I’ve lived and worked in Canberra for more than 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.