Labor legend Bill McKell examines the Parramattas of the heart surrounding Ross Cameron’s latest troubles.

The seat of Parramatta is probably the closest that Sydney comes to an electorate like Kooyong: a seat that has seen its local Member ascend to the highest offices in the land. The list of Members rolls on like a scoreboard for the great and the greater: Sir Joseph Cook, Prime Minister; Eric Bowden, Minister for Defence in the Bruce Government; Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister in the Lyons Government; Sir Howard Beale, Minister and Ambassador to Washington (and incidentally, the name of Peter Finch’s character in Network); Sir Garfield Barwick (who needs no introduction, but his family law reforms (as they were at the time) in the form of the Matrimonial Causes Act is particularly delicious given the discomfort of the current Member); Nigel Bowen (Minister and first Chief Justice of the Federal Court; Phillip Ruddock; and John Brown (again, a delicious irony).

But the most relevant aspect of the seat of Parramatta after the events of the past few days is that it encompasses the suburb of Ermington, which in turn was the basis of a state electorate until the 1999 election. The Liberal Member for Ermington from 1991 to 1999 was Michael Photios. Perhaps some readers will be surprised to see Photios’ name unadorned with the usual appellation of “Love Rat”,
which was gifted to him by The Daily Telegraph. Ross Cameron could have had a profitable word with Photios on the likely reaction to confessions of infidelity. At the risk of inviting another serve from the Boilermaker’s feminist fans, the fury of a woman scorned and hell hath nothing on The Daily Telegraph when it’s scorned. And Cameron scorned it big time by giving the Good Weekend the scoop on his
infidelity. Stand by for Sydney Confidential to keep its keen eye on “Ross the Love Rodent”.

Notwithstanding its scoop, the Good Weekend profile on Cameron pulled its punches on the rank hypocrisy involved. We have an MP convening a forum with a moral platform that would have government taking up sentry duty in the nation’s bedrooms, while the MP has been in at least two bedrooms that were not his own. Maybe I’m getting cynical in my old age, but I can’t dispel the sense that Cameron has chosen just the right time to expose his infidelity – in the hope that he would be extended the same leeway seemingly granted to Latham and Abbott with respect to their past indiscretions. Cameron may well survive the scandal – and if he does, it will be down to the
tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness from the people of Parramatta; traits that are all too often not extended to those whose moral, ethical and philosophical stances come into conflict with the nostrums of the Moral Minority.

Cameron’s father, Jim, was once a leading light in the conservative wing of the NSW Liberal Party – so conservative that when he thought the NSW Liberal parliamentary party was just too liberal he left the party and took up a seat in the Legislative Council as a member of Fred Nile’s Call to Australia party. During the debate on the condolence motion following Cameron père’s death in early 2002, Bob
Carr said that he was probably the closest Australia has come to having an Enoch Powell, an apt comparison given the strength and depth of their views, although with regards to his faith, he was probably closer to Malcolm Muggeridge, who was given to expounding a more muscular Christianity after his conversion.

During his time in the NSW Upper House, Cameron was the only MLC to vote against amendments to the Human Tissue Act that enabled heart transplants to be conducted in NSW. He said that heart transplants were the first step on a slippery slope that would see the widespread harvesting and marketing of human organs. His objections did not prevent him from receiving a heart transplant when he suffered the heart attack that resulted in his departure from the Upper House. I remember seeing Cameron père on one of Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals when he was reminded of his vote and subsequent transplant. My recollection was that there wasn’t even a hint of chagrin over the inconsistency. Again the verities and certainties expressed by a member of the Cameron clan were quickly overcome when personal circumstances dictated it.

Don’t be surprised that you’re taken to task for introducing shades of grey when your political career has seen you painting the world in black and white. Carr perhaps had the measure of the Camerons when he said that Jim “despaired too much of his fellow human beings and viewed things too much in sharp contrast—the good and bad—and too little in the shades and shadows of human frailty.” A little more frailty, a little less certainty might have made the obvious schadenfreude of the past few days much less pronounced.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey