Before Malcolm Turnbull prohibited his ministers from having sexual relations with their staff, there’s a few dozen things he should have banned first.
For example, he could have banned ministers wasting taxpayers’ money.
That way we wouldn’t be spending $50 billion on submarines that won’t be operational for 30 years. Or he could have banned ministers breaking their election promises by introducing retrospective laws. That way we wouldn’t have had thesuperannuation tax debacle. Or he could have banned ministers from introducing any new regulation unless they also abolished two old regulations. That way we’d be on the path to shrinking the country’s largest industry – red tape.
If it’s a question of who would provide a greater benefit to the Australian public – a philandering minister who slashes government spending and cuts the size of her department in half, compared to a minister who’s been happily married to the same person for 30 years and who faithfully follows the advice of her left-leaning bureaucrats – the choice is not even close.
If the Prime Minister really wanted to send a message about the need for ministers to abide by some notion of “community” standards he could install breathalysers in Parliament House.
If you’re not allowed to drive a car over .05 you shouldn’t be allowed to vote on a law if you’re over .05 either. In 2014 the then Victorian state Labor leader Daniel Andrews made an election promise to introduce random breath testing for politicians and judges. It’s a promise Andrews has since forgotten.
The Prime Minister’s ban on ministers’ personal relationships should be treated as the joke it is.
The ban is neither “liberal” nor “conservative” – it’s virtue signalling, pure and simple.
There’s many explanations why 64 per cent of Australians say they support the ban. One reason might be that Australians just don’t like politicians.
The death of common sense
It’s easy to poke fun at what the PM’s done, but there’s a serious point about the whole thing. The ban is yet another further step towards the death of common sense in politics and in public life.
The truth is there will be many situations where a relationship between a minister and one of their staff members is clearly inappropriate, for instance where there’s the potential for the exercise of favouritism. But there will be be other occasions where such personal relationships won’t cause a problem.
Out in the real world the operations of the public service, schools, and hospitals would grind to a halt if ever a ban on relationships between bosses and their subordinates was instituted and enforced.
One consequence of the PM’s ban is that if ever a minister did form a relationship with a staff member, one of them, most likely the staff member would be forced leave their job. Which is not very different to what happened in the Commonwealth public service until 1966. Up until then if a woman employed in a permanent position got married they’d be required to leave the public service.
The Prime Minister’s desire to have the government control the personal relationships of employers and employees is another manifestation of the overweening desire of politicians of both the left and the right to regulate what we can say, who we can ask out for a date, and what and when and where we can eat and drink.
It’s no surprise that the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins welcomed the ban. The commissars at the Human Rights Commission never miss an opportunity to tell people what to do and how to behave.
The application of common sense, as ill-defined as that term might be, is a better way of managing workplace relations, than through the imposition of a prime ministerial decree.
Certainly common sense is fuzzy, but so are personal relationships. Sometimes hard and fast rules are necessary, but sometimes they’re not.
When he announced his ban Turnbull said he would insert a sentence in his Ministerial Code of Conduct that said, “Ministers need to exercise their judgment and their common sense in complying with the both the principle and the spirt of the standard and their letter”.
Despite these fine words, the Prime Minister’s ban flies in the face of common sense.