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Pollies behaving badly: Awkward, for sure, but is it really cause for capital punishment?

Opinion

Revelations of illicit affairs and late-night liaisons in Canberra are nothing new – but is it really something we should legislate against, asks Michael Blucher

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Our federal pollies, “allegedly” playing up like second hand lawn mowers? In Canberra of all places?

Well knock me down with a feather. Without the ABC’s “explosive Four Corners investigation”, I would never have guessed.

Perhaps a more logical question … should we expect anything different?

Think about it for a moment.

The intoxicating mix of power and self-importance, the aphrodisiac of ministerial leather, the cosy corners of “The Strangers Bar”, where late night cocktails are consumed, and subtle acts of political backscratching performed, well away from the prying eyes of nosy journalists.

And that’s just the start to it. Throw in the impossibly long, unsociable hours they work and the extended periods of time away from home, away from loved ones and “real friends” – those prepared to tell our pollies the truth, what they don’t want to hear…

Tallied up, we’ve got a Grade 10 game of “spin the bottle” just waiting to get underway. Lonely ships in the night, searching for a foreign port.

And just a reminder… these people are locked away together in Canberra, the national capital. Hardly the “excitement capital”, with due respect to the museum-goers and those who enjoy paddling canoes on Lake Burley Griffin.

Before we go any further, what has happened to the once venerable Four Corners program? All that’s going on in the world and that’s what they’re “investigating”? After-dark dalliances in the rented apartments in Kingston and Manuka?

Who do they think they are? 60 Minutes? A Current Affair?

Try as I did for four days, canvassing the views of every imaginable age bracket, gender and socio-economic strata of society, I wasn’t able to find one person who gave a rats what our pollies did after question time. “Just as long as they do their frigging job” was the general consensus.

Without wanting to drag the discussion down to the lowest common denominator, does the ABC appreciate, (or at least acknowledge) what’s going on in the rest of the community? In the medical profession – doctors and nurses, the law firms – partners and senior associates, the large accountancy practices, the police force, the army, professional football.

I’d even bet pounds to pennies that there are some “inappropriate” relationships being conducted within the corridors and newsrooms of the ABC. Tut-tut. Naughty Aunty.

Interestingly – and unusually – after the Four Corners expose there was very little comment from the other side of federal politics.

Bill Shorten was the only Labor figure I heard speak publicly, describing the claims as “pretty seedy”, adding that “women staffers in Parliament House had a right to feel safe and supported”. Good on you, Bill.

The second of Shorten’s observations cuts to the chase in the broader discussion about what’s really wrong about federal politicians venturing into sexual relationships with their staff. And that’s of course the pre-existing power imbalance which many believe precedes (or equates to) workplace bullying, and in extreme circumstances, sexual harassment.

No-one in their right mind deems that to be remotely acceptable. From every angle, that behaviour is appalling. But do we really believe that all these “illicit relationships” are triggered by a power imbalance? How can we be sure of the dynamics? Are the social scrutineers there with them in The Strangers Bar? Is the “power figure” always the aggressor? The initiator?

Dinosaur thinking, I know. How dare I excuse, or at best try to explain what is clearly abhorrent and immoral behaviour? After all, we should expect more from our civic leaders, whose generous annual salaries are paid out of the public purse. We have a right to hold them to the highest account, regardless of how untidy or mucked-up our own backyard might be. Weeds, long grass, unkempt shrubbery everywhere.

Just the other day, for instance, I heard of a married woman who was sifting through Tinder for the first time. After no more than five swipes left, she stumbled across her husband. Awkward.

More broadly, do we need reminding that 50% of marriages in the country now end in divorce? And that statistics from Relationships Australia suggest 25% of married men and 20% of married women are having an affair?

But hey, what about those pollies in Canberra?

The tendency, while reporting on the (alleged) human failing, is to apportion blame. The most senior, the highest paid, the highest profile person cops it in the neck, all other parties, regardless of how complicit they might be, are exonerated, adjudged “not guilty, your honour”. They’re innocent victims of circumstance and the sleazy environment in which they work.

That could even be true. In some instances.

But does that mean we have to legislate? Formally “ban the inter-office bonk”, Beetroot Barnaby style?

No. We don’t need more rules. What we need is value-based thinking and behaviour. Pollies need to ask themselves – who am I, and genuinely, what do I stand for?

Those who present (even campaign) as family men – and are then caught playing up like second hand Victas, let them suffer the consequences of their actions.

The electorate is not stupid. They can see through the bullshit. And if the indiscretions of their elected representative are genuinely important to voters, they’ll number their ballot paper accordingly.

Why try to protect politicians from themselves?

Legislating – invoking more and more stupid rules – suggests humans (including politicians) are rational beings who make logical, well thought-out decisions.

That’s simply not the case. They’re emotional, social beings, driven by very specific neurological needs. And that contributes to them making illogical (read dumb) decisions.

I know it’s very un-PC, and contrary to 2020 thinking, but how about we all take a step back?

Just for a little while.

And let the laws of the jungle play out.

Post Script: Something I learned in the exhaustive preparation of this article.

“Tinder describes itself as a “location-based social discovery application that facilitates communication between mutually interested users”. But we commonly know it as the highly addictive hook-up app that has us swiping left and right on pictures of potential matches in our proximity”.

And on rare occasions, existing matches living under the same roof.

Awkward.

 

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