Alan Tudge (Image: AAP)

Between Four Corners and the billion dollar settlement of the robodebt, scandal it’s been quite a fortnight for Alan Tudge.

Who knew the little-known Melbourne Liberal MP could hold his own against interstate rivals Angus Taylor (NSW), Christian Porter (WA) and Stuart Robert (Queensland) as Crikey starts to think about its 2020 Arsehat of the Year. 

On paper Tudge should never have been a contender.

His first speech to parliament 10 years ago revealed him to be a stalwart supporter of Indigenous Australians, having worked with Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute for three years.

Education was a priority, as was a fair go for all via the neo-liberal magic of “flexible labour markets” — a nod to Tudge’s Boston Consulting Group pedigree and a belief in personal responsibility.

And above all there was the love of his wife and children.

But a large gap has opened up between Tudge 2010 and the compromised political wreck of Tudge 2020 (not that he is out of a job, of course).

The family man caught in the spotlight of an affair with his staffer Rachelle Miller, he is also the compassionate conservative whose behaviour was branded “criminal” by a Federal Court judge after he refused to do right by an asylum seeker.

Travels with Twiggy

Tudge’s parliamentary declaration of interests shows that in the first years of the Abbott government he received free flights to remote parts of Australia courtesy of Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Metals.

This was part of Forrest’s push to have the Australian government adopt the a cashless welfare card for Indigenous communities, a tough-love approach favoured by billionaire Forrest and a number of Indigenous leaders.

Legislation to that effect was passed several years later with Tudge as human services minister.

The robodebt nightmare

The robodebt horror show ran at full speed from 2015 to late 2019 as the government set computer data matching onto human lives at an industrial scale.

Several leading Liberal figures oversaw the unfolding nastiness. They included Scott Morrison, Porter and Tudge, all of whom had a role in using the debt-recovery system as a means of repairing the budget.

The trio of Morrison, Porter and Tudge would regroup in the wake of the Four Corners story aired last week to bat away questions of systemic prejudice against women in the Liberal government.

Tudge was a strident defender of robodebt in 2017. He threatened “welfare cheats” with jail and described robodebt critics as having a “philosophical objection to widespread compliance checks”.

It has since emerged that his department was aware of misgivings about the legality of the scheme. The government this week offered to settle the class action without any former ministers forced to face questions in a court, a move which meant no minister who would be publicly held to account for the morality of their actions.

Release of a citizen’s private information

As human services minister Tudge backed the release of the personal details of a young woman who had publicly criticised Centrelink for “terrorising” her over a debt she did not owe.

The government’s public shaming of the woman happened in 2017, around the time Tudge himself was furiously hiding his own extra-marital affair.

Tudge was also doing his best to keep a lid on Porter’s own extramarital activities with a Liberal staffer in a Canberra bar, according to Four Corners, which reported that Tudge demanded a reporter erase images taken on the reporter’s phone. (Porter disputes this.)

A Tudge-Porter mutual protection society

A year after Tudge defended revealing the private details of the welfare recipient the federal government’s privacy and information commissioner found, controversially, that releasing the personal information was justified.

Privacy experts warned that the decision set a terrible precedent. A former NSW deputy privacy commissioner urged a review of the Privacy Act, calling on Attorney-General Christian Porter to act.

Fat chance. Who knew then that Tudge had earlier stepped in to help keep Porter’s behaviour away from public exposure.

The AG and the Tudge, it emerges, each had reason to keep each other’s behaviour secret — a courtesy not extended to the young woman who complained about robodebt.

Trashing the system #1

Tudge was one of three ministers threatened with contempt of court charges for criticising terrorism sentencing in Victoria as “weak”. The Victorian appeals court said the ministers had “failed to respect the doctrine of separation of powers” and “breached the principle of sub judice”.

Trashing the system #2

A Federal Court judge labelled Tudge’s behaviour as “criminal” for leaving a man seeking asylum to languish in an immigration detention centre in defiance of an Administrative Appeals Tribunal order that he be granted a visa.

According to the ABC, the court said Tudge had “intentionally and without lawful authority been responsible for depriving a person of his liberty”, and his “conduct exposes him to both civil and potentially criminal sanctions, not limited to a proceeding for contempt”.

Expenses paid by a free market think tank

Tudge’s parliamentary declarations show that he has twice attended the annual gathering of conservative think tank the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), with the cost of “attendance and accommodation” paid for by the centre.

The CIS, awash with cash and influence courtesy of its supremely well-connected corporate supporters, held its end-of-year conference over three days at the the award-winning five star Elements of Byron resort and spa in Byron Bay.

The CIS is backed by tax deductible donations so it can be “an independent voice for free markets, limited government and individual responsibility”.

And finally a ‘sorry’ on Facebook

Tudge’s journey to the depths was complete this week as he posted a comprehensive mea culpa on Facebook over his relationship with Miller.

“All of us make mistakes in life, but some of us make bigger ones than others,’’ Tudge wrote.

“There is nothing that justifies what I did and I will regret my actions for the rest of my life,” he added, saying he felt deep regret for the impact on his wife and children.

Is this what 10 years in Canberra does to politicians?

NOTE: According to the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), Tudge paid for his own accommodation in Byron Bay in 2019, despite Tudge’s declaration on the parliamentary register of interests that the CIS paid. The CIS says that as a speaker, Tudge was not required to pay any conference fees in 2017 or 2019.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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