Michael Pascoe: Yet again, it’s a matter of trust with Canberra scandal

The <i>Four Corners</i> revelations expose low standards, Michael Pascoe says.

The Four Corners revelations expose low standards, Michael Pascoe says.

Four Corners’ “Canberra Bubble” story was quite a story, but it was also the start of stories. Hares have been set running.

The obvious is that two senior “family values” ministers are in the gun.

Without referencing either Mr Tudge or Mr Porter, in my opinion, a minister who was known as a small-L liberal libertarian who advocated sex as a healthy thing between any consenting adults would have nothing to worry about if reported to be having healthy sex between aforementioned consenting adults.

But those who wrap themselves in the flag or pretence of capital “C” Conservative “family values”… well, it’s that trust thing, yet again.

Attorney-General Christian Porter claims he had not been given all the story details. Photo: Getty

Beyond that obvious level though, the ability to listen to what isn’t there is an acquired talent.

Where’s the young woman detailed in the Christian Porter bar story? What happened next?

The last we heard of her, she was reported by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to be crying and distressed.

What we do know, partly thanks to an excruciating Senate Estimates Committee hearing a couple of hours before the broadcast, is that the Four Corners team interviewed some 200 people over some months for this story and the ABC says it gave the two ministers in the spotlight two weeks to respond to questions.

After the program, Attorney-General Porter issued a carefully worded statement disputing that he had been given all the details of the story,  which is not the same as not responding to questions.

He said he would be “considering legal options” given “the defamatory nature of many claims made” in the program.

Minister Tudge has gone more quietly, issuing a statement saying sorry to all concerned.

What any journalist who has been about the traps for a while knows is that given the political pressure exerted and the danger of getting it wrong, the ABC would have had its lawyers run it up hill and down dale and then back again.

Cripes, even ABC chairman Ita Buttrose previewed the program after a little political pressure.

And what any journalist who has been about the traps for a while also would suspect is that you wouldn’t play all your cards in the first hand.

That’s all part of listening for what isn’t there.

What was there is that Four Corners just crapped all over the Canberra press gallery – the people obsessed with the game of politics and who lose the wood for the trees, who mistakenly think they are “insiders”.

It takes outsiders to show that either (a) they are not the insiders they claim to be or (b) they have drunk the Kool-Aid and lost perspective on what they are meant to be covering.

It was a reasonable and sound thing that a politician’s private life should remain private, that there was a difference between public interest and public prurience.

What Prime Ministers Holt, McMahon and Hawke et al did or didn’t get up to wasn’t our business as long as it didn’t interfere with their day job.

But the world has changed in any number of ways. Some might protest, but overall, we have progressed in what we might think is acceptable in matters of sex and power imbalances.

The #metoo movement, the sort of empowerment that allowed Dyson Heydon’s victims to come forward, means hypocritical behaviour can’t be sustained in public life.

All of which circles back to that question of trust.

It copped another beating today when Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he didn’t know what was in the Four Corners report. Weasel words.

No, he hadn’t seen the program, he didn’t know exactly what was in it, but if he didn’t know the thrust involving his two ministers, his machine is treating him as a loon best kept insulated deep within Bunnings warehouse.

One of the bigger hares set running is now burrowing into the Prime Minister’s office with that question of trust: What is he to do about the suitability of Mr Tudge and Mr Porter as members of his ministry, let alone Mr Porter as his first law officer?

For context, that question is being posed to a Prime Minister who lacks the authority to slap down “Crazy” Craig Kelly for being a ratbag about hydroxychloroquine or George “Member for Manila” Christensen for backing Donald Trump’s voter fraud claims.

It doesn’t lead you to expect much.

And then there is the bottom line: If the government hated the ABC before Monday night and wanted to squeeze its funding and maybe privatise it – geed on by Murdoch, Nine Entertainment, the IPA and the Liberal federal council – there are a couple of even tougher years ahead for the national broadcaster.

There are plenty of hares to go round.

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