When NSW Premier Nathan Rees named his Cabinet eight weeks ago he told them to “hit the ground running”. Two must have misheard his instruction, because they hit the wall.

Police Minister Matt Brown lost his job after it was revealed he had danced with Wollongong backbencher Noreen Hay while wearing only a colored jockstrap and now Small Business, Science and Medical Research Minister Tony Stewart has been suspended following a staffer’s official complaint that he verbally abused her.

Stewart, MP for the Labor heartland seat of Bankstown in south-west Sydney, has been in trouble before: in September 2006 he resigned as parliamentary secretary for police after he was caught drink driving.

Two years earlier Stewart had launched a major government advertising campaign warning against drink-driving and the effects of alcohol on the brain.

Stewart will have been sobered by the overnight news that Rees has chosen Chris Ronalds AM SC to investigate the complaint made by former staff member Tina Sanger following an incident at a celebrity dinner hosted by the Garvan Institute on October 22.

Ronalds made her name 30 years ago when she was one of the architects of the Wran Govcaernment’s ground-breaking anti-discrimination legislation. At the time she was an adviser to Attorney-General Frank Walker, the leader of the NSW ALP’s left.

Over the intervening years Ronalds has become an acknowledged expert in the field of discrimination law, giving advice to governments across Australia.

She conducted the inquiry into s-xual harassment and s-x discrimination in the NSW Police which was released in January 2007 and has appeared as counsel assisting at various public inquiries by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

Reading her CV, Stewart will have paid particular attention to this entry:

She is the author of Discrimination Law and Practice (Federation Press, 3rd ed, February 2008).

She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in June 1994 for her services to women, and in particular anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation.

Stewart comes from another world. Elected in 1995, he is the putative leader of the right-wing faction known as the “troglodytes” (troglodyte — a cave man or cave-dweller, Concise Macquarie Dictionary, Page 1391).

Over the past 13 years he has worked tirelessly to press his case for a ministerial position but Bob Carr and Morris Iemma resisted. His chance came at the beginning of September when 40-year-old Rees was propelled dramatically into the premiership.

To buy the backing of the “trogs”, Rees dropped his guard and let him into the tuck shop, aka the Labor ministry. The Ronalds inquiry will seal his fate and Heathcote MP Paul McLeay, son of “leaping” Leo McLeay, is likely to take his spot.

Who’ll be next to hit the wall as this three-ringed circus continues its non-stop entertainment?

Peter Fray

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