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Why that ABC Four Corners episode was excellent journalism

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Christian Porter and Alan Tudge's conduct was scrutinised in the particular ABC Four Corners program (image via YouTube)

The ABC's Four Corners episode exposing misogyny in Parliament was not biased against the Liberal Party, writes Chris Haviland.

THE ABC’s Four Corners program “Inside the Canberra Bubble”, an expose of inappropriate behaviour within the Morrison Government’s Cabinet ranks, certainly caused a stir within the Government and its cheerleaders in the News Corp media.

The program made allegations against Ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge, much of which was based on interviews with former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller, who had an affair with Tudge, her boss.

This Government has been at war with the ABC ever since its election in 2013. It has cut the ABC’s funding by nearly $1 billion since then, despite a pathetic attempt at denial by the latest Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher.

I was Labor’s candidate against Paul Fletcher in his safe seat of Bradfield in 2019. Despite being a safe Liberal seat, the locals love their ABC. I campaigned against the Government’s savage cuts to the ABC budget, as well as on climate change. We achieved a 4.5% swing against the Government, despite Labor’s overall election loss.

Yet Fletcher was then announced as the new Communications Minister, in charge of the ABC. And in no time, the Australian Federal Police had carried out that infamous raid on the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters, all because Four Corners has exposed some atrocities by Australian SAS personnel in Afghanistan. 

Now, Paul Fletcher has written to ABC Chair Ita Buttrose, demanding the answers to 15 questions about another excellent Four Corners program.  

This article does not seek to cover all 15 questions, simply the predictable, yet lame accusations of ABC bias against the Liberal Party.

At Question 11, Fletcher asks:

'Does the board consider that it is consistent with the duty of impartiality that the program deals with allegations solely against Liberal MPs? Does the board say that there are no such relationships involving Labor, Green or independent politicians?'

Then at Question 14, he asks:

'Why should an objective observer not conclude that the program evidenced clear bias against the Liberal Party.'

There are three reasons which clearly show that the self-serving and predictable claim of anti-Liberal Party bias does not withstand critical analysis.

First, the Liberals are in Government (with the Nationals). Labor, the Greens and Independents are not. Basically, the allegations raised in the program were about ministerial standards and the Ministerial Code of Conduct, including, but not limited to, Malcolm Turnbull’s “bonk ban” relating to ministers and their staff.

If you’re not in government, you have no ministers. Of course MPs from the other parties were not scrutinised for this particular program. That should be easy enough for even the most partisan or dim-witted conservative to understand.

Second, Labor and the Greens, by their very nature, have a stronger sense of equality for women. That is not to say they are perfect. Far from it. But a social conscience helps.

One could simply assert that parties of the left or centre-left are less likely to discriminate against women or behave badly towards them, just because of their ideology. However that would be far too simplistic.

However, both Labor and the Greens are demonstrably more equal in their Parliamentary representation. Labor has all but met its affirmative action target of 40% of MPs being women and are well placed to reach 45% by 2025, the target set at the ALP’s 2015 National Conference.

The Greens have smaller numbers, but often have more women than men in their parliamentary ranks.

More women in parliament means a better culture and has largely overcome the “boys club” atmosphere that still clearly besets the conservative parties.

That of course still doesn’t guarantee that problems won’t arise from time to time. But if they do, it is most likely that they are dealt with “in house” as colleagues would not be impressed by any sexist or misogynistic behaviour within their ranks.

Third, Fletcher asks whether MPs private lives are anyone’s business, or whether publicly exposing them is in the public interest. In most cases, people’s private lives should be just that: private and none of our business.

However, there is a clear exception to this: when an MP’s behaviour conflicts directly with his or her stated positions on issues, especially moral issues.

Both of the Ministers named in the program have been very quick to position themselves as being for “traditional family values” and “traditional marriage”. Both advocated for the no case on marriage equality. However, their behaviour as revealed on the program conveyed a hypocrisy, which makes their private behaviour fair game for public interest journalism.

As Malcolm Turnbull said so succinctly on the program, often the proponents of family values and “traditional marriage” are also well-practised in “traditional adultery”.

Former Labor PM Bob Hawke was said to be a “serial womaniser” However, I am not aware that he ever had an affair with a staffer, either his own or someone else’s.

Furthermore, Hawke never moralised about the sort of issues that would leave him open to a charge of hypocrisy and he never disrespected women.

It was the Hawke Government, in fact, under Minister Susan Ryan, that introduced a raft of legislation including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and various pieces of legislation around workplace sexual harassment in both the public and private sectors.

In my day job then, I was responsible for implementing these major cultural changes in the workplace in a large Government agency. It was ground-breaking stuff and really did change workplace culture, for the benefit of women but also the workforce as a whole.

The Liberal Party has some catching up to do.

Chris Haviland is a former Federal MP. He was the Labor candidate for Bradfield in the 2019 Federal Election. Chris is also a committee member of the Northern Sydney Friends of the ABC.

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