So, it finally happened. After a question time that resembled the end of Bonnie and Clyde, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fronted the press to deliver a stinging performance review for his beleaguered deputy Barnaby Joyce and introduce a ban on sexual relations between ministers and their staff — known across the media of this great land as the bonk ban. This caps off a week of scandal for the government, day upon day of stories piling up against Joyce, which has forced Turnbull to row back his opposition to the ban and, in his withering remarks, much of his support for Joyce. And he’s not the only one. Of course, the introduction of a policy seemingly no one wanted will tend to have that affect.

Julie Bishop

“The Government has no business interfering into people’s personal lives and we wouldn’t want to cross the line, so moral police were able to dictate what happens between consenting adults,” Bishop said, two months or so after the government in which she is a senior minister held a public poll on whether same-sex couples had the same validity as straight couples.

She, as yet, has made no statement regarding yesterday’s policy change.

Cathy McGowan

Interestingly, independent MP Cathy McGowan, whose comments launched the idea of a bonk ban into orbit, swiftly clarified that she did NOT want to introduce a ban on sexual relationships within Parliament House; what she wanted was a “conversation” about appropriate workplace behaviour:

I think it would be incredibly difficult to govern people’s behaviour by law. If circumstances happen where you have a relationship at work and you’re the boss, it takes great skill to manage it. So for us as members of Parliament who employ staff, some professional development around what the corporate world is already managing would be very useful.

Malcolm Turnbull

The general chaos in Coalition ranks of 2017 gave Malcolm Turnbull plenty of opportunities for injury-inducing 180s, both short term — joyfully putting the boot into the Greens over their citizenship issues before declaring his deputy would be found to be validly elected — and long term — selling a method for deciding marriage equality law he had previously described as a contravention of basic democratic values. Any hope that 2018 might be different was once again scuppered by Joyce, perhaps the only person in Australia to cause Turnbull more problems than Tony Abbott. True to form, it was the Prime Minister who had to make the most emphatic show of his commitment to indecision. 

‘It is a tough and distressing episode and I am very conscious — Lucy and I are very conscious — of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in particular,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Friday. ‘So that’s why I don’t want to add or contribute to the discussion about it.’

‘Relations between consenting adults is not something that normally, you would be justified in, if you like, seeking to regulate.’

February 15: Yesterday, Turnbull held a press conference solely dedicated to Barnaby Joyce’s personal life and announced changes to the ministerial code that would seek to regulate relations between consenting adults: 

Now, Barnaby knows he made that shocking error of judgement. He knows that he let down his wife and daughters and he has apologised for that and to them. He is taking leave next week and I have encouraged him to take that leave.  I think that he needs that leave. He needs that time to reflect. He needs that time to seek forgiveness and understanding from his wife and girls. He needs to make a new home for his partner and their baby, who is coming in April …

I am not here to moralise, but we must recognise that whatever may have been acceptable, or to which a blind eye was turned in the past, today in 2018, it is not acceptable for a minister to have a sexual relationship with somebody who works for them. It is a very bad workplace practice. Everybody knows that no good comes of it. Of course, you know what attitudes in the corporate world and elsewhere are, to this kind of thing. So, it is about time that this change was made. Probably should have been made a long time ago.

Peter Fray

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