Andrew Broad Nationals MP in Red Cliffs just outside Mildura this week after the “sugar baby” scandal broke. Picture: Jason Edwards
Andrew Broad Nationals MP in Red Cliffs just outside Mildura this week after the “sugar baby” scandal broke. Picture: Jason Edwards

Pollies’ mismanagement of affairs national disgrace

According to Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg voters will overlook recent scandals and the Coalition's issues with women at the next election.

He might be right but I suspect he's just whistling in the dark.

I wouldn't get too excited about the moral rectitude of the great voting public but the juvenile antics of the hormonally overcharged Andrew Broad are just sickly icing on a cake of public disquiet over our political system.

Broad, in his dalliances with a young woman in Hong Kong, might have passed the pub test in the public bar but he would be marked down in the lounge.

Large portions of a public that thrives on a diet of scandal served up in trash mags and on bubblegum TV possibly wouldn't be all that surprised or concerned about yet another example of duplicity and stupidity in high places. However, a considerable and possibly strategic cohort of thinking voters would be.

And, according to some commentators, large among them are rural women, some of whom are entitled to think they are locked in a 1950s time warp.

How many is impossible to compute, probably because few people seem to really know a hell of a lot about rural women and what propels their pencil in the voting booth.

In the cities we tend to think of them somewhere between Henry Lawson's drover's wife in a threadbare pinny with a brace of snot-nose kids at heel and the sponge-baking CWA matron.

The scandal engulfing Nationals MP Andrew Broad is unlikely to track well with voters. Picture Gary Ramage
The scandal engulfing Nationals MP Andrew Broad is unlikely to track well with voters. Picture Gary Ramage

 

Of course, they're not. They can no more be typecast than can all urbanites be branded as effete latte-sippers. And nor is the "country'' truly represented by rolling acres and sun-bronzed rustics under broadbrimmed Akubras.

Most of those in the country - the ones who have been the National Party's traditional base - live in sophisticated and well-endowed communities.

If the nuances of country life are beyond the experience of city folk, the National Party might be equally blind to the changes in its base. Nowhere can this be more stark than in the hideous under-representation of women in its elected ranks with just two among its 22 MPs and senators in Canberra.

The hypocritical and boorish behaviour of Broad and, previously, Barnaby Joyce can hardly be calculated to change perceptions among at least half of the electorate in rural Australia.

However, while they may have offended our sensibilities, their greater sin is to remind us of politicians' apparent immunity from responsibility for their behaviour.

Joyce suffered a costly demotion to the backbench but he has remounted the charger of political ambition and wields a lance of righteousness.

Yet, for all the allegations of travel and preferment surrounding his affair with his now partner, the issues have never been properly resolved to public satisfaction and certainly there has been no punishment.

Broad, too, has suffered a loss of face and a loss of office, but he continues to sit in the parliament until the next election, drawing down a considerable salary. The portion of the cost of his ill-fated mission to Hong Kong that he charged to the public purse reportedly will be repaid and no more questions asked.

Andrew Broad speaks with Barnaby Joyce during Question Time. Both have apparent immunity from responsibility for their behaviour. Picture: Ray Strange.
Andrew Broad speaks with Barnaby Joyce during Question Time. Both have apparent immunity from responsibility for their behaviour. Picture: Ray Strange.

He is the beneficiary of the philosophy behind what was known as the Minchin Protocol (named after former Minister of State Nick Minchin) under which politicians could basically rule off the ledger of entitlement sins by reimbursing the public purse.

This came about in 1998 after a series of scandals and allowed the Department of Finance to handle all allegations of travel entitlement misuse but gave it no real investigative powers and allowed errant pollies to repay money without penalty.

Lots of politicians - high and low, left and right - waxed fat under these rules and were able to ride out public anger when their sins were exposed.

It was such a toothless bit of legislation that there was no compulsion for politicians to co-operate, notably leaving the department unable to complete its assessment of seven years' of

travel expenditure by the arrogant and extravagant former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.

But last year we were assured the protocols had been "killed off" and complaints would be handed by the Independent Parliamentary Expense Authority set up in response to a travel scandal that ended Sussan Ley's frontbench career.

The ability of Broad and others to quietly pay off wrongly claimed travel expenses suggests that while the Minchin Protocol might be dead, its spirit lives on. And is possibly worshipped by another generation of politicians.

It's not so much the illicit sex and the dirty talk that angers the electorate. It's the self indulgence and the inability of politicians to manage their own affairs.

At a time when the rest of us are under the merciless microscope of electronic data scrutiny and by impenetrable regulation, politicians continue to be a law unto themselves.

Terry Sweetman is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.