What’s most dispiriting about the apparently constant drip of revelations about inappropriate behaviour by NSW ministers is the apparent failure by the mainstream media to note that there is a pattern here, and it has little to do with the fact that they belong to the “embattled” NSW Labor Government.

Crikey has been banging on all year about MPs across the country who inflict serious damage on the people who work for them — and the failure of the major political parties, and in particular the ALP, to do anything but try to hide the problems. But the mainstream media continue to report new cases in isolation, as though they don’t reflect a deeper problem with the way we allow politicians to go about their jobs.

We’re not talking here about ordinary poor behaviour. There are boors and fools and thugs in workplaces across the country. It’s the sense of entitlement that seems to motivate many MPs to treat other people — whether they are staff, or waiters, or anyone who happens to cross them — with contempt. It’s a sense of entitlement encouraged by the job — one with a large salary, expenses, vehicles, travel and public profile. Most MPs manage to prevent it from going to their heads. But a lot don’t, and they make other people’s lives hell. Particularly because MPs aren’t under the same workplace laws as everyone else.

Some of the “allegations” that emerged about Tony Stewart once the media smelt blood bordered on the trivial or absurd. But the ones that were most reflective of the systemic problems Stewart exemplified came from his former chief of staff Tony Galderisi. Galderisi told The Sun Herald that senior Government figures had warned him Stewart was difficult to work for:

I believed I could manage him and help the Premier by ensuring that Tony undertook his ministerial duties in a professional manner and followed the proper processes relating to his duties. Unfortunately, it became apparent very early on that Tony was a much more difficult person than I had imagined.

Tony did not listen to policy or political advice, he did not prepare well for meetings or functions, he was rude to staff and his competence and judgment left an awful lot to be desired.

That quote eloquently sums up the experience of any number of ministerial staffers and electorate office staff across the country. Rather than demand that errant MPs obtain counselling, or find a way to curb their behavioural problems, the ALP requires its staff to “manage” MPs apparently incapable of behaving like civilized people.

It shouldn’t be up to staff to manage the MPs they work for. Staff can be sacked on a whim. And plenty of them prefer to keep quiet rather than endanger their own careers. Nathan Rees, remember, was told to keep his questions about his minister Milton Orkopoulos to himself. It is up to party leaders — premiers, factional leaders, party elders — to indicate what standards must be adhered to and take action when they are breached. That’s what virtually every other corporation and employer in the country does.

To be fair, there are indications this occasionally happens. Crikey is aware of the case of a Queensland MP whose constant s-xual indiscretions forced Peter Beattie to provide a “mentor” for him in the form of an older minister. The MP s-xually harassed one of the Minister’s female staff, and had to be moved to another minister. MPs cannot, of course, be “sacked”. However, parties never consider revealing the indiscretions of their MPs if they can help it, for fear of the electoral consequences.

If Nathan Rees wants to demonstrate that he really is a different sort of leader, he should make clear to all his MPs — including the bizarre “Tony Stewart supporters” apparently aggrieved over his dismissal — that it is not just lying to him that will get you sacked, but that abusing staff will have serious consequences as well.

And for that matter it’s about time the mainstream media stopped treating these cases as “Freak of the Week” and started asking why this keeps happening across all governments, all states and all political parties.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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