Ministers at a very public bar

Nov 16, 2020

In the old days, no one called parliament house a toxic bubble. The more usual term was a smorgasbord, a sumptuous spread provided by the men hoping to get their ends in, which meant almost all of them.

It was generally assumed that the women within the building were available for bonking, and if some resisted, not to worry – there were plenty who didn’t.

For some reason the librarians were regarded as prime targets, but the ranks of staffers and the growing cohort of females in the press gallery were also fair game, especially those who were sessional, emerging only when parliament was sitting. And on the fringes, there were the hangers-on from the university, the embassy circuit and, if all else failed, the public servants, many of whom were happy to service their political masters.

Most of the liaisons were quite open: there was seldom any need for restraint or discretion, let alone shame or remorse. The culture was simple and tribal: what happened n the house stayed in the house, and what took place away from home did not count.

And it must be said that much of erotic activity was not only consensual, but enthusiastically embraced. In the heady days and nights of the 70s sexual revolution, when Women’s Lib was bursting out of its brassieres, seduction was regarded as entirely appropriate from both genders.

No doubt there was harassment, bullying, power imbalance, even the threat of dismissal for those unwilling to come across. But there were very few complaints from the participants, who were more worried about unwanted pregnancies than unwelcome advances from their superiors.

And the superiors did not hold back – not even prime ministers. In the postwar years at least two had affairs with their own staffers, and in my time in Canberra few of the others would have been happy to sit a chastity test. Some were dedicated pants men – Bob Hawke and Harold Holt the most prominent. But few were averse to a bit on the side.

Then as now, this did not stop them nor their junior colleagues from preaching from their sanctimonious pulpits about the vital importance of the nuclear family, their deep commitment to traditional marriage and all that went with it. But every one knew that was just part of the game – double-dyed hypocrisy, but who cared. That was the culture of the time.

From time to time the press attempted to beat up a scandal, but unless there was a serious political dimension to it, the rule was that both the bedrooms and the offices of the nation were not the public’s concern.

Were there security concerns? If so, they did not surface. Perhaps there were no real secrets to be safeguarded in sunny old Australia. These days there would be conniptions all round, as indeed there are, along with the howls of the outraged moralists led by our prime minister.

But somehow I doubt that the mob in the streets really cares. It has little esteem for the politicos at the best of times. So let them sate themselves on their smorgasbord, in their fantasy kingdom of Disneyland – the domain of the Donald (Duck).

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