Politicians, sex and the Press Gallery

24 Oct



For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Daily Telegraph decided on Saturday to publish a piece inferring that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce engaged in an extra marital affair with a staffer that has caused upheaval and discontent in his workplace, and his home.

My colleague Noely Neate offers some interesting speculations on the Tele’s piece here. 

What caught my attention was the reaction on Twitter from a few journalists, among them Katharine Murphy of the Guardian, who tweeted:

I’ve written on this convention here, but there’s more to be said about it.

The problem with Murphy’s convention is that it makes any scrutiny of the parliamentary workplace well-nigh impossible. If journalists are not willing to do the necessary investigations, and politicians know they are safe from scrutiny no matter what their sexual activities unless a victim complains to police, they are at liberty to conduct affairs with employees in circumstances that are far from equal. A politician is a powerful individual, some more so than others. Staffers not so much.

In Barnaby’s case he is the Deputy Prime Minister. The power differential between himself and his staffers is considerable. Consensual sex requires a modicum of power on both parts, and it’s arguable whether or not the staffer of a DPM, in a workplace such as Parliament House, has that modicum of power.

I’m not aware of any workplace in Australia other than our Parliament that has an agreement with journalists that employees sexual lives are private, and will not be reported on.

While Murphy’s criminality rider is relatively straightforward, coercion and abuse are not. It is difficult to see how situations of coercion and abuse can ever see the light of day, given the agreement the Press Gallery apparently has with politicians to keep their sexual lives private.

Whether or not an individual is entitled to a private sexual life depends entirely on the nature of that life. If we look at examples such as Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, to name but a handful of men whose sexual lives consisted in large part of exploitation  and sexual assault, then no, those sexual lives are certainly not entitled to privacy. Indeed, according them privacy enables their abusive and criminal behaviour. Without journalists denying them that privacy, we’d be unaware of their predations.

I’m not, of course, suggesting there’s a large number of politicians indulging in predatory sexual behaviours, but given the Press Gallery’s refusal to go there, how do we know? It would be naive in the extreme to believe their workplace is the only one on the planet in which sexual predation does not occur.

We know how difficult it is for victims of sexual predators to speak out. How much more difficult must it be if you’re in a workplace where you know the culture is one of protection for perpetrators?

There are circumstances in which a politician’s sexual behaviour is absolutely of concern to the public, and those circumstances need not be criminal, coercive or abusive. Barnaby, for example, campaigns vehemently against marriage equality on the grounds that it will somehow destroy the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, while he’s allegedly destroying the sanctity of his own marriage vows. If we are being governed by the hypocritical, we have a right to know that.

Paula Matthewson deals with the implications of illicit sexual behaviours in the political world, and our need to know, here.

There are situations in which a politician’s sexual life is absolutely irrelevant, and privacy appropriate. The Press Gallery convention, however, makes no such distinctions, and journalists’ hands off attitude to politicians’ sexual behaviours ensures a cone of silence around their workplace that can only disadvantage less powerful employees, while allowing our elected representatives freedom from accountability journalists grant no other workplace.

Guardian columnist Jeff Sparrow posted this tweet:

While there’s no argument from me that our sex lives shouldn’t matter to politicians, there are occasions on which politicians’ sex lives should matter a great deal to us. Why, for example, is there no investigation into Barnaby’s alleged affair? Did he use public money to fund its enactment? Is it an isolated incident, or does he make a habit of betraying his family?

This is a government that has subjected LGBTQI people to a foul postal opinion poll that gives everyone the right to “vote” on their human rights, based entirely on sexuality. Barnaby Joyce wholeheartedly supports this disgusting intrusion into the sexual lives of others simply because they are not heterosexual. Why is there a journalistic convention that protects Joyce from scrutiny?

Let’s not forget as well that Minister Alan Tudge announced stringent and intrusive requirements for single parents to prove they do not have a sexual/intimate relationship, before they can receive benefits. This government increasingly encroaches upon our privacy and into our bedrooms: yet politicians’ privacy and bedrooms continue to be considered be sacrosanct.



16 Responses to “Politicians, sex and the Press Gallery”

  1. townsvilleblog October 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    Reblogged this on Townsville Blog..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. carolyncordon October 24, 2017 at 6:17 pm #

    If our politicians can’t pass the sniff test, while punishing the voters for every whiff of our possible bad behaviour, the surely it’s the duty of media to report back on the dirty curs who are acting up …

    Liked by 4 people

  3. townsvilleblog October 24, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    Jesus Christ, I would have thought he would be exceptionally lucky to find 1 woman in Australia to have sex with, let alone 2!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. drsusancalvin October 24, 2017 at 11:06 pm #

    Hey Jennifer I’m following you on twitter watching this story develop. Slower than molasses in retreat, but finally getting some traction, thanks, in part, to your thorough retweeting and pointed questioning. The press are suspiciously reluctant, and irritatingly illogical and or inconsistent in their reasoning. Oh well, it hasn’t gone away, and I suspect Friday’s High Court decision will shine the spotlight back on Barnaby. I’d like $10 on him losing his shit with the first reporter who presses him on this or any other issue after 3.00 pm this Friday.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson October 25, 2017 at 8:58 am #

      Yes, Barnaby is under siege. I doubt the infidelity story will go much further, difficult to see how it can when journos won’t touch it.


  5. Moz of Yarramulla October 25, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    While there’s no argument from me that our sex lives shouldn’t matter to politicians

    Surely your argument above applies here too? Politicians should absolutely care about and intervene in our sex lives, by for example passing laws against rape and sexual abuse. I suspect that aspect has slipped your mind.

    I am somewhat torn by the vigilante style naming of (presumed) sexual offenders under parliamentary privilege, both because it represents a significant power imbalance and there is no effective means of defense against it. I know why privilege exists, but it is periodically abused and while I don’t know of anyone killed by it, it’s obvious that that could happen. But on the other hand, when someone is impossible to convict of an offence they have obviously committed, naming them in parliament is one of the few effective ways to make it harder for them to keep offending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson October 25, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      Moz, I guess you could frame legislation against rape and sexual abuse as intruding into our sex lives, I hadn’t considered it in those terms. A victim of these crimes isn’t living their sexual life when attacked, however the perpetrator is.

      Agree with you on parliamentary privilege: it’s open to abuse, as it every other human endeavour, on balance, I’d keep it.

      The Press Gallery convention against reporting on politicians’ private lives is something else altogether, imo. I would like to see their defence of it. All I’ve seen is “we’ve always done that,”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Moz of Yarramulla October 25, 2017 at 9:09 am #

        I suppose I do frame it that way since for a long time my sex life was illegal. I found that quite intrusive… then they decriminalised homosexuality.

        The press gallery thing is a lie, for starters. From the infamously “barren” prime minister to the much-lauded marriages and reproductions of parliamentarians, who they have sex with is very much a public spectacle. Cory Bernadi’s affection for his dog was also much talked-about by the media, and we don’t dare even start on their reporting of the likes of Trump and Berlusconi (or is it only Australian politicians whose sex lives are not to be mentioned?).

        The day a high-up marriage is ignored “we don’t report on politican’s sex lives” is the day I’ll believe they’re serious. Malcolm gets divorced… “we respect their privacy” would start to convince me they might be serious.

        It’s self-serving hypocritical bullshit. The media do what the politicians want, and justify it with the high-sounding flummery.

        Liked by 1 person

        • tyr October 27, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

          Raping is NOT part of one’s ‘sex life’. It is a violent act of control that imprisons a victim and violates their human rights. Rape is not a sex act but violent abuse from a position of power (physical domination, psychological terror, a social weapon of war, power from a position of higher authority etc).

          Raping is not having sex. Sex is a consensual act arising from mutual interest. It was wrong that homosexual sex was ever legislated against but it’s not equivalent to rape. Referring to rape as sex facilitates victim blaming (it was only sex and she asked for it etc).

          Personal hypocrisy relevant to matters of their public stance by politicians should definitely be exposed by the press. Good article

          Liked by 1 person

          • Moz of Yarramulla October 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

            I have to disagree, simply because of the number of people who apparently don’t care whether the person they’re having sex with consents. To them, rape is very much part of their sex lives.

            I think your argument that they’re not having sex when they do that conflicts with common usage of the term. So it’s more of a political statement, and while I kinda sympathise, I fear that it leaves a whole lot of problems it its wake. What about sex that turns into rape? What about people who orgasm while being raped? Saying “rape is never sex” runs a real risk of defining those peoples experiences as not-rape.


            • doug quixote October 29, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

              I agree in that consensual sex can become rape. The gamut of human sexual behaviour defies absolutes.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. paul walter October 25, 2017 at 9:30 am #



    Just caught this at AIM and concur that in cases of blatant hypocrisy the rule about politicians sex lives can be waived when a case involves a) hypocrisy b) credibility.

    I vividly recall Barnaby Joyce making an implied claim as to comparative moral credibility, involving his role as head of a heterosexual nuclear family (with Brady Bunch pics), during the same sex marriage debate.

    Murphy has forgotten context. Had Joyce been a humble rather than snide person, there would have been justification to her point, but this is more about double standards, credibilty and ultimately more about Karma than privacy.

    The credibility issue is very clear. If Joyce has been less than frank about this – in the context of the equal marriage conversation- is the public not entitled to ask whether he has been less than frank concerning other issues like pork barrelling and cronyism?

    Yes, I included the latest Centrelink article in response to Dr Wilson’s Tudge evidence…we need to come back to ask what “morality” is, especially with this sadistic, serially bullying of stressed minorities, government, before we travel too much further up the road, also.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. kertsen October 29, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    The higher up the salary and importance pole the person is the more interest there will be in their sexual activities .


  8. K.S. January 22, 2018 at 7:59 am #

    Love this, such a good read!! Could you possibly read my post on the personality traits of politicians and give your insight? I’m new to blogging and was hoping I could get some feedback. https://kspoliticsandnews.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/personality-power-and-politicians/


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