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Do our politicians have an alcohol problem?

Much has been written about Jamie Briggs night out on the town in Hong Kong and the inappropriateness of his behaviour towards a female colleague but no-one seems particularly concerned that he had drunk so much that he had lost all sense of propriety.

Briggs was so pissed on the night Abbott got rolled that he tried to crash tackle him. Somehow a table got broken and Briggs ended up in a wheelchair but the result could have been much worse if someone had hit their head on that table as they were being thrown to the ground.

But he’s not alone with this behaviour.

In 2009, Tony Abbott slept right through the critical vote on the second GFC stimulus package because he was asleep in his office after having been observed drinking earlier in the evening.

Mr Abbott told then Chief Opposition Whip Alex Somlyay that he missed five divisions on the night of Thursday, February 12, because he fell asleep in his office.

His nap followed dinner in the Members’ Dining Room with Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews and Peter Dutton.

In a 2013 radio interview, Abbott told Nova FM that he’d “probably be too much of a grog-monster” to attend an Australia Day boat party run by their station.

In 2003, we learned that John Howard’s wine bill for Kirribilli house for the preceding three and a bit years was $120,000.

In 2013, NSW Finance Minister Greg Pearce was given a pair to leave parliament because he was “unwell” but actually he had been seen drinking at a Liberal Party fundraiser at parliament and appeared to be too drunk to continue.

When it was disclosed last year that Bronwyn Bishop was spending an extraordinary amount of money using private limousines to get around to private parties and cultural events, Barnaby Joyce sprung to her defence saying getting chauffeured there was part of doing her job and avoiding drink-driving.

“Obviously if you are at an event, there’s alcohol here, you do not want to be getting in a car to go home. That is part of life of a politician,” he said.

In 2012, Barnaby Joyce referred to National Party colleague Bridget McKenzie in Parliament as a “flash bit of kit”. Mr Joyce admitted to consuming alcohol beforehand but denied being drunk.

In response to the recent Brigss/Dutton debacle, Joyce has expressed concern that this political correctness may impinge on his ability to speak frankly.

If you invite me out for a drink, you want me to speak frankly and freely rather than ring up 13 media advisers and get encrypted babble.”

Perhaps if we stopped paying for their alcohol and chauffeur driven cars, politicians might be a little more circumspect in their drinking habits.

Would it be too much to ask that Parliament House become an alcohol free zone like every other government workplace?

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51 comments

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  1. Jason

    Think the wine bill is off by an order of magnitude per month. $3,200 perhaps?

  2. Kaye Lee

    Thanks Jason. I have fixed it.

  3. Robert Breinl

    … I often had the impression that Abbott was pissed during question time, after a few drinks at parliamentary lunch.

  4. RosemaryJ36

    We have people in prison for using ‘illegal’ drugs yet alcohol consumption is seen as acceptable, despite the damage it does to the drinker and others. We have had laws changed so that being intoxicated cannot be used to excuse criminal behaviour.
    Not all smokers die from the effects nor do all drinkers become alcoholics. Yet we have insisted on smoke free work environments without also considering the effects on one’s ability to perform one’s job effectively after drinking.
    While alcohol in moderation may be socially acceptable, being drunk at the workplace is not.
    WE PAY for the excesses of our politicians in more ways than cash!

  5. Miriam English

    Well said Kaye. Why politicians think it makes any kind of sense to be making important decisions while their minds are incapacitated to a greater or lesser degree is utterly beyond me. It is against the law to steer a car, truck, boat, or airplane while intoxicated. Why do they think it is alright to steer a country while inebriated?

  6. mars08

    But old Hawkey is a bloody legend, right!!!??!?

    I have to assume that our politicians have just as much of a problem with alcohol… as any other group in our society.

  7. Kaye Lee

    I found Hawke crass personally and I knew someone would bring him up.

    Do other groups in our society consider alcohol a normal part of their work? Are other groups in society paying for their alcohol from the public purse? Is it unreasonable to ask them to forego alcohol while they are still debating and voting on laws that affect us all? When they are overseas representing our country on official business, shouldn’t they be compos mentis at all times?

  8. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I second the above comment of Miriam’s. Guiding the country with sensible, effective and considerate policies is essential to Australia’s well-being so why are not the Members of Parliament subject to breathalyzer tests?

    Thank goodness for the whistle-blowers and leakers, who inform us as to what the idiots get up to when doing the jobs we pay them for.

  9. Kaye Lee

    I remember when there was a huge scandal about teachers who were marking HSC papers having a drink during their break. They had already done a full day at work. They then headed off to the showground to mark papers with a deadline to meet. There was no suggestion that anyone was drunk. It was just deemed inappropriate to drink anything at all considering the responsibility they had. Is it too much for our political class to meet the same standards?

  10. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I know you are a former teacher and so am I, Kaye.

    I dare these degenerate politicians to face the same depths of responsibilities, accusations, humiliations as teachers do, and on such pathetic pay and conditions in comparison to themselves.

    Many are a bunch of wimps as seen with Dutton and Briggs. Others want the easier ride like Julie Bishop and Brough. And that’s just the LNP Degenerates! Labor has some woozies too who need exposing for wasting our time and taxpayer dollars.

    (Ooh, I better be careful or otherwise I’ll be accused of being overwrought!)

  11. mars08

    I don’t think we can expect politicians to show any more self-control than the average citizen when they are at a SOCIAL gathering. Like a everyone else, their sense of self preservation should be their guide. If they do something foolish, they can expect it to bite them.

    Rather than look at alcohol as the issue… we should consider that a lot of politicians are narcissistic, amoral unpleasant individuals. THAT is the real problem. Alcohol just gives them the idea that they can let us see under their mask. And then the voters will make their own judgement.

  12. Roswell

    Imagine the furore and condemnation if it had have been a drunk public servant who broke the coffee table.

    Or me.

  13. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    If a follow your way of thinking mars08,

    I want the LNP Degenerates (and lukewarm, pretend Labor mirror images) to stay pissed until they blow their light-weight cover and expose themselves to the wider, not always discerning public.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Parliament isn’t a social gathering.

  15. stephen

    When I started work in 1965 it was quite normal to go to the pub for a “swift ‘arf.

    Then when I became 20, a supervisor of mine said that whilst it is a bit of a laugh to go get the swift half, I should understand that a man’s life is dependent on my doing my job with a clear head (I was an aircraft mechanic in the Royal Air Force at the time).

    I ha never had a drink and gone to work since (I am retired – and yes as people will know I love a drink or 6).

    My point is these politicians have a responsibility to be clear headed whilst they run our country and determine the lives of millions.

  16. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    So Parliament needs breathalyzers in place to keep the degenerate politicians working on our behalf in place.

  17. mars08

    @Kaye Lee…. of course… That’s why I qualified my statement. And I’m well aware that it’s difficult to establish when an MP is at a purely social function.

  18. Miriam English

    It is much much worse than just social drinking, mars08. Alcohol is an extremely dangerous drug and should be treated with great care. It should never be used to impair judgement when important decisions are to be made.

    I’m sure my experience is not unusual…

    One of my siblings is currently going crazy through alcohol use. She becomes abusive and angry and imagines ordinary statements to hold darker implications never intended.

    One of my great loves, a beautiful and extremely talented musician drank to excess. Her personality would often transform from an incredibly sweet and perceptive woman into a nasty and vindictive person under the effect of drink. She is now dead, having drunk herself to death.

    One of my friends ruined her marriage and her relationship with her children when she became an alcoholic. She turned her life around by avoiding alcohol altogether and after decades has gradually been rebuilding connections with her kids.

    Another of my old girlfriends has a sister in-law who is destroying her own life with drink. We were just talking tonight about how delusional this other woman has become, fabricating excuses that the world is against her.

    I could list several more examples of people I know or knew whose lives have been ruined by alcohol.

    It always puzzled me what people see in alcohol. I spend a lot of time and effort trying to make myself more knowledgeable and hopefully smarter. Why on Earth would I even consider making myself more stupid? What in heaven’s name is the point? Some friends have told me that it is fun, but having seen them when they are having “fun” I know there is absolutely no way I would consider doing that to myself.

    Alcohol is one of the few drugs whose withdrawal can actually kill — the fits and convulsions become life threatening. I have lost a very smart friend to that. Alcohol is also one of the few drugs that can kill directly through overdose. It causes brain death. There is no coming back from that. In contrast, heroin overdose just suppresses your reflexes so that your body forgets to breathe. If a friend keeps you awake, gets you to move around, insists you drink coffee, or in very bad cases gives you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the drug wears off, or calls the doctor or ambulance to give you an injection of apomorphine, then you recover with no ill effects. Not so with alcohol.

    And it is much easier to overdose on alcohol than most people think.

    Given all the bad effects on behavior, the tendency for crazy-making, the risk of addiction, and so on, we should have rules to prohibit politicians from drinking. Personally, I think the job is so risky that they shouldn’t even be allowed to drink in their own time because that can easily lead to addiction, causing aggressive personality changes when sober and withdrawing at work. We definitely don’t want a politician making sensitive decisions about the country’s fate when their thinking is unhinged by alcohol withdrawal.

    If they want to have that much responsibility then they should be responsible. Otherwise they should have no right to the job.

  19. Kaye Lee

    Miriam,

    I saw a great documentary on the ABC ages ago on which they showed brain resections of an alcoholic and a heroin addict. The heroin addict’s brain was perfect whereas the alcoholic’s brain had lost most of the connective tissue. They made the point that the problem with heroin comes from not knowing its strength and what the dealer had cut it with. People can be functioning heroin addicts far more easily than functioning alcoholics (though I know plenty of those). https://www.abccommercial.com/librarysales/program/devil-you-know

    The whole point is summed up by your last sentence.

  20. mars08

    @Miriam English…

    My intention was not to belittle the dangers of alcohol. Nor was it to dismiss the damage alcohol causes to individuals and our society. I believe Australians have a problem with their attitude towards drinking. In many cases it is distinctly anti– social.

    My point was that many of our politicians have nasty personality traits the are totally unmaked when they drink too much. That’s no different to any other citizen. It’s the basic character of our politicians that troubles me the most. Usually it’s the ideologically-based decisions they make when sober and “on duty” that cause the most grief.

    I just find it hard to blame alcohol for the pettiness, dishonesty, cruelty, ignorance and arrogance of our current bunch of thugs.

  21. Kaye Lee

    My main problem with our current crop of politicians is that many of them are dumb as posts.

  22. Matters Not

    There’s been any number of comments, here and elsewhere, that members of parliament sit in the chamber listening to ‘arguments’ so they can decide how they will vote. That view is totally divorced from reality.

    The vast majority of members are never in the chamber when legislation is introduced and when it’s being ‘debated’. And they’re not ‘there’ for the simple reason that the ‘decisions’ have already been made in the party room or in caucus or in deals far removed from the floor of Parliament.

    Indeed Minister X, by and large, doesn’t even understand the legislation (and its implications) advanced by Minister Y. The backbench members even less so. Unless of course if they have a particular interest.

    Backbenchers and other Members of both the Government and Opposition are there to fall into line. No thinking required. So one may as well get ‘pissed’. It passes the time.

    Unless of course there’s a vulnerable … ripe for the picking.

    BTW, some of the best physical confrontation are found, late at night in the ‘strangers bar’ or its equivalent.

  23. Kaye Lee

    Matters Not,

    And therein lies my absolute disdain for politicians. We elect these people in the naïve belief that they will listen to the experts, do some research, read and ask questions, and come to an informed decision in the best interests of the people who elected them to be their representative. What crap. Many are dumb sycophants who couldn’t get a job elsewhere and are more than happy to be told what to think whether it be by people who have a vested financial interest or ignorant fools who think halal certification is a terrorist plot, wind farms make people sick, and vaccination is an infringement of their right to infect people.

  24. Matters Not

    KL

    in the naïve belief

    It’s the the naïve belief that I really want to demolish or illuminate.

    Simply. it’s not how it ‘works’ in realty.

    BTW, I don’t believe that we have to ‘send’ ‘representative to Canberra for ‘democracy’ to work in much the same way we don’t have to have ‘pigeons’ to get the ‘message’ through.

  25. Kaye Lee

    I understand your point about sending people to Canberra. In reality it is a very expensive redundant waste of time and money.

  26. mars08

    We have election campaigns in the naïve belief that the voters will listen to the experts, do some research, read and ask questions, and come to an informed decision in the best interests of the people…

    Tragic, isn’t it?

  27. margcal

    mars08January 5, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    ……. And I’m well aware that it’s difficult to establish when an MP is at a purely social function.
    …………………………………

    It’s not difficult at all to tell when a politician is at work, is it?
    If they claim travel expenses to go anywhere, or bill the taxpayer for attendance at any function, then it’s work.
    Surely?
    Isn’t that what they tell us when they put in their expense claims?

  28. Michael

    Can we do a study on why politicians defy gravity? – (float to the surface)

  29. paul walter

    Drinking is what lubricates their denialism in general. This is to do with lack of consciousness culturally inculcated and reinforced, whereby the real trajectory of endeavour reduces to infantile party animal tricks.

    Sorry kids, that’s the way it is in our actually medieval world.

  30. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Irresponsible, herd-like, lazy behaviour and the failure to listen to the arguments that form policy-making are all the reasons (plus more) why I am fully in support of proportional government with a new Alliance in power made up of innovative members from the Greens, Labor, sane Independents and energetic new progressive parties.

    This would automatically knock off the LNP because the Alliance’s numbers would be significantly higher than the degenerates in the LNP.

    This would also raise the bar higher for how members of parliament would be expected to perform. Members would be expected to be fully in control of their own portfolios and present at all other members’ briefings to gain full understanding of new policy measures for those portfolios.

    Members would be expected to attend legislature discussions and votes. If not, there would be pecuniary penalties. This degenerate behaviour, as demonstrated by many of the current crop of LNP Degenerates, has brought to light what needs to change immediately. If the same behaviour occurred in any other public (and most private) workplace environments, the wrongdoers would face severe penalties.

  31. Jerry Attrick

    This is actually alcoholics having a political problem.

  32. Pilot

    Many, many workplaces have drug/alcohol testing for employees prior to them commencing their work, perhaps our politicians should undergo these same tests prior to entering their respective chambers, with a limit of 0.00. If this level is breeched then they should be banned from entering the chamber and they would receive a demerit (a strike) against their name. 3 strikes and you’re out (dismissed with prejudice, lose everything)!
    Alcohol should be banned from Parliament house!! No ifs, no buts. Complete ban! F*ckem!!!!
    These clowns, on both sides, need to be held to a high standard by us. We need to expose these flagrant excesses and somehow force these boozing bastards to the same level of maturity and sobriety as they expect us to maintain.

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Added: Only let opposition members drink. Let’s see how that influences elections, lol.

  33. Klaus

    Every private company I have ever worked for has strict no-alcohol rules. But then again, I am only involved in developing software for event management. Nothing as important as running the country, protecting the borders, controlling the budget, bringing socially fair and acceptable reforms forward etc.. Those seem to be tasks which can’t be mastered without a strong dose of beverage.

  34. Maureen Walton (@maureen_walton)

    Great article. Does bring up a subject that has been around for a long time but we do not hear very much about it at all. I often do think that is a Lot of over drinking going on in our Parliament and Politicians are getting away with it. Seems like it is part of the job now. Where any normal person would not be able to drink at any time day or night whilst working they would be sacked on the spot.

    Especially in Parliament it seems to be the boys club speciality of being able to do and say whatever they want to and alcohol is the not the talked about menace in our Society that it needs to be and often allows the user to think they are more powerful and can do and say whatever they want whilst drinking it.

    Why should we Australians who are getting much needed Health care etc cuts. Be paying for these politicians to travel and to be drinking on our hard earned taxes for free. Especially when they are being paid to have relaxation times drinking and eating at the best expensive places…

    Yes Jerry Attrick you are so right Alcoholics having a political time indeed…

  35. paul walter

    They are less alcoholics than drunks. Some alcoholics, suffering from a dangerous problem, show character in remedying this problem. Not much character in Canberra this week though.

  36. paul walter

    Just read Miriam’s post. I know we are not friends, but I think she explained the situation well in her earlier post.

  37. townsvilleblog

    Much as the community in general some have problems with alcohol and some don’t Briggs definitely has a problem with it, which should have been known before Turnbull appointed him to the Ministry, bringing Turnbull’s judgement further into question.

  38. Miriam English

    I’ve decided to start up a petition on change.org about this.
    I’m thinking of titling it “Politicians should NOT be drunk at work“.

    Can anybody think of a more concise or pithy title?
    It should quickly communicate the problem.

    If we can get lots of signatures it might actually make a difference.

  39. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Perhaps play on the don’t drink, don’t drive theme. Therefore, Politicians: We need you to THINK, not DRINK

  40. Anon E Mouse

    Alcohol and drug testing should be compulsory for politicians.
    Alcohol should only be served in govt venues in the evening, after work and with a strict responsible drinking code.

    Subsidies on alcohol and foods should cease, and if they are away at a govt function they should buy their own.

    What really irritates me is that there is an assumption that Indigenous Australians drink to excess, when really many Australians drink to excess. Perhaps that is the British colonialist tradition.

  41. paul walter

    First time for everything, Jennifer Meyer-Smith.

  42. Kyran

    It’s difficult to read an article such as this and not muse about the wild west’s wonderful Troy Buswell. Remember him? He was he rising star of the west whose reputation was politically enhanced by his boyish fetish of checking the suitability of chairs with his nose. Ok, he had a few drinks one night, rearranged some cars, slept for a while (understandably) and tried damage control through the media before fessing up.
    The original premise of my comment was going to be the ‘cosy’ relationship between reporters and politicians, how the relationship between them dictates how the politician will be portrayed to the public (Dutton/Maiden anyone?) and how objective reporting by any journalist would be detrimental to that relationship. Which would pose a totally reasonable question. How many journalists would be prepared to report on matters such as politicians alcoholic excesses (assuming the journalists weren’t drinking with them) and expect to have their ‘cosy’ relationship remain intact?
    The Buswell recollection was due to his name being recently posed as a possible return candidate to ‘help’ Barnett’s prospects, I believe in jest. Even more interesting is Buswell’s post politics career.

    http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiZ6NnigJTKAhXEMqYKHeQ3BRAQFghAMAU&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.perthnow.com.au%2Fnews%2Fwestern-australia%2Fno-favours-for-troy-buswell-says-wa-transport-minister-dean-nalder%2Fnews-story%2F73bd2ad84dca3ad38c41115ea7649ee7&usg=AFQjCNHpvwpFotU1NglWj_xY9pBp5DW-1g

    How does the previous, disgraced Minister for Transport, who is currently a lobbyist for a civil engineering company, keep in touch with the current Minister for Transport (currently ducking a conflict of interest claim from his previous portfolio, Finance!) without discussing ‘work’? Over drinks, of course. Sorry for the off topic distraction. I highly recommend the article. Whilst it is serious, I was laughing the whole way through it.
    I guess my point is that however many alcohol fueled indiscretions are reported, even the Captain of the Titanic would see it was merely the tip of the iceberg. Thank you, Ms Lee, take care

  43. cornlegend

    I have it on good authority that a few Labor Pollies took the Hawke oath
    MOODS

    “When I’m in a sober mood I worry, work & think,
    When I’m in a drunken mood I gamble, fight & drink,
    When all my moods are over and my time has come to pass,
    I hope I’m buried upside down, so the world can KISS MY ASS!”

  44. Miriam English

    Who should be sent updates of the petition? Is there some kind of ombudsman or disciplinary officer or some person (or group) that holds Australian politicians responsible for wrong-doing?

  45. cornlegend

    Yep, there was one, Peta Cretin , she had the Liberals cowering, just couldn’t keep her idiot boss in line

  46. corvus boreus

    I have long thought (and oft stated) that the idea of a breathalyzer unit, preferably a broad spectrum drug analysis type (including cocaine), being applied to all elected members prior to them entering the houses of parliament for official duties (particularly legislative voting), is a very sound proposal.
    It is worthy of a concerted campaign of public petition.
    I have rarely encountered anyone who argued in defense of pollies being pickled whilst holding the wheel of the ship of state.

    As to the question by Miriam English (5:07),
    There is currently no such body or person specifically responsible for the oversight of federal parliamentarians.
    Another proposal for a National Integrity Commission (federal ICAC), as well as an independent parliamentary advisory body, was put to the senate last August, but was once again filibustered away without any kind of resolution. It seems most of our parliamentarians are quite content with the current levels of scrutiny and accountability, ie; voluntary self-regulation.

    http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=s936

    http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=CHAMBER;id=chamber%2Fhansards%2Fdefcc134-abc4-457f-be4d-5b29039d05d6%2F0009;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2Fdefcc134-abc4-457f-be4d-5b29039d05d6%2F0012%22

  47. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    paul walter 🙂 I was trying to keep it polite considering Miriam wants to circulate it in the wider community.

  48. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Miriam,

    regarding your petition, I wonder if the Speaker, Tony Smith, would be duty-bound to accept, distribute to Parliament and also authorise you to circulate it in the community.

    If I’m right, you can do the same with the President of the Senate, also a LNP troglodyte.

  49. TurnLeft2016

    To be presented to the House, a petition must:
    be addressed to the House of Representatives (or “To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives”)—but to no other body or persons

  50. Miriam English

    Thanks Jennifer and Alison for your various suggestions. I appreciate the help. I’m floundering a bit — never organised a petition before.

    Okay, I looked up the Department of the House of Representatives and found details for:

    Clerk of the House
    Mr David Elder david.elder.reps@aph.gov.au

    and

    Deputy Clerk of the House
    Ms Claressa Surtees claressa.surtees.reps@aph.gov.au

    I guess I’ll try addressing the petition to David Elder…

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