I’ve lived and worked in Canberra for over 20 years, in reasonably close proximity to federal parliament and the various professions that hang off it like limpets.

This close observance has caused me to see politicians as ordinary people, thrust into extraordinary jobs.  Sometimes extraordinarily boring jobs, sometimes extraordinarily frustrating jobs, and sometimes a job that makes an extraordinarily positive contribution to Australia and its people.  Nevertheless, they are flawed and fallible humans just like the rest of us.

Most people who follow the call to a politician’s life accept the 24/7 nature of the role and the accompanying expectation that they will at all times meet a standard of professional and personal behaviour much higher than that required of almost any other profession.

The fourth estate has always played an important role in ensuring these standards are upheld, although it has sometimes been hard to tell whether the media exposure of rorts and deals has been to hold politicians to account or to increase readership.

However, journalists traditionally have been less enthusiastic about exposing low standards in politicians’ personal behaviour, particularly those occasions involving the infidelity of politicians who claim to be happily involved or married and therefore loyal to another person.

I certainly understand the highly-charged nature of the political workplace and the temptations presented by working long hours alongside equally committed colleagues.  This hot-house environment is not an excuse, however, to dismiss political extra-marital affairs as professionally inconsequential.

In fact, it is within the professional context that the infidelity of politicians should be scrutinised.  While it is tragic when one private citizen is unfaithful to another, it is essentially a matter for them and their families.

However, it is different when a politician with decision-making powers, or ambitions to attain these powers, is unfaithful.  It is not a question whether they have a faulty moral compass, as suggested by some journalists who have exposed straying politicians, but whether they possess the personal fortitude to make and implement decisions that can impact upon the community or the nation.

When a politician in high office embarks on an extra-marital affair – it shows that the politician has poor judgment and limited willpower.

When such a politician denies the affair and reaffirms their marital fealty – it shows that the politician is capable of mouthing commitment to one thing while intentionally doing another thing to undermine that commitment.

Most importantly of all, when such a politician puts their own satisfaction before dealing honestly with the people that are most close and loyal to him or her – it shows that the politician would most likely put their own needs before that of the community and the nation.

It is in this context that political lives can be a public issue.  And I believe that the media usually misses this point.  Having broken their unspoken rule to expose such matters, the media now focus on the salacious details that have no real bearing on the fitness of the person to hold high office.  Perhaps it’s time for the media to check their own moral compass and adjust their course accordingly.

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Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Most Australian journalists know the rumours that circulate about the powerful people in this country. Rumours about corporate moguls are an example of a strange tall poppy syndrome mixed with a need to embellish scuttlebutt with more outrageous lies. If half of the tales I’ve heard are true, the country has in it’s midst the worlds greatest criminal masterminds with god-like powers, and I don’t believe the stories are true.
    There aren’t enough hours in the day for a person to be in control of a large corporation and do the stupid things the Aussie rumour mill likes to make up. This is not to say powerful people are perfect, just that jealousy is a curious drug. The side effects of jealousy are lies that reveal the dark side of human nature.
    A journalists who uses lies is walking in a minefield.
    Truth is interesting enough, if a journalist needs lies to make the story better, they should quit.

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  2. There’s also the treatment of underlings as a barometer of how Australians view public figures, feeding the idea that we’re an egalitarian people. It’s one thing to ride in the front seat with your driver – but if you’re a tyrant to your staff and low-status people (like, say, hotel room attendants), it undermines anything you might say or do.

    It’s one thing to have a consensual relationship with someone with whom you’re working closely and intensely. It’s a mistake to assume that Canberra is the only place where this happens.

    What’s telling is what happens when the relationship becomes inconvenient to the more powerful party: pregnancy, an unrequited desire to take the relationship ‘up a level’, a phone call that the affair will run in tomorrow’s paper with a request for comment. Does the less powerful party lose a good job, or worse? Is that person mere chaff, like an unsuccessful preselection challenger? A relationship between two people can never be properly regarded as ‘private’ to the more powerful party, just as someone whose partner is unfaithful is not excluded from their partner’s affair.

    You’ve done a great job not naming names, but they can be illustrative (don’t lunge for the lawyers – no revelations here). In the ’80s the UK tabloids went to town on Cecil Parkinson over his affair with Sara Keays. Yes, a potential Prime Ministerial career went right off the rails but the follow-up stories on Keays’ life since would make the most hardened/cynical weep. Even where fallouts happen among peers (e.g. Evans-Kernot), one will often be better at handling it while the other becomes a national punchline.

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  3. “Most importantly of all, when such a politician puts their own satisfaction before dealing honestly with the people that are most close and loyal to him or her – it shows that the politician would most likely put their own needs before that of the community and the nation.”

    No. It doesn’t show this at all. Your entire argument seems based on this paragraph, and there’s actually no reason to believe it. Counter-examples run throughout history, and (by their own lights at least) include Hawke, Gorton, JFK, Bill Clinton and many more. You don’t have to agree with these people’s perception of their community’s or nation’s needs to recognise that their affairs did not lessen their dedication to their country.

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  4. Or sometimes it is somebody that can, does and is learning from their mistakes which makes them a better person, better politician and better legislator instead of a utopian clone.

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  5. cheating is lying. lying is a pretty good guide to character. if you are prepared to have liars in power, reconcile yourselves to fudged budgets, deals for mates, expenses rorts, perversion of tendering processes, etc, etc

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  6. […] business if politicians are sexually unfaithful to their partners? There’s a good argument on this here, and some comments are interesting as well. I think whether its our business or not is largely out […]

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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