By Bert Hetebry
How sad to see the image of Barnaby Joyce on the pavement, cursing at himself as he talks to his wife on the phone.
Dear Barnaby is not the first politician to find himself in an embarrassing situation after having enjoyed one or two too many drinks, in fact the list is long of politicians who seem not to be in full control while enjoying the company of a few drinking buddies, or perhaps leaning lonely on a bar after every one else has retired for the night. In fact, the list is a long one including Prime Ministers and dating back to the very first Federal Parliament and the first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton.
Adam Brereton wrote in The Guardian of 29 December 2015 of Jamie Briggs who resigned from the Turnbull ministry over “an error of professional judgement” in a Hong Kong bar.
Listed in the article are former Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser, discovered wearing a towel instead of trousers and missing a very expensive Rolex watch and a wallet with $600 spare change.
And a memorable story about John Gorton who on boarding a VIP jet in Melbourne to take him to Canberra, fell asleep and was woken by the noise of engines and vomited… apparently airsick but the plane was still on the tarmac.
Who can forget the confession Kevin Rudd made of visiting a strip club in New York but being too drunk to remember the details.
And John Barton, and Tony Abbott… the list goes on.
But drunken shenanigans are not restricted to politicians in Canberra when we look at the sad case of Brittany Higgins on a fateful night drifting from pub to club with a work colleague.
The wheels of power it seems need the lubrication of the odd drink now and again, from kids just out of their teens seconded to helpful roles assisting the parliamentarians to the most senior members within the ranks of government and opposition.
Politics can be a brutal game, where the image and trustworthiness of the politicians are grist for the campaign mill, and yet we see that alcohol and the subsequent lapses of demeanour are all too frequently used to undermine the credibility of politicians. Or as with Christian Porter allegedly behaving inappropriately while drinking with young female staffer. The incident had been photographed by another staffer but fortunately Alan Tudge was on hand to delete the photograph from the phone, so the story goes.
Interestingly, despite the allegations, Malcolm Turnbull considered Porter of enough upright character to appoint him as Attorney General a couple of weeks later.
Simmering in the background had been stories of misogyny, alleged rapes and a group of senior male members who proudly proclaimed themselves to be members of the ‘Big Swinging Dick’ club.
The drinking culture within Parliament House was addressed in a review the workplace environment within Parliament House by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in 2021, and while the review focussed very much on workplace bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault, it was noted that the significance of drinking and a drinking culture were risk factors in the prevalence of the issues addressed in the report.
But alcohol is still available in Parliament House, in the dining room and at very reasonable prices.
It would be difficult to actually ban people who work in Parliament House from drinking, but it surely would be a good idea to limit drinking, ban it completely within Parliament House. Parliamentarians would doubtless say that would be impossible since there are many official functions held which may well include meals with toasts and so forth, so limit the alcohol to those functions but ban alcohol at all other times.
A most noteworthy book on the topic of drunkenness and the inevitable lapses in demeanour is the aptly titled ‘The Psychology of Stupidity’ in which, through various contributors it is pointed out that even the most gifted, talented, intelligent people do stupid things, and to see a drunken politician berating himself while talking on the phone to his wife and admitting that he should not have been drinking because of his prescribed medication is an absolute act of stupidity. The other qualifiers mentioned above, gifted, talented, intelligent, I will leave to the reader’s judgement, but one would be forgiven for thinking that the lessons of previous alcohol fuelled indiscretions appear to have not been well learned, at least by some.
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