Following is a transcript of an interview between Radio 6PR’s Gareth Parker and Attorney General Christian Porter, on November 10, 2020. The interview was in response to this Four Corners story published the previous day, called ‘Inside the Canberra Bubble’. The focus of the interview is on Porter’s alleged conduct towards female Liberal staffers.
Gareth Parker 0:00
And yesterday we said we would be talking about this this morning. Here we are four corners last night reveals an affair between a Victorian liberal minister Alan Tudge and his former media adviser Rachelle Miller, a consensual affair. She appeared on camera to tell the story. Alan Tudge has acknowledged the affair and apologised in a statement last night. But there were also allegations made about another senior minister, that is the West Australian liberal, the attorney general, the industrial relations minister Christian Porter. The Four Corners programme went right back to Christian’s high school and university days and his days in the DPP, and it painted a picture of a man who is a womaniser, a man who gets drunk in public and a specific set of allegations were put about a scene in a Canberra bar where Porter was said to be kissing and cuddling a female staffer, a younger female staffer. Malcolm Turnbull appeared on camera to say that he counselled Christian Porter over the incident. Christian Porter put out a statement after the four corners report last night categorically denying its truth. He joins me on the programme. Christian Porter, good morning.
Christian Porter 1:15
Yeah morning Gareth, not our normal conversation.
Gareth Parker 1:18
Did you or have you ever had an intimate relationship or intimate relations with a staffer?
Christian Porter 1:23
Look, I’m not even sure that that programme made that allegation. But I’ll answer…
Gareth Parker 1:28
Well I’m just asking the question, have you ever had intimate relations with a staffer?
Christian Porter 1:32
Well, they indicated that I had, I think, implied that I had with a person that I had a drink in a bar with. And I said to four corners, that their depiction of those interactions in that bar three and a half years ago, were wrong. I told Malcolm, there was no substance to rumours around that bar story. I told four corners, that’s what I said. The other person, the subject of that story about a bar, was contacted by four corners, and the journalist has acknowledged that fact. And that other person categorically denied the description provided by four corners, regarding the bar, or that it indicated any relationship. I must say it’s very unfair on the other person, because they did no more than go out and have a drink with me, in my company, in a bar. And Louise Milligan, the reporter, this morning said the reason that she didn’t report in the story, the fact that the other person denied to four corners, the description of what happened or that it indicated any relationship was because the other person’s denial was provided off the record, that as you pointed out, I mean the rest of that entire story contained stuff, that was off the record. I mean, it contained stuff from someone off the record, saying that I’ve focused too much on graphic and violent material in lectures that I can….
Gareth Parker 2:47
We’ll come back to all of that Christian, we will come back to all of that. But I want to ask the question, really specifically, again, did you or have you ever had an intimate relationship/intimate relations with a staffer?
Christian Porter 2:58
Look, I’ve answered your question. The allegation was put to me….
Gareth Parker 3:03
Well, you’ve answered the question about the specific incident in that report.
Christian Porter 3:07
But there’s no other, is there another allegation being made? Like, I mean, the allegation is that I had a relationship with a person that a description was given of me being close to in a bar, and I didn’t. Now, you know, I don’t know what more I can say to that. And you’ve got Sarah Hansen-Young, saying, you know, and I grant you this is what Sarah Hansen-Young said, that she spoke to someone who said that they may have been oh what’d she say, she said that she had a conversation with someone who may have been in Sarah Hansen’s words in somewhat of a relationship with me. I mean, I just don’t know what to say to that. I don’t know what I mean, that was never put to me before the programme. I don’t know whether that conversation ever happened or who said that or why they might say it, but you know, this allegation about the bar being indicative of relationship No,
Gareth Parker 4:01
Four corners. Reporter Louise Milligan and producer Sally neighbours say that they spoke to six eyewitnesses. One of them was showing me like gave her account on camera last night. Are all six witnesses mistaken?
Christian Porter 4:13
Well, there was there was one witness in that programme. And what that witness said that she saw in a crowded bar didn’t happen. And the person that is also said to be the subject of that, that event, said to four corners, it didn’t happen. And four corners declined to report that fact.
Gareth Parker 4:31
So did six other eyewitnesses make it up?
Christian Porter 4:34
What I you’re asking me about our witnesses. There was one witness in the programme, I mean I’ve got no idea whether
Gareth Parker 4:42
So is Rachelle Miller making it up.
Christian Porter 4:44
Well, I don’t know why she would say that but that didn’t happen in that bar. And the other person who was said to be involved in that description, said it didn’t happen. said to four corners that didn’t happen. And four corners excuse for not putting that as a matter of balance in their programme was that it was off the record. The great bulk of the programme was just off the record statements, which obviously were very negative about me from years past, and look some of those things I deeply regret.
Gareth Parker 5:15
And we’ll come to those too. Malcolm Turnbull called you into a meeting. And he says he warns you about reports that he had received about your conduct. Here’s what he told Q and A last night,
Malcolm Turnbull 5:25
Porter came to see me to talk about something else. And I had heard these reports of him being out drinking and being drunk in the company of young female staff, as I was not aware of any suggestions that he thought it was anything more than that. And I gave him the very sensible advice that I did. And he didn’t argue with me he, you know, he didn’t say I was I wasn’t there. It wasn’t me or anything like that. He acknowledged that. And, you know, I assumed that he wouldn’t do it again. I treated it as though it was a misjudgment an error. He’d done the wrong thing, he’d been injudicious. There’s a lot of stuff in the programme tonight about patterns of conduct that I wasn’t aware of. So I think certainly, if I’d known at the time, what was broadcast tonight, I would have made further inquiries before I made him Attorney General.
Gareth Parker 6:17
Christian Porter, what’s your account of that meeting with Malcolm Turnbull?
Christian Porter 6:20
Yes, so Malcolm called me into his office. It was at a time that he was very frustrated about cabinet leaks. So the thing that I’ve been called into his office to talk about was the fact that he had heard a rumour that I’d leaked to a journalist Sharri Markson about the banking Royal Commission. Towards the end of that meeting, he put this bar story to me. I said to him, what I said to Four Corners, which was that there was no substance to either of those things. And that was the end of the meeting. And
Gareth Parker 6:51
So, you’re and
Christian Porter 6:53
Of course, you know, Malcolm appointed me Attorney General. Inside two weeks after that, and I served as Malcolm’s Attorney General, I never had any complaint or any suggestion of any problem with the conduct of my duties or any way in which I was compromised. I had a very significant disagreement with Malcolm in the final days of his prime ministership, because I declined to support him in a course of action about advising the Governor General that I thought was wrong. And, you know, I often suspected that there would be some consequences for that. But you know, that’s the meeting that we had.
Gareth Parker 7:32
Are you suggesting that Malcolm Turnbull’s commentary the four corners is motivated by revenge?
Christian Porter 7:37
Well, I don’t I don’t think that Malcolm is a great fan of mine. I will say that much.
Gareth Parker 7:43
But are you suggesting that’s what motivated him to speak with four corners?
Christian Porter 7:47
I mean, I don’t know what his motivation was. But, you know, I can describe to you what the meeting was about. It was about him accusing me of leaking to a to a journalist because he’d heard a rumour. I said that was incorrect. He put another story based on a rumour I said, that was incorrect. That was the end of the meeting. Two weeks later, he appointed me Attorney General.
Gareth Parker 8:09
Okay so I want to talk about the meeting, because you’ve just said what you’ve said there. Last night, your statement was very precise in its wording. You said towards the end of the meeting, he queried whether there was any accuracy to what he described as another story he had heard? And the answer was no. What was the other story he had heard? In other words, what were you denying was true? What specifically had he heard? What had he put to you? What were you denying was true?
Christian Porter 8:31
It was it was based on being out late at night drinking at a bar.
Gareth Parker 8:35
And so you denied that you were out late drinking at a bar with someone?
Christian Porter 8:38
No, I, he asked me if there was any substance or problem with that, that he should know about? And I said no.
Gareth Parker 8:43
And that was it. There was no further delving into it.
Christian Porter 8:46
Gareth Parker 8:47
Did he ever warn you about being seen in public drunk in the company of young staffers or young women generally?
Christian Porter 8:52
Well, I mean, obviously, the point of putting that story was that he clearly didn’t think that was a good idea. And Fair enough, I accepted that. But, you know, I can’t give you a better description of the meeting other than the one that I’ve given, because that’s how it went down.
Gareth Parker 9:07
He also said this on four corners last night.
Malcolm Turnbull 9:09
The risk of compromise is very, very real. You know, it’s not just the stuff of spy novels, people who put themselves into positions where they can be compromised or blackmailed are really taking risks and unacceptable risks.
Gareth Parker 9:28
Your reaction to those comments?
Christian Porter 9:30
Well, after that meeting in early December, which started out about being accused of leaking, which I never did. He appointed me Attorney General, gave me my first order and priority of business was to totally rewrite the foreign interference and foreign influence laws and set up a foreign influence register. That was the first task that I had, which I undertook, which was passed through Parliament, which Malcolm was very pleased about. So there was never any suggestion in the entire time that I worked as AG for Malcolm, that there was any problem the way that I was conducting my duties as attorney general or doing my job, or any suggestion of any compromise.
Gareth Parker 10:14
The Four Corners programme if we take the sort of helicopter view created the impression that for a very long period of time stretching right back to your high school days, to your university days, and since that you have misogynistic attitudes towards women, that you’re a sleazebag, a womaniser, are you?
Christian Porter 10:32
Look, I mean, those things like writing in law school magazines, 25 years ago, you know, this there words that I obviously, regret writing.
Gareth Parker 10:45
You wrote that you were going to smut your way through law school, writing about a debate on whether lawyers are just well dressed prostitutes, you said your opponent’s case had more holes than Snow White’s hymen.
Christian Porter 10:54
Yeah but I’m no, I’m no orphan in looking back on things that I wrote and did 25-30 years ago, that make me cringe. Like, you know, do I regret writing those things? Absolutely. I mean, I think that the show described my behaviour at university is rowdy, and in some ways, that is something of an understatement. It was way too rowdy. But you know, that’s 25-30 years ago, and I can’t undo or redo that period of my life. And I’m not sure that that is a fair indication of who I am now.
Gareth Parker 11:29
So you don’t think you’re a sleazebag or womaniser or someone who’s drunk in public too much now?
Christian Porter 11:33
Well, I mean, those things that were the focus of four corners, you know, complaints from people, frankly, that I barely knew and haven’t seen in decades about law school and being at university and you know, that time in your life? No, it’s definitely not indicative of who I am now.
Gareth Parker 11:55
Did you ever say you wouldn’t date a woman who weighed over 50 kilogrammes but preferred that they had big breasts?
Christian Porter 12:01
Absolutely not. I mean, like, give me a break, no.
Gareth Parker 12:06
There’s an important journalistic point here, because there seems to be an inconsistency in what four corners are saying about the nature of the way they contacted you or your office and put the allegations for you to comment on and what you said in your statement last night. You said in your statement last night that the journalist Louise Milligan never contacted you. But it is true, isn’t it, that the researcher for the programme had several instances of contact with your office? Yes? Can you just clarify that?
Christian Porter 12:32
Yeah, we had a bit of back and forward because they put sweeping allegations of the character type that you’ve, you’ve described here. And we wanted particulars, which as, you know, any journalist is under an obligation to provide. Now they told us that they weren’t going to report anything that they haven’t, that they didn’t put to us. And so we had a bit of back and forward with them. But even then, I mean, they they have Sarah Hansen Young, saying she once had a conversation with someone about something which four corners say is important. That was never put to me, just never put to me, which is a really basic standard in how you deal with people that you’re going to make the subject of adverse reporting. It was just never put to me.
Gareth Parker 13:16
I want to go back to where I started? It is the case that under the ministerial conduct, that relations between ministers and their staff are banned. You agree with that policy? It’s a good policy?
Christian Porter 13:29
Yes, I do. And I’ve never breached that, that ministerial code of conduct. And there’s never been any suggestion that I have.
Gareth Parker 13:36
So is it also inappropriate to have relations with staff of other offices?
Christian Porter 13:42
Well look, again, I think this goes back to the allegation that this description of what happened in a bar was indicative of something more, and it wasn’t. And I’ve said that to you. I said that previously, when I was called into Malcolm’s office, I put that to four corners. The other person who was the subject of that has said that to four corners, they didn’t want to report that. I mean, I don’t know how many more times I can answer that question.
Gareth Parker 14:08
It’s a matter of public record that you and your wife Jen separated in January, does this alleged conduct have anything to do with that?
Christian Porter 14:18
I feel so desperately sorry for my beautiful wife, Jen, that she had to watch all of that and see all this stuff from university and see it cut up and chopped up in that way. And no, I mean, like any couple, we had our ups and downs, and problems and difficulties. And I would say that I was far from a perfect husband in many regards, but our separation was not about this sort of stuff.
Gareth Parker 14:47
Will you sue?
Christian Porter 14:48
Look, I mean, I think that’d be pretty substantial basis for that. I’ll have a look at it. But you know what, Gareth. I just I’ve spent five years as a minister, this year, we’ve been dealing obviously with a global pandemic. Some people might have time for, for these types of massive distractions, I don’t want to let it become a massive distraction for me, I’ve got a job to do for the government, for the Prime Minister, to try and help get the country through all of this. I’m not a grudge holder. I think this was conducted pretty unfairly, I think that a lot of people would not really look that great if you’re looking back on their 20s. And, you know, I’m prepared to cop that I probably deserve to not look that great based on my 20 years and law school like I can, I can absolutely cop that. But that level of scrutiny over things that happened in the early and mid 1990s. That’s never going to make anyone look particularly good. But I’ve got to say it, it doesn’t, in my view, characterise who I am now, or, or in any way affect my performance in my job, which I’ve always given 100% to
Gareth Parker 14:48
So I take it you have no intention of resigning.
Christian Porter 16:08
Well, is anyone suggesting that that should happen? I mean, No, I’m not.
Gareth Parker 16:14
I just want to finish talking about Rachelle Miller here, Alan Tudge’s former media advisor. She eventually shifted offices, she says she was demoted. And then she eventually left politics very disillusioned, then her boss goes on to bigger and better things. Is that how it should work? Is that fair?
Christian Porter 16:31
I actually barely know, Rachelle. I don’t know what happened with her career after working for Alan, I just don’t know. I mean, I I hope that she does well. And will do well. But I just I don’t know what what occurred after that I really barely knew her.
Gareth Parker 16:56
Last question, when you put your head on the pillow at night? Can you sleep soundly in the knowledge that there aren’t women out there who will come forward with more allegations of this type against you?
Christian Porter 17:07
But what allegation I, I mean, that I had a drink in a bar with someone and, you know, who’s who’s making that allegation? What, what,
Gareth Parker 17:18
What I’m asking you is, is you can go to bed tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that there isn’t a woman out there who’s going to come forward and give a truthful account of her interactions with Christian Porter that would further embarrass you or damage the government?
Christian Porter 17:30
Well, I mean, you know, I can’t comment about what people might want to do to try and damage me or damage the government, right? That is part and parcel of politics. But I haven’t conducted myself in a way that I think would lead people to provide that sort of complaint about me. And if you look at this story, like I don’t think it contains that sort of complaint about about me in my role as AG. So, you know, I’m not worried that there are people that you’ve described, because I just haven’t had those interactions with people.
Gareth Parker 18:09
Christian , thank you for your time.
Christian Porter 18:10
Okay, Gareth cheers.
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