“For a long time Christian has benefited from the silence around his conduct and his behaviour. And that silence has meant that his behaviour has been tolerated and after a certain amount of time, the silence means that it’s condoned and it’s acceptable.”
“I’m here to say that it’s not acceptable.”
These were the words of Kathleen Foley, a senior barrister and a woman who has known Australia’s Attorney General, Christian Porter for more than twenty years.
They attended the University of Western Australia together, mingled in the same circles, debated together and were both academic over-achievers.
Her perspective was shared on last night’s Four Corners, along with other women’s accounts including former political staffer Rachelle Miller, Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young and Labor Party Senator, Kristina Keneally.
These women bravely called out a long and entrenched culture within the government, in which senior male ministers have exploited their power in a bid to “have a crack”, as Kristina Keneally so aptly described it.
Rachelle Miller was formerly the advisor of ex Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge. The pair were also engaged in an affair.
Leaving aside the sheer hypocrisy that Tudge, a fierce and vocal opponent of marriage equality on the basis of “sanctity” was leading a double life in Canberra while his wife and three children were at home, it’s the treatment that Miller recalls that’s equally sickening.
Speaking about an incident in which she attended Parliament’s Mid-Winter Ball, Miller says she was instructed by Tudge to walk in with him to the event despite the fact she felt uncomfortable doing so.
“My appearance had bearing on why Alan wanted to walk in with me on his arm and I felt a lot at the time like an ornament and that I was being used as an ornament,” she described.
Later at an after-party at a bar in Canberra, Porter a well-known friend of Tudge’s accosted Miller with another Minister.
“Minister Porter was obviously quite drunk at a public bar after the ball,” recalls Miller.
“They came up to me and said, ‘you look really great. You look really hot. Of course Alan, being the media tart that he is would want to have you on his arm when he walked into the ball with all the cameras there. He’s a total media genius, you know, to have you walk in with him.’”
A shaken and uncomfortable Miller described the interaction as “demeaning,” later saying that her relationship with Tudge forced her to lose “a lot of self confidence”.
“I didn’t feel like I had any power at all to stand up for myself. I was exhausted; really, really exhausted.”
When the relationship between Miller and Tudge eventually fell apart, she was forced to leave his office and demoted to another Minister’s. Soon after, she left politics for good.
“I knew I was leaving a job that I really loved but I didn’t see that there was any other way out,” she said. “And look, the culture is very much like that. You sacrifice yourself for the good of the party. I actually viewed myself as damaged goods and I was really worried about this coming out and impacting our chances at the election.”
But Tudge’s conduct is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the degrading treatment of women by Liberal Party Ministers.
A long history of AG Christian Porter’s deeply problematic relationship with women was revealed too. Alleged accounts which painted the picture of a man with a sense of entitlement so strong he considered himself invincible.
University peers spoke of a young Porter treating women as “jokes”; ridiculing them for the way they looked and showing a gratuitous fascination in sexual conduct and violence. He was a party boy and a womaniser– traits that allegedly remained long after he’d graduated.
As a Minister, he flagrantly flouted the rules for his own personal gain, engaging in an affair with a young Liberal Party staffer who felt “caught” by the situation she was in. And his actions and attitudes were well known at the highest tiers of government.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull went so far as to confront him about his accountability after he was seen publicly kissing the staffer. Despite this, Porter was soon after promoted to the highest law officer in the country– ironically in charge of implementing rules to protect the nation’s women.
When Scott Morrison was elected last year, Porter was promoted once more to Leader of the House of Representatives.
Of course a party line will be peddled to cast these reports aside as unfortunate but isolated. Christian Porter may face the music, or he may be treated with kid gloves; given (another) chance to redeem himself. Meekly, he may apologise to “anyone he’s hurt” in the process.
But make no mistake, these words will be hollow. Because the crux of the issue is this: Tudge and Porter are not anomalies.
They’re just the latest examples in a long line of men in government who exploit their power for personal advantage. They do it openly and without fear of consequence. Why? Because that’s the way they’ve always done things. That’s the culture.
While women like Rachelle Miller, Vikki Campion and likely the staffer who was having an affair with Porter lose their jobs.
“This isn’t okay. The behaviour wasn’t okay. And the culture’s not okay,” a fed-up Miller stressed to her interviewer on last night’s program.
“Something needs to be done about it.”
She’s absolutely right. But will it? I’m highly, highly doubtful.