Prime Minister Scott Morrison entered this election campaign with a not insignificant cloud hanging over his character – specifically his honesty.
At his first official campaign press conference on Sunday, Mr Morrison did not disabuse voters of any doubts.
The Prime Minister was accused of double-dealing on a question about the fate of a minister caught up in a particularly ignoble moment for the government: The wave of allegations of sexual misconduct that rocked the 46th Parliament.
The last most voters knew of it, Alan Tudge was very much the former Education Minister.
Mr Tudge left little doubt that he had resigned in early March, after a review into his relationship with former adviser Rachelle Miller was handed down.
The MP denied Ms Miller’s characterisation of an affair between them as “abusive” but acknowledged it happened; she was also found to have been promoted while the two were involved together even though no finding that Mr Tudge had breached ministerial standards was made.
“Today he has informed me that in the interests of his family and his own wellbeing and in order to focus on his re-election as the Member for Aston he is not seeking to return to the front bench, and I support his decision,” Mr Morrison said on March 4.
Mr Tudge’s Parliament House CV lists his time on the front bench as ending that same day.
Just weeks earlier, Mr Morrison denied a well-sourced Ten Network report that he was preparing to sack Mr Tudge, whose ministerial title was said to have been erased from outside his office. He had stood down from the Cabinet last December, pending the outcome of the review.
But on Sunday, Mr Tudge was confirmed as having a new lease on life when Mr Morrison was asked a curly question about his place in cabinet should he win re-election.
“Alan Tudge is still in my cabinet,” Mr Morrison said, to some bafflement.
To be fair to the government it has been running this confusing line for more than a week.
Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds said as much during an April Fool’s Day appearance before a Senate estimates inquiry, insisting that he was merely “on leave”.
“He is certainly still the minister,” she said.
But Senator Reynolds ducked a question about whether Mr Tudge was still drawing his ministerial salary, referring the question to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Contrary to the minister’s testimony, however, the department was on Sunday unable to assist The New Daily with inquiries about Mr Tudge’s remuneration.
Labor’s Anthony Albanese also found time to mention Mr Tudge during his opening remarks of the campaign.
“Chaos,” the Opposition Leader said.
“Even when people step aside, they’ve still got the job.”
The Prime Minister told SBS on Sunday that Mr Tudge’s standing down was only a temporary decision.
“He [Alan Tudge] stood aside up until the next election – and I’m taking my whole team forward to the next election,” he said.