Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Canberra Cone of Silence

"The young woman at the centre of the Jamie Briggs's downfall ..."

This is how the national broadsheet began its coverage today of the aftermath of Jamie Briggs's inappropriate behaviour towards a DFAT staffer in a bar in Hong Kong.

There is no one at the centre of Jamie Briggs's downfall except the MP. There is no one at fault except him. Why he was out boozing in a bar past midnight when he was representing Australia beggars belief.

If he must be drinking at that hour, do so in private.

He couldn't even acknowledge at the media conference that he had done anything wrong: "At no point was it my intention to act inappropriately and I'm obliged to note for the record that nothing illegal has been alleged or in fact did occur." 

The trouble here is that politicians live by the rule that what happens in Canberra stays in Canberra ... and this rule follows them around as if they live in a cone of silence that protects them, which it mostly does. So they do whatever they like, knowing few people will call them out on bad behaviour.

Everyone in Canberra knows the rules. If you want to play in the big sandpit you have to keep your mouth shut.

The victims of sexual harrassment and/or bullying by politicians know that they will lose their job or their access or whatever it is they need from the politician if they dare breathe a word to anyone. This is because the politician with a bad reputation knows their career will either end or they will be shuffled off to the backbench and nobody is allowed to get in the way of an ambitious politician.

I know people who have been sacked by politicians when they dared to make a formal complaint about bullying. I know people who have been propositioned by [current] Cabinet Ministers. These victims are way higher up the food chain the many of us, but not as high as a Cabinet Minister. They will not be complaining to anyone because then the house of cards will come tumbling down, with them at the bottom of the pile.

I have friends who are politicians. They are delightful people and manage to behave properly. They know they have a high public profile so a stricter set of rules applies.

And so it should. Politicians made decisions that affect people's lives. They make the laws of the land. They decide if our country goes to war. I would prefer that they have a fairly clear head and an even clearer conscience when they are making these decisions.

There are very few Australians who have the honour of representing their constituents in the Australian Parliament - 150 in the House of Representatives and 76 in the Senate, from a population of almost 24 million people.

If you are unable to operate with a high level of personal responsibility, perhaps politics is not for you.

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