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PM’s pivot on ‘bonk ban’ misses the point

If this revolutionary moment has shifted the balance of terror in office romances to the point that it’s now men, and not their female juniors, who are more likely to lose their jobs in the fallout, then about time. While people shouldn’t lose their jobs for simply being human, I’m sick of these men.

They exist in Labor and the Greens too. Wearing their privilege lightly, incapable of laying off the booze or their women employees, wrecking careers and marriages, relying on others to clean up their metaphorical vomit. At least as a uni student in WA, Christian Porter carried his literal vomit around in a plastic bag and published his misogyny openly, so unselfconscious at the time was he. Porter categorically rejects the program’s depiction of his interaction with a young woman in a bar. According to Porter, the young woman also rejected them.

Federal Population Minister Alan Tudge with his staffer Rachelle Miller. Ms Miller has revealed they were having an affair.

Federal Population Minister Alan Tudge with his staffer Rachelle Miller. Ms Miller has revealed they were having an affair.

By the way, I agree that broadcasting his youthful capers — a low-rent version of BoJo’s drunken rampages at Magdalen College — was not 100 per cent fair. Porter acknowledges he wouldn’t write what he did in the law school magazine now, and he regrets doing so.

Especially when combined with footage of Porter from a Lawyers Weekly function in Sydney last year before his announced separation from his wife. The Attorney-General has “maintained his party boy reputation,” the solemn voiceover intoned. And we watch Porter exerting himself on the dance floor before moving unsteadily away, clutching at his back like he’d done some damage. Ouch.

All that aside, the bonk ban is a Coalition response to what’s become a quintessentially Coalition problem. Their “woman problem”. At one level this is pure maths. Like the ABC program said, seven out of 30 government ministers are women. There are fewer Liberal women sitting in the Lower House than there were 20 years ago, while the number of Opposition women has doubled. Simply, the boss and biscuit-tin scenario is more of a hazard in the government ranks because they have statistically more male bosses than their opponents.

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And these conservative male bosses have over recent decades become more — err, how to be polite? — conservative. The Liberals have become the sort of party that backs a tradie-led recovery from a recession that’s hit women hardest. The sort of party that forks out red-meat to its base with “religious freedom” legislation. Or that needles at universities’ humanities departments for reasons unknowable and mysterious, but possibly having something to do with these institutions turning out queer-feminist-Marxist-traditional-marriage-wrecking graduates.

We could make a case that the Coalition has increasingly exploited residual anxiety in the community about social change. But it also knows the approach is risky: remember how viscerally women voters turned against Tony Abbott. The Liberals have to walk a fine line on women’s issues, and cannot afford behind-the-curtain glimpses into politicians’ seedier true selves. Because then they have a problem of maths-plus-messaging.

Miller herself said her immediate concern at seeing what she alleges as Porter’s “intimate” carry-on in a Canberra bar with his staffer was the prospect of the story hitting the papers. Tudge’s reported “war-gaming” her response to a hypothetical media query about their relationship betrays a fear of exposure that goes beyond the usual panic of an adulterous husband not wishing to be sprung. It was as if the party’s brand was on the line, along with his marriage.

And even Malcolm Turnbull. Trust me: I take no more pleasure from criticising the former PM, who had his hands full with the flat-earthers, than I do from defending Barnaby Joyce. But as I argued at the time, Turnbull’s official pretext for the bonking ban didn’t stack up.

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While Joyce was being retrospectively savaged in the court of public opinion, he was no longer having an affair with his staffer; he was starting a new family. Turnbull did not intervene when he first caught whiff of the affair. Just as his “avuncular” advice to Porter after the allegations of his bar scandal appeared to be a plea, if the incident happened, for discretion more than an intervention on behalf of the minister’s staffer. Flaunt your lust for young women, Turnbull effectively told him, and you risk foreign spies gathering kompromat.

Turns out the spies were in the room all along. They were the Liberal women. And now they’re spilling the state secrets.

Julie Szego is a regular columnist.

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