Mr Tudge said: "Matters that occurred in my personal life in 2017 were aired on the ABC's Four Corners program. I regret my actions immensely and the hurt it caused my family. I also regret the hurt that Ms Miller has experienced."
Ms Miller said she felt like "damaged goods" and that Mr Tudge had asked her to "war-game" a response to keep their relationship a secret.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said a Liberal staffer - who the ABC reported was the same woman seen kissing Mr Porter in the bar - confided in her that she was "in somewhat of a relationship" with Mr Porter.
She told the ABC the woman was "very distressed" and "didn't want to be there".
Ms Miller said she saw Mr Porter kissing the woman at the bar, and that Mr Tudge had asked someone else present to stop taking photos of his ministerial colleague.
But Mr Porter lashed out at the ABC on Monday night, saying the claims from Senator Hanson-Young were "never put to me, my office or the other individual".
He said "depictions of interactions in the bar are categorically rejected".
"The other party subjected to these baseless claims directly rebutted the allegation to Four Corners, yet the program failed to report that," Mr Porter said.
He apologised for material he wrote in a magazine when he was in law school.
But Mr Porter said the ABC "never contacted me or my office" despite spending months asking for "for rumours and negative comment about me" from his colleagues and friends.
"Given the defamatory nature of many of the claims made in tonight's program, I will be considering legal options," Mr Porter said.
Speaking after Four Corners, Mr Turnbull said that, had he known of the extent of Mr Porter's alleged behaviour, he would have "made further inquiries" before he made him Attorney-General.
But in his statement, Mr Porter said Mr Turnbull had queried the "accuracy" of "a story he had heard", and that he responded: "No."
Mr Turnbull claimed on the ABC that Mr Porter - who he promoted soon afterwards - had acknowledged that his actions at the bar were unacceptable.
Even before the Four Corners episode had aired, it sparked a political storm, with staffers from both ministerial offices emailing and calling ABC bosses to question whether airing the claims was in the public interest. Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour said there had been "extreme and unrelenting" political pressure on the ABC.
The intervention from government staffers prompted a warning from ABC chief David Anderson on Monday evening about the threat to the broadcaster's independence, at a Senate hearing in which he was grilled about the program before it went to air.
Liberal senator Amanda Stoker accused the ABC of a "sting" on the Morrison government.
On Monday morning, the Prime Minister said he did not know what was in the program, but that he expected the ABC to uphold its charter.
"If they're going to make inquiries, I would think they'd want to do them across the political spectrum," Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said he was one of the "strongest supporters" of the bonk ban to deliver "cultural change", and that the standards were "very clear".
MPS RESPOND TO AIRING OF CLAIMS
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said he did not see the public interest in the story, despite not having watched it the program aired on Monday night.
"I don't think there was much public interest in the stories," Mr Canavan said.
"Human lives are complex. None of us are saints. I certainly don't sit here pretending to be."
Mr Canavan said the environment in parliament was "a bit like boarding school".
"There does need to be proper systems in place in this parliament, as any workplace, to protect staff and those in a working environment," Senator Canavan said.
"There are complex relationships that crop up from time to time that have to be handled sensitively.
"There are also additional pressures here as well. We're all sort of living here for weeks at a time away from our homes."
Labor MP Terri Butler described the women who came forward as part of the program as "very brave" and said they needed to be supported.
"All women deserve to be safe at work and all staffers deserve to have this, which is their workplace, be a safe workplace," she said arriving at Parliament House on Tuesday.
"As for what should happen for the people concerned, that's really a question for them and the Prime Minister."
When asked if these were similar issues on both sides of the aisle, Ms Butler said Labor was not the subject of the story.
"I don't think this should be a partisan issue," Ms Butler said.
"The question here is, how can people feel safe at work?
"It's not easy for a woman to speak out about issues of this nature."
Originally published as Christian Porter 'categorically rejects' affair allegations