'Frankly, I didn't know': Turnbull defends decision to appoint Porter as Attorney-General in wake of Four Corners revelations

10 November 2020

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says he would have given more thought to promoting Christian Porter to the job of Attorney-General if he had known about the allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him

On Monday night, Four Corners revealed Mr Turnbull warned Mr Porter about his behaviour with a young female Liberal staffer in a Canberra bar, telling him he could be putting himself at risk of compromise or blackmail.

Another minister, Alan Tudge, who also had an affair with a female staffer in the same year, demanded a journalist delete a photograph of Mr Porter with the woman from their phone.

The program also aired other claims that Mr Porter had a history of inappropriate, sexist behaviour, going back to his time at university and as a lawyer in Western Australia.

Mr Turnbull said he was surprised by the reported behaviour and thought up until Monday night that Mr Porter’s only indiscretion had been “being drunk in the company of young female staffers”.

Mr Porter was married at the time.

“To be clear, Porter came to see me to talk about something else,” Mr Turnbull told Q+A of their 2017 meeting.

“I had heard these reports of him being out drinking and being drunk in the company of young female staffers.

“I was not aware of any suggestions that 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 didn’t say ‘I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me’… he acknowledged that, and I assumed that he wouldn’t do it again.

“And frankly, I didn’t know until tonight.”

Mr Turnbull had earlier told Four Corners that he told Mr Porter the incident was “unacceptable conduct for a Cabinet minister and it exposes you [Porter] to the risk of compromise”.

Mr Porter did not provide an on-the-record response to Four Corners’ multiple requests for an interview, or answer detailed questions.

But in a statement released after the show went to air, he said:

“4 Corners depiction of interactions in the bar are categorically rejected.

“The other party subjected to these baseless claims directly rebutted the allegation to 4 Corners, yet the programme failed to report that.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter at podium
Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter released a statement categorically denying the Four Corners report.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

“This fact usually would be expected to be included in a fair or balanced report. The claims made by Sarah Hanson Young were never put to me, my office or the other individual. They are rejected as totally false.

“The ABC’s Managing Director told a Senate Committee just today that all relevant information had been provided to Ministers who were the subject of tonight’s programme — that is not the case.

“Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister often summoned Ministers in frustration about the amount of detail leaking from his Cabinet.

“I had one such meeting in early December 2017, where Malcolm put to me a rumour that I had leaked to journalist Sharri Markson about the Banking Royal Commission and towards the end of that meeting he queried whether there was any accuracy to what he described as another story he had heard, the answer was no to both of these things.

“Malcolm then promoted me to Attorney-General less than two weeks later.

“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.”

On Q+A, Mr Turnbull was further pressed on the issue by both host Hamish Macdonald and co-panellist and journalist Jan Fran.

Both wondered whether the then-PM might have been “too forgiving” of ministerial indiscretions.

Mr Turnbull said he accepted that criticism.

“That is fair criticism,” he said. “Maybe I was too forgiving.”

Asked by Macdonald if promoting Mr Porter was a mistake, Mr Turnbull said no.

“I didn’t think so,” he said.

“I treated it as though it was a misjudgement.

Story in the public interest, says ABC boss

Before the program went to air, ABC managing director David Anderson told a Senate hearing the Four Corners episode was in the public interest.

“It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society,” he said.

“And that’s the nature of the story from where it goes from there. It is, I think, absolutely in the public interest.”

Both Mr Porter and Mr Tudge had campaigned on family values and respect for traditional marriage.

But the notion that reporting their actions was in the public interest was questioned on Q+A by The Australian’s Paul Kelly.

“What the ABC has done tonight is that it’s crashed through some media barriers and created new media barriers,” he said.

“Politicians have affairs. Ministers have affairs. I’ve known prime ministers who’ve had affairs, so we’ve got to ask ourselves how far do we go in terms of the definition of public interest?

“In the case of Christian Porter, this is someone who’s served with distinction in the West Australian Parliament and in the national parliament, and he’s trashed tonight as someone who’s nothing much more than a young man who vomited in a bag, kissed girls, and was a committed sexist.”

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ABC managing director David Anderson says he believes a recent Four Corners investigation is in the public interest.

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