Malcolm Turnbull has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of working as “a team” with News Corp newspapers and Sky TV.
The former PM says Scott Morrison is “cleaving very closely” to the Murdoch press
A petition calling for a royal commission into media diversity has more than 500,000 signatures
Tony Abbott says he “never” leaked details of Cabinet discussions to News Corp
The former prime minister has joined Kevin Rudd in backing a petition for a royal commission into media diversity and the role of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which they both believe is a malevolent and partisan force in Australian political life.
In his recent memoir Mr Turnbull accused Mr Murdoch of bringing his prime ministership down.
“Morrison, I think, has determined not to suffer the same fate I did from the right of the Liberal Party in the Murdoch press,” he told 7.30.
“So Morrison is cleaving very closely to the Murdoch press, and they are backing him up.
“They’re not holding him to account for failings, and they’re criticising his opponents. And yeah, they’re operating like a team.”
‘News Corp is now essentially propaganda’
While the petition has more than 500,000 signatures, it has failed to secure a royal commission so far. Instead, the Greens will hold a Senate inquiry.
“The critical thing, you have to recognise that News Corp is now essentially propaganda. It’s a political organisation that employs a lot of journalists,” Mr Turnbull said.
Kevin Rudd concurs.
“Whereas once the Murdoch press would generally lean conservative, but see it [as] in its interest to give the other side of politics a half a go, in the last decade, it’s simply been wall-to-wall propaganda on behalf of the Liberal National Party … And [in the US it’s become] propaganda for the far-right Republican Party,” Mr Rudd said.
“Well, enough is enough.”
‘Extraordinary access’ claim rejected by Abbott
Malcolm Turnbull believes the relationship between the prime minister’s office and the Murdoch media was even closer under the man he succeeded.
“Tony Abbott operated almost in a partnership with News Corp,” he said.
“Their reporters, their editors had access to Cabinet decisions before they were taken, in fact, reported Cabinet decisions having been taken when in fact that [sic] turned out they hadn’t been, so there was extraordinary access.”
Mr Abbott declined an interview with 7.30, but released a statement describing the allegations as “baseless smears”.
“Unlike some, as Prime Minister, I never leaked out of Cabinet or backgrounded against colleagues,” he wrote.
“To me, this is dishonourable and a betrayal of the solidarity that should exist within a political party with a shared commitment to the people it represents.
“I make the general point that Australia needs more media outlets and more media diversity; but won’t otherwise respond to baseless smears or dignify a hatchet job.”
Turnbull talked with Murdoch ‘a lot’ as PM
By his own recollection, Mr Turnbull has known Rupert Murdoch in one way or another for 40 years.
Despite being able to get the media baron on the phone, he was unable to convince him to call off the attacks on his leadership when it mattered.
“I used to talk to him a lot, actually,” he said.
“I couldn’t understand this bitter campaign against me from Sky News and from some of his newspapers, particularly The Australian … he’d say ‘They don’t have many viewers’ or ‘The Oz (The Australian) doesn’t have many readers,’ and he’d always obfuscate it.
“But the reality is I thought it was crazy.”
Mr Turnbull believes Mr Murdoch wanted “to install” Peter Dutton as prime minister, and he failed.
When asked if that showed Mr Murdoch wasn’t “all-powerful”, Mr Turnbull replied: “It shows you his influence is considerable.”
When approached for an interview, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office directed 7.30 to the Communications Minister’s office. A spokesman declined to comment publicly ahead of the Senate inquiry.
News Corp declined 7.30’s request for an interview and did not respond to written questions.
The event was witnessed by at least five people who told the ABC’s Four Corners they were shocked by it. One witness was a public servant who used a journalist’s phone to photograph the incident.
Four Corners reported other witnesses included Mr Porter’s ministerial colleague Alan Tudge and Mr Tudge’s staffer Rachelle Miller, who revealed she was having an affair with her boss at the time.
Both Mr Tudge and Mr Porter were married at the time.
“When we were at the bar I noticed that Minister Porter was with someone in the corner and they were clearly very intimate, they were cuddling and they were kissing,” Ms Miller told the ABC.
“It was quite confronting given that we were in such a public place … it was definitely a step too far.
“I remember turning around to Alan and saying ‘Oh my God, I cannot believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing, what are we going to do?”
She said that Mr Tudge demanded the photograph be deleted.
At the time, Mr Turnbull was about to elevate Mr Porter to Attorney-General and into the National Security Committee.
“I reminded him that Canberra was full of spies, not all of them worked for us,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The risk of compromise is very, very real, it’s not just the stuff of spy novels, people who put themselves into positions where they can be compromised or blackmails are really taking risks and unacceptable risks.”
Asked how Mr Porter reacted to the dressing down, Mr Turnbull said: “he clearly didn’t enjoy it.”
“The message was very clear that if there was reports like that, that emerged in the future that would have very, very severe consequences for his role in the ministry under my leadership.”
The Attorney-General’s office was contacted for comment.
Three months later, the revelations that Barnaby Joyce was expecting a child with his now-partner and former staffer Vikki Campion prompted the then-prime minister to introduce a bonk ban – forbidding ministers from sleeping with their staff.
Mr Turnbull revealed the ban was introduced not solely because of Mr Joyce’s behaviour but also the reported behaviour of Mr Tudge and Mr Porter.
Ms Miller, also married, said her affair was consensual but that she felt as though she had no power in the relationship.
Their affair began in June 2017 and lasted until November.
“I lived to bitterly regret it,” she said.
“I didn’t feel I had any power at all to be able to stand up for myself,” she said.
Both Ms Miller and Mr Tudge are no longer married.
“Tonight, matters that occurred in my personal life in 2017 were aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program,” Mr Tudge said in a statement.
“I regret my actions immensely and the hurt it caused my family. I also regret the hurt that Ms Miller has experienced.”
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Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.
Cabinet minister Christian Porter was warned by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull about his public behaviour with a young female Liberal staffer, because of Mr Turnbull’s concerns he could be at risk of compromise or blackmail.
Christian Porter was given a warning by Malcolm Turnbull after Mr Porter was spotted “kissing and cuddling” a young staffer at a Canberra bar
Another minister, Alan Tudge, angrily pressured a journalist to delete a photo of Mr Porter and the woman
Mr Tudge also had an affair with a staffer
A Four Corners investigation can reveal Mr Porter raised eyebrows among political staffers in 2017 after being seen with the young woman — who was working for another Cabinet minister — at Canberra’s Public Bar.
At the time, Mr Porter had a wife and toddler at home in Perth.
Shortly before appointing Mr Porter to the role of Attorney-General, Mr Turnbull warned him he would be out of the ministry if he heard of this public behaviour with young female staff again.
The investigation can also reveal Mr Turnbull’s infamous “bonk ban” was not just aimed at former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, but also at Mr Porter and the now-Acting Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge, who was having an affair with a female adviser in 2017.
Both Mr Porter and Mr Tudge have campaigned on family values.
Mr Turnbull described Mr Porter’s conduct with young women as “unacceptable”.
“I had a meeting with Porter in my office and I told him that I had had reports of him being out in public, having had too much to drink and in the company with young women,” Mr Turnbull told Four Corners.
“He acknowledged that; he didn’t argue with that.
“And I just said, ‘Look, this is unacceptable conduct for a Cabinet minister and it exposes you to the risk of compromise.'”
Mr Turnbull said he was concerned that in the age of the smartphone, ministers could be compromised or blackmailed unless their behaviour was beyond reproach while in public.
“He knew that I was considering appointing him attorney-general, which of course is the first law officer of the Crown and has a seat on the National Security Committee,” Mr Turnbull said.
“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.”
Mr Turnbull said Mr Porter “clearly didn’t enjoy” the conversation.
Mr Porter did not provide an on-the-record response to Four Corners’ multiple requests for an interview, or answer detailed questions.
In a brief statement about his meeting with Mr Turnbull in December 2017, he said Mr Turnbull queried whether there was any accuracy to the “story” he had heard. According to Mr Porter, “the answer was no”.
“Malcolm then promoted me to Attorney-General about two weeks after,” Mr Porter said in the statement.
“In my time as AG I never had any complaint or any suggestion of any problem from Malcolm regarding the conduct of my duties as AG until the last week of his Prime Ministership when we had a significant disagreement over the Peter Dutton citizenship issue.”
Tudge demanded journalist delete photograph of Porter with young staffer
Four Corners has established that on the night in 2017, in Public Bar — a favourite haunt of political operatives and journalists — a public servant took a photograph of Mr Porter with the young woman.
The public servant was concerned that Mr Porter’s behaviour exposed him to the risk of compromise.
Four Corners has spoken to multiple people who witnessed the incident, including several Liberal staffers.
One of the Liberal staffers who was present and saw the photograph taken was Rachelle Miller, who, at the time, was an adviser to Alan Tudge. Ms Miller worked at Parliament House as an adviser to Liberal Party MPs and ministers for nine years.
Ms Miller told Four Corners she saw Mr Porter and the young Liberal staffer “kissing and cuddling”.
“I was really worried about it ending up in the papers,” Ms Miller said.
“It would do a lot of damage to the Government. It would be a scandal that we didn’t need.”
Ms Miller said she accompanied her boss, Mr Tudge, to confront the male public servant who took the photograph.
The public servant had grabbed a journalist’s phone because his own phone battery was flat.
Mr Tudge, who is friends with Mr Porter, angrily demanded that the journalist delete the photograph.
The following day, Mr Tudge contacted the journalist, again insisting that the photo be deleted to erase the evidence.
Mr Tudge did not provide an on-the-record response to multiple interview requests from Four Corners, or provide answers to detailed questions.
Tudge pressured staffer to keep affair secret
Ms Miller told Four Corners that she and Mr Tudge, both of them married with children, had an affair in 2017.
While the affair was completely consensual, she has come to bitterly regret it.
“Where there’s significant power imbalances with senior ministers and perhaps junior staff, I think that absolutely there needs to be an acknowledgement that that sort of behaviour is not OK,” Ms Miller said.
She told Four Corners that both during and after the relationship, Mr Tudge had pressured her not to admit to the affair, which was the subject of rumours at Parliament House.
“He put a lot of pressure on me and quote-unquote asked me to ‘war-game’ the lines that I was going to give the journalists to try and kill the story,” Ms Miller said.
“‘Make sure you don’t talk, make sure you get your lines straight, make sure you don’t answer your phone, actually it would just be better if you don’t answer your phone at all,” she said, recalling what she says Mr Tudge told her.
Mr Turnbull said the culture in Canberra reminded him of the corporate world in the 1970s or 1980s.
He said ministers having relationships with staffers was “just not acceptable”.
“There is always a power imbalance between the boss and somebody who works for them. The younger and more junior they are, the more extreme that power imbalance is,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Ministers essentially have the power to hire and fire their staff, so they’ve got enormous power.”
After the affair ended, Ms Miller left Mr Tudge’s office and went to work for another minister. She says she was later demoted in a restructure, and felt she had no choice but to leave politics.
Ms Miller is speaking out because she wants the Liberal Party culture towards women to change.
“I really strongly believe that the standard that you walk past is the standard you accept, and I saw a lot of really poor behaviour in my time in Parliament, and I feel I let down a lot of women,” she said.
“As a senior staffer, I could have done a lot more to stand up for people. Instead, there was a culture of just kind of putting your head down and not getting involved.
“I don’t feel like there’s equality in the Liberal Party at the moment and it’s really concerning for me. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve thought recently seriously about giving up my membership of the Liberal Party.
“There’s plenty of women working in staffing roles in Parliament at the moment but, the experience is, you need to be like a male to cope, to survive.”
Tudge and Porter have both campaigned on family values
Both Mr Porter and Mr Tudge have portrayed themselves to their electorates as family men.
Mr Tudge has publicly represented himself as a social conservative and an advocate of traditional marriage.
During the same-sex marriage debate, Mr Tudge told Parliament that by changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry, “the institution itself would potentially be weakened”.
After publicly opposing same-sex marriage, Mr Tudge voted for the reform after his Melbourneelectorate voted in favour.
“There’s no question that some of the most trenchant opponents of same-sex marriage, all in the name of traditional marriage, were at the same time enthusiastic practitioners of traditional adultery,” Mr Turnbull said.
Conservative Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said it was vital that politicians lived the values they espoused to the electorate, whatever those values may be.
“When we stand for office, when we stand for preselection and when we stand before the electorate, we stand on a set of values and beliefs,” she said.
“It comes down to that basic concept of trust, and ensuring that the people that put you here, or the people that elect you, continue to have trust in you and your conduct and the things that you say.”
Speaking generally, Senator Fierravanti-Wells also expressed concern at the risk of compromise for any Cabinet minister at a time “when there is strong debate about foreign influence and foreign interference”.
“Whether you’re the first law officer, or you’re the Prime Minister, or you’re the Premier, that expectation is that one conducts oneself with the highest degree of integrity,” she said.
“The higher the office, the higher the responsibility.”
All ministers must now abide by Ministerial Standards set down by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2018, which say ministers are expected “to act at all times to the highest possible standards of probity”.
They also prohibit ministers from having sexual relations with staff.
Mr Tudge separated from his wife at the end of 2017. Mr Porter announced his separation from his wife in January this year.
Australian politicians have been selling the “dream” of coal for years, but it’s a dream that is about to be mugged by reality.
China’s coal imports have been weak all year. Initially this was attributed to Covid but as China’s economy has resumed growth – and certainly growth in its energy-intensive sectors – coal imports have dropped sharply from all countries, not just Australia. Indonesian exports were down 37% year on year in September. Public statements from China are pushing the narrative that Australia is being punished for its diplomatic insolence, but Indonesian exports are being just as badly hit despite relations with China being on a comparatively better footing.
In some of the frenzied commentary around China and its suspension of coal imports it is important to understand market dynamics rather than taking the spin from the Chinese foreign ministry at face value.
The decline in Australian coal exports has nothing to do with diplomacy and hurt feelings and everything to do with long-standing Chinese economic policy. Australia has generally been unaffected by China’s mercantilist tendencies and desire for self-sufficiency which has been a driving concern in more high-tech sectors under Xi.
We do not sell many chips, mobile phones or industrial equipment and have not felt the chill of China’s “localism” as much as Europe or the United States to date because we have limited presence in these supply chains. This is now changing as China quite explicitly pushes for self-sufficiency in key economic inputs such as energy and food. China’s rhetoric and policy looks more and more like a wartime North Korean “juche” footing.
As a major energy exporter this now matters a great deal for Australia. China’s plans for slower but more self-sufficient growth will slow their energy demand, allowing their investments in renewables, nuclear power and both the local coal capacity and logistics to move rapidly, which will reduce the need for energy imports, especially coal. How quickly they can go to zero imports is a topic of some debate but recent rail capacity expansions allowing them to use more of their own output from inland coalfields combined with low-carbon energy growth indicate that time may be now. China has throttled back imports already and shows no sign of shortages or reduced inventories. There is no reason to believe they cannot do this further.
For Australia to deal with this our political class first needs to face the reality that this is happening and no turnaround in diplomatic policy is likely to change it. Additionally this self-sufficiency policy could extend to other commodities we export to China. China’s determination to protect local industries and jobs as well as its more orthodox Maoist-Leninist turn dictates greater self-sufficiency and weaker commitments to free trade as both are far downstream of its more nationalist political priorities. This fact must enter our own economic calculus. Wishing for simpler, more liberal times when China was more committed to honouring trade agreements and growing rapidly is not an effective strategy.
To that end we need to start a discussion of how best to allow communities and workers in the coal sector to deal with this transition. The pressure is being felt already and reduced hours and job losses are impacting workers in the Hunter Valley and elsewhere. It is disingenuous to tell people that everything is fine when they know it is not.
Similarly we need to seriously consider the impacts of China’s more self-sufficiency-driven economic program and what it means for the rest of the economy. For some the developments in coal may be an unpleasant surprise but we should endeavour to not be surprised similarly again. Milk powder at some point will have to reconcile itself with China’s low fertility rates. Iron and bauxite industries will need to keep an eye on both lower growth targets and China’s efforts to reduce emissions and imports via recycling as well as efforts to second source from African mines.
Perhaps more poignantly we need to understand that wearing a high-visibility vest and helmet does not make work or employment more real or stable. Just because you can pick up a piece of coal and hold it in parliament does not make it more real and stable than working behind a screen. Commodity markets are volatile, undifferentiated products and the customers are concentrated with ageing populations and slowing growth. These industries are not beloved by investment managers for very plain reasons that have nothing to do with environmental, social or governance reasons.
Perhaps our politicians might cast a similarly dispassionate light on the sector and where Australia’s growth opportunities may lie rather than focusing on opportunities to play dress-up that PR flacks seem to prefer.
• Alex Turnbull is a fund manager based in Singapore
Malcolm Turnbull has named for Nick Xenophon’s enterprise to register as a lobbying firm, but Xenophon suggests individuals calls ‘smack of hypocrisy’.
Nick Xenophon and Malcolm Turnbull are applied to remaining on the opposite sides of political arguments. They are now accusing every other of pushing the interests of the world’s most important superpowers.
Former independent South Australian senator Xenophon has been representing Chinese company Huawei due to the fact December last calendar year through his law agency Xenophon Davis, which he operates with previous SBS and ABC journalist Mark Davis.
And previous PM Turnbull has lately joined the board of cyber stability business Kasada, which has been claimed as obtaining attracted enterprise money from funds connected with personal fairness organization KKR and the US’ Central Intelligence Company (CIA). He’s also a shareholder in the corporation.