If Mary Delahunty was a comedian, the timing on her last joke was just terrible. Coming clean to smoking pot in the midst of announcing yet another government anti-drug strategy was a best niave.

Politicians do dumb things. Look at Clinton – a prime example. God knows puffing on a few joints back at college (and, worse, wasting them by not even breathing the stuff in) has been the least of his problems. In fact, drugs are rarely a big issue, and don’t usually result in a politician’s downfall. Nixon was more likely a pipe-and-slippers man than a brewski-and-nose-candy wild child, and look what happened to him.

Thing is, drugs are an issue in politics. Sure, it’s fine for Hawkey to win the world championship for drinking yard glasses of beer, but when a pollie comes out and admits they’ve been toking the green stuff all hell breaks lose.

Such has been the case in Victoria after state Labor MP Mary Delahunty blithely confessed to having smoked marijuana at university. Despite media attempts to turn it into a major controversy, the public reaction has been relatively restrained (I mean, she was a journalist, and you know what they’re like). Nonetheless, we’ve seen some rather predictable views put forward, mostly by the usual suspects: talk-back callers and writers of letters-to-the-editor.

Typical opinion is summed up in the following letter from Wangaratta resident Bob Browne, published in that bastion of public opinion, the Herald Sun (June 21): “Mary Delahunty should have had more common sense. Her ‘smart’ remark about drug-taking, in the current climate, was very silly and ignorant, especially from someone in her position.”

That Ms. Delahunty chose to reveal her past indiscretion on a day when she was unveiling yet another anti-drug strategy is simply bad timing, and perhaps “silly”. But that she did it at all should not necessarily provoke outrage. Simply, just what do we want from our politicians?

Would it be preferable if instead of owning up to past mistakes politicians kept everything hush-hush? Surely that’s not right, in a supposedly open democracy like ours. If Delahunty had revealed she sat in her taxpayer-funded office every morning smoking a joint, listening to Cypress Hill and talking in a Cheech and Chong voice, then yes, that would be cause for concern. (The Cypress Hill thing alone would lose her my vote on the grounds of lack of taste.) But she didn’t. All she said was that during university she participated in the not-uncommon activity of smoking marijuana. That she has gone on to become a high-profile journalist and now an elected representative seems to demonstrate that she spent more time studying than mulling up.

Perhaps it’s symptomatic of a larger problem: that people such as Mr. Browne and those arm-wrestling over needle exchanges and injecting rooms can’t see that the issue of drugs is not simply black and white, but every shade in between, and it’s something that needs to be brought into the open. But that’s another story altogether. For now, the issue is what we do, and don’t want from our elected officials.

I know what I want: Honesty, results, responsibility, some semblance of a personality (are you listening Mr. Downer?), and essentially for them to do all the things I’ve elected them to do, without screwing me or mine around too much. If this ideal politician has led a charmed life or was born in a ditch makes no difference to me. As long as they’re not snorting coke while figuring out the tax system (which they just might have been, going on current evidence), I don’t mind.

And there’s another thing too: The Delahunty confession has got a lot of people’s drawers in disarray because they feel that such an admission is providing a bad role model for young people. But let me ask you this: What kind of young person has a politician as a role model? How many times have you heard a 17 year-old say, “You know, when I finish school, I wanna be just like that nice Mr. Howard”? I rest my case.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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