August 17, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Philandering politicians – does the ‘mob’ really care?

VARIOUS commentators have been speculating whether or not the decision by the Liberal MP for Parramatta, Ross Cameron, to “out” himself for being unfaithful in his marriage will harm his re-election chances.
If the most recent experience – that of Governor James E McGreevey of New Jersey – is an indication, it may not harm them at all.
(Though the very latest revelations in today’s Daily Telegraph about the timing of his affair with a solicitor put a somewhat more unfavourable slant on the position).
The possibility he will survive politically is notwithstanding the very considerable hypocrisy that is attached to his position. There are few more committed “moralisers” in our National Parliament than the Member for Parramatta.
Last week Governor McGreevey “outed” himself as a gay (twice married) who had an affair with a male staff member who is now seeking to “extract compensation” from him. He will resign from the Governorship in November, not because he is gay, but because the civil suit may damage the Office of Governor.
A poll over the weekend revealed that the Governor’s electoral standing had not changed one iota!
One might be forgiven for believing that philandering politicians is a relatively recent occurrence. Not so!
In the latter Bjelke-Petersen Governments – early to mid 1980’s – four, and possibly more, of the Ministers were having affairs with female staff members! The fact was relatively well known at the time – including to the then Labor Opposition which charitably decided not to pursue the matter.
In one case, a very senior Minister actually moved into a luxury apartment with his Private Secretary. When confronted by the then Premier about the matter, he promptly told him to mind his own business!
Earlier, the late Russ Hinze had left his wife of 30 or more years for his electorate secretary. It caused barely a ripple at the time…………but plenty of laughter when dear old Russ rang his local car dealer and told him to deliver a new vehicle to his “lady”. The problem was the dealer was none the wiser about his changed arrangements and delivered the vehicle to the first wife – who kept it!
Now this may be merely a legend – but I suspect it actually happened it.
When it came to “moralising”, the Bjelke-Petersen Government was more vocal than perhaps any in our history………………………………yet the very considerable double standards of some of its Ministers barely rated a mention, or raised a ripple.
Now we are living in a more tolerant and open society, so I suspect the impact of Mr Cameron’s revelations might not be as politically harmful as perhaps it ought to be.
But it will be harmful if he persists in his “family values” campaign, and if there are more revelations about the timing and nature of his flings, but I suspect he will quickly move onto other issues so, at the end of the day, the adverse political impact in a most marginal seat may not be as great as would suspect.
Ironically, he may be helped by the enormous public cynicism about politicians generally. Over many a breakfast table in Parramatta there will be mutterings of “they all do it, he has just been unlucky enough to get caught”.
But back to the United States. If the Honourable William Jefferson Clinton was the candidate in November (and not Senator John Kerry) then the Honourable George W Bush might as well start moving his gear back to the ranch now.
We know that, in many ways, Clinton was a flawed character, yet the people of the US have largely forgiven if they have not forgotten.
The Member for Parramatta probably outed himself because a less comfortable alternative was just around the corner. So it might not have been that great a gamble after all.
The election in Parramatta may well be an interesting “test” of community attitudes to the standards, or lack of standards, of their elected representatives!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 9:30 am | Comments Off on Philandering politicians – does the ‘mob’ really care? |
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