It’s somehow fitting. In 2018 — a year long yawn of mediocrity, occasionally interrupted by a burst of nastiness — a recurring theme has been political staffers becoming the centre of major news stories, something it is their whole job to avoid. Let’s look back at all the times 2018 pulled the people from behind the scenes to the centre of the stage. 

Anonymous Barry O’Sullivan staffer

Over the weekend, a staffer for Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan unleashed a vile tirade of abuse at national politics editor for the News Corp weekend tabloids Annika Smethurst. The text said she was ” vicious feminist cunt” who he would “slap on her bitch face”.

Further, he hoped the text recipient’s family died of “painful cancer”. The reason we have to frame it in that slightly clunky way is on account of the excuse that followed: he argued the texts were meant for someone else. I cannot stress this enough: a man paid a very decent amount of money to be a public relations operative thought that the best look available to him was to be the public relations operative who can’t recognise the phone number of the national politics editor for several major newspapers.

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News Corp decided not to name the staffer, but, as we’ve seen time and time again, you can simply go on Twitter to find this kind of information out. The staffer has been put on “indefinite leave”, which is a bit like getting fired for being both vile and incompetent, except you might get your job back and you probably still get paid. 

Greens irony poster

News Corps’ sudden restraint, and the Nats’ spirit of understanding, might be of interest to poor Paul McMillan, a former staffer for former Victorian Greens MP Lidia Thorpe. McMillan had been making weird jokes on Twitter for years (sample tweet: “Pretty fucked how Muslims want to ban my favourite hobby, greasing myself up in pig fat and oinking like a grunter at the traffic lights”), before a hit job in the Herald Sun and Oz saw a handful published in the lead up to November’s state election.

He said they were satire — and others suggested it was an overblown and disingenuous move in the lead-up to the election — but he still had to quit. After his dismissal, Thorpe said she was “shocked, disappointed and frustrated” at his tweets, which had been publicly available the entire time he’d been in her employ.

Keeping mum

The mother of all staffer scandals (sorry everyone) this year would have to be the revelation of a long affair between then-Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and his staffer Vikki Campion. The Daily Telegraph papped visibly pregnant Campion in February and set off a chain of events that would have massive implications; it cost Joyce the Nats leadership and deputy prime minister role, caused a messy public feud between him and then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and, most farcically of all, lead to a “bonk ban”, prohibiting sexual relations between ministers and their staff, because prohibitions of that sort always work. 

Taking Stock

Former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg now fills his days throwing bombs at his former employer (as well as using distressingly horny and antiquated language to describe Canberra). In September he claimed he had been approached by Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton and pressed to give two of Dutton’s mates a job. One of whom, Matt Stock, ended up as a policy adviser for Dutton. Dutton denied any interference in the ABF hiring process, describing Stock as a “decorated and distinguished officer with over 20 years of service with the Queensland police srvice”.

Cannon fodder

Aside from the individuals who got caught up in scandal this year, we had entire offices dragged into the spotlight. Firstly, there was Senator Michaelia Cash’s bizarre decision to, apropos of nothing, fling members of a rivals office in front of the bus. Being grilled in senate estimates about her own disgraced staff, she said, in a low threatening tone: 

If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful. Because I’m happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office over which rumours in this place abound. Do you want to start naming them and for Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years?

In the Labor ranks we had the ongoing, grubby and highly damaging stories emanating from the office of Emma Husar. It was alleged that Husar had bullied, abused and sexually harassed her staff, as well as forcing them to do menial and domestic tasks outside their job description. Husar initially said she wouldn’t run for her seat of Lindsay again, saying she’d been “slut-shamed” out of politics, but recently backflipped.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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