By TPS Newsbot
Tim Smith refusing to resign over his drink driving is not an outlier, it’s indicative of a culture that remains in our politics.
After blowing 0.131 and crashing into the side of a house, Victorian MP Tim Smith vowed to quit politics. Sort of. He’s now changed his mind, refusing to stand down, claiming that he was ‘stupid’ but ‘not unwell’. Oddly, he has an ally. Tony Abbott has urged Liberal preselectors in Smith’s seat of Kew to not allow a “spirit of petty censoriousness” to end the public life of the “best Victorian (political) talents”. Smith himself has soliloquised: “Should one horrendously poor judgement render someone’s career over immediately?”
Tim Smith said he was not aware of how intoxicated he was because he had not eaten much that day.
“As a consequence, I blew much more than I ever thought I had consumed. I’m not offering any excuses,” he said.
He claimed he had only drunk “a few glasses” of wine at the dinner with friends.
“It’s selfish, it’s stupid, I’ve been fined, I’ve lost my licence for a year. I profoundly messed up in a life-altering way. I can’t take that back and I’m not trying to.
“It was an appalling lapse of judgment… I’m never touching a drop again.”
But while we get our heads around the above comments, Tim Smith’s drink driving and subsequent behaviour highlight a culture that has long been persistent in our politics.
In 2019, Labor MP Will Fowles made headlines for kicking a hole through a hotel door and was placed on administrative leave to treat his treatment for drug and alcohol issues. He did so with the “full support” of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
So here’s the latest. A politician (I don’t know who) has gone into a rage after discovering he couldn’t access his luggage. Police say he’s now calmed down but is facing charges. pic.twitter.com/VRKu5p2s2t
— Kellie Sloane (@kelliesloane) July 24, 2019
Fowles said, via a statement that “I have, for a long time, been dealing with addiction and other mental health issues… I will take a leave of absence to properly deal with my health issues.”
That fell short with former Premier Jeff Kennett (who also founded mental health advocacy group Beyond Blue), who slammed him for referencing his mental health issues.
“What I object to very much indeed is him using the coverall of mental health illness in any way contributing to this act… Mental health does not lead to acts of violence, criminality or antisocial behaviour, in a majority of cases. Alcohol and drugs do, but not mental health,” he told 3AW at the time.
The Age has noted that “Labor sources indicated there have been concerns around parliament relating to Mr Fowles’ struggle with alcohol abuse since he was elected in the November 2018 landslide swing that returned the Andrews government with an increased majority.”
Fowles returned to work two months later, has repeatedly claimed that he hasn’t drunk since. He remains the member for Burwood.
Dan Andrews has repeatedly vowed to institute a scheme of random alcohol testing in parliament as early as 2014, and as late as 2016. The plan was also a commitment prior to the 2014 election, with Andrews promising that MPs would lose a week’s pay or face suspension if they were found intoxicated at work.
In 2016, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy noted that he had no objection to the plan, but outwardly questioned how much Mr Andrews believed in the plan, stating that “The Premier has had more than two years to implement this idea,” he said. “We agree it should be introduced along with random drug testing, and while Daniel Andrews is at it, he should also introduce random alcohol and drug testing of everyone on government construction sites – which he canned.”
When quizzed by The Age in 2016, Mr Andrews’ spokesperson said: “The Andrews Labor Government will deliver on each and every one of its commitments.”
In 2017, a bipartisan committee to analyse the idea dismissed it as “impractical”, with The Herald Sun noting that the “policy to breath-test MPs was informally discussed then dismissed at the House Committee in the past six months and hasn’t been raised by the government since. The government has not pushed the idea since the election.”
Practicality aside, what we clearly have is a cultural problem.
In 2016, The Age asked an unknown Labor MP about their thoughts about the plan being instituted. “Surely we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” that MP said. The example of Fowles’ door, the pieces of the marble table smashed when Tony Abbott was cast aside, the car that Smith drove into a house, speaks to the issue. It shouldn’t be left to these ministers to apply their own standards, make grandstanding apologies, and hopefully be changed by the experience. In 2016, Greens leader Greg Barber said it was up to party leaders to ensure their MPs adhered to standards, noted that “Green MPs don’t loll around the chamber drunk.”
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.
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