The New Daily

Turnbull’s hard truth on Briggs

While we were relaxing, our PM decided to take out the trash – starting with one minister.

jamie briggs

Jamie Briggs has stepped down from the front bench after an incident at a bar. Photo: AAP

On the first “business” day after Christmas, Mr Turnbull announced the resignation of Jamie Briggs from the ministry following an inquiry into a complaint of inappropriate behaviour made against the junior minister by a female government employee.

This is the second case in less than six months of Mr Briggs being pinged for bad behaviour apparently under the influence of alcohol.

On the first occasion he hurt only himself, reportedly attempting to crash-tackle Tony Abbott at the former PM’s booze-soaked impromptu farewell party, and ending up with a torn ACL.

But the second occasion was much more damaging, not because Mr Briggs lost his job, but because he is alleged to have exhibited behaviour towards a woman that could amount to sexual harassment.

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Given the power differential between the Minister and the public servant, Mr Briggs’ unwelcome behaviour was tantamount to a boss hitting on a junior staffer. Not only was it inappropriate – it was completely unacceptable.

No wonder the PM called in his Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, when a sub-group of the Cabinet met to consider the outcomes of the inquiry following the woman’s complaint. The sub-group, which also included Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, rightfully concluded the Minister had to go.

jamie briggs wheelchair

Jamie Briggs sustained a knee injury after attempting to crash tackle the former PM. Photo: AAP

This reportedly happened before Christmas. The time lapse between the decision and the announcement of Mr Brigg’s resignation has been explained as giving the MP time to break the news to his family.

It’s a shame government MPs haven’t shown similar compassion for the woman who lodged the complaint. Instead, we were treated to a conga line of apologists for Mr Briggs this week, who by defending the disgraced MP as “decent” and “a good man” effectively dismissed the complaint and delegitimised the woman who made it.

This is a very bad look for the Turnbull government, which is still struggling with a “woman problem” in the wake of Tony Abbott’s time at the helm.

An internal Liberal Party report leaked to the media last weekend stated the party’s paucity of women is translating into a loss of female voters, and that the barriers to women in the party include a perceived “boys’ club” culture and occasional chauvinistic behaviour from men.

PM Turnbull may have scored brownie points with female voters by appointing more women to Cabinet, but that kudos may entirely be negated by the sight of male government MPs rallying around Mr Briggs while seemingly being unable to admonish their colleague for his unacceptable behaviour towards a woman.

Brough takes one for the team, sort of

Almost immediately after the PM announced Mr Briggs’ resignation from the ministry, Mr Turnbull also advised that embattled Special Minister of State, Mal Brough, had stood aside until the outcomes of the Slipper-Ashby police investigation against him were known.

It’s hard to know whether the Briggs announcement was meant to distract us from the Brough one, or vice versa, but some wit in the Prime Minister’s office obviously thought it was wise to take the two stinking bags of trash out at the same time.

Unlike Mr Briggs’ unexpected resignation, Mr Brough’s sidelining was inevitable and only a matter of time. The PM can hardly afford to have Mr Brough on the front bench when Parliament resumes in February if the legality of his involvement in the affair remained unresolved.

We saw what you did there, on Medicare and Gonski

gonski deal

It seems the Gonski education funding plan has been shelved.

If there was any doubt the Turnbull government was using the summer break to sneak out unpopular decisions, this week’s announcements on Medicare and Gonski soon dispelled them.

Health and education are traditionally weak spots for the Coalition, because conservative governments tend to cut spending in these policy areas. They’re conversely positions of strength for Labor for the opposite reason.

So while it may have spun our cynicism dials to 10, it was unsurprising that Turnbull ministers announced this week that the government would review the Medicare status of some procedures, and ruled out funding the latter years of the Gonski program.

Labor will make sure once Parliament resumes that these “cuts” are drawn to the attention of any voters who zoned out over summer.

TURC defines the Coalition’s preferred battleground

While Labor will be keen to fight this election year on “social” policies such as health and education, the Coalition has another battlefield in mind. Tony Abbott established the Royal Commission into union corruption when he was elected in 2013 with the intention of using the outcomes to fight an election on industrial relations in 2016.

Dyson Heydon

Commissioner Dyson Heydon has delivered his findings right on time. Photo: AAP

He also introduced legislation to curb union power knowing that Labor and the Greens would oppose it and thereby provide the additional option of going to an early double dissolution election if necessary.

The head of the royal commission delivered his final report by its due date this week, and its finding are unsurprisingly damning of the union movement. It documents the examples of dodgy practices, bullying tactics and – in some isolated cases – illegal behaviour that were provided in evidence to the inquiry.

Mr Abbott intended this evidence to tarnish the reputation of all unions, not just those that are guilty, so they could no longer campaign credibly on behalf of Labor in the upcoming election.

Even though the former PM is no longer dictating the government’s re-election strategy (although he’s trying), there is still a risk for Labor and the unions that voters will be swayed against them by the isolated instances of bad behaviour that the inquiry unearthed.

No amount of calling the royal commission a witch-hunt (which it was), or the commissioner a Coalition lackey, will erase that evidence – particularly the instances that lead to police action and charges being prosecuted.

But if voters see genuine action being taken by Labor and union leaders to clean up the movement’s act (as even Bob Hawke has recommended) their trust in unions will be retained – and not even an Abbott-like election campaign would be able to breach it.

Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. You can read more of her columns here

  • EDF

    Dear oh dear Paula, just how much sympathy does the complainant need when her complaint has been upheld, the system worked, she still has her career and keeps her anonymity and the Minister is gone? Outrage now piled upon her complaint from other Ministers looks to me like PC gone mad. Her complaint was not dismissed. To the contrary, the evidence shows it was seen as legitimate.
    Briggs paid a heavy price for his misbehaviour and it was unacceptable. His colleagues are not being unfair on her (she is personally unknown to them), but are simply commiserating with him. The long term repercussions will not just be on his career but his marriage and his family.

    • easygoing777

      A case of think before you do stupid things and remember do them overseas and chances of your Lierabel colleagues covering them up are minimal

  • OldPom

    It’s all very well to blame the Conservative ( uses to be ‘Liberal’) government for attacking Medicare and Education funding. But it is OUR fault that they are doing it. WE voted then into power. Particularly those of us with only the X chromosomes who voted for them. Come on ladies – you command half the votes in Australia. If this or any other government does not give you a fair go then vote them out of office. Those of us with a Y chromosome are not blameless. Are we not fathers ? Do we not get sick ? Do we not respect our mothers, wives, and daughters ? There ought to be a landslide at the next election of such magnificent proportions that BOTH sides of politics take notice. We are here to be OBEYED, not just to finance your salaries, perks, and golden handshakes and put up with your inadequacies. Try behaving like our representatives in the Parliament and behaving like civilised honourable adults when out of it.

    • Athinker

      OldPom – posts like yours annoy me. It’s not MY fault! I didn’t vote them into power. I told others they would be fools to do so, AND told them why.

      Please find another way of making your point.

  • cassarjon@hotmail.com

    So what is defined as ‘sexual harassment’? It used to mean the relentless pursuit of a woman by an unwanted male, now it is used more loosely. Anything from a nod and a come hither wink to an actual slathering pursuit covers the terrain it appears. So far, from what I read, he seems to have only given her a kiss on the neck and a compliment, what’s so bad about that? They’d both been drinking after all, such things happen at Xmas parties all over the country. I think the woman has been very silly and I’d suggest that her career enhancement prospects are not good. Nobody wants someone that sensitive working alongside.

    • Seb

      You’ve highlighted the problem perfectly. By saying the attention was unwelcome and speaking out, this woman has risked her career and promotional opportunities. THAT is why the minister had to go! His assumption that he could bother and badger someone in a position of less power because she’d tolerate it for the sake of her career is what makes his predatory behaviour a concern. Don’t blame the victim of bad behaviour, we’re not in some other country where that’s acceptable.

      • Oh dear, agreeing with Seb, what has the world come to?

    • Thai Trev

      Mmm,off to readjustment school for you.The old i was drinking furphy.again.An unwanted kiss is sexual harassment.

    • JeffJL

      Who cares what is defined as ‘sexual harassment’ in this case. Senior government ministers reviewed what they were able to find out about the incident and decided it was serious enough that he should go. Additionally Mr Briggs also agreed, publicly, that the actions were inappropriate and an appropriate penalty was dismissal. We have not been told the full extent of the incident and the only ones leaking at the moment are supporting Mr Briggs and your position. Of course they would only leak details which trivialize the incident.

      I agree with you that here career enhancement prospects are not good with this government in charge. Not a good thing as the government will end up with nobody who will give frank advice, just yes men (and women) with a similar ideology.

      • fehowarth

        She didn’t demand her complaint go any further. Just wanted his behaviour recorded. In fact one could say, she was doing him a favour.

  • Mel

    Sad to see Medicare not have dental added for all, loss of Gonski is not good and we need a Margaret Thatcher. As for the rest of the trash about the ministers – who cares.

    • easygoing777

      you might need a Margaret Thatcher but I don’t we do, the extent of Thatcher’s damage to the UK is still coming to fruition and long may she roast in hell for it

  • mulga mumblebrain

    The former Howard apparatchik leaves the union-bashing to the end, but, as ever, class hatred remains the very essence of the Lieberal Party.

    • jonkerr7

      And some of the unions need bashing. Ever worked in construction? And experienced first hand the way they “look after” their rank and file members? Those unions are worse than any corporation, stripping members of money whilst funding their own bank balances, all the time sprouting slogans about how we stand together. The most sickening, disgusting, corrupt organisations I’ve had the misfortune to come across. The sooner those types of unions are removed the better the workers will be.

      • Didn’t see you and your opinions at the RC.

  • cliff

    The liberals approach to education funding, post ‘age of entitlement’ era, might be more convincing if politicians (and others in high pay brackets – say over $150k) were asked to pay back what their education cost the tax payers – after all, they did do VERY well out of it.

  • RGG

    Unfortunately for Turnbull from the Caymans, not all of us were asleep between Christmas and New Year.

    • mulga mumblebrain

      ‘Vulture’ Turnbull, preying on the weak and defenceless. I predict a quick implosion, perhaps after another Utegate type rush of blood to the Ego.

  • ala alabanese

    doesn,t Wyatt also need to be brought into the slipper case as he had a lot to say on the vendetta to slipper as well
    maybe being young and new to politics is why he is not answerable to investigation
    whats the saying Whats good for one is good for the other so lets hear more about his abbott like engagements in the matter as well

  • The stench from the Liberal party is defeating efforts to prevent global warming it is so bad.

  • Fred G

    I think Briggs needs to see a psychologist about his obvious problem with alcohol.
    First he stuffs his knee up in a drunken dance on THE coffee table and now he tries to ‘pash’ a subordinate in an alcohol fueled state of lust.
    Not the behaviour we expect from our elected officials – remove him from the ‘Gravy Train’.

    • Athinker

      Actually, I am coming to expect this kind of behaviour from our elected officials. I don’t desire it though.

  • RET

    There’s enough trash in the Liberal and National Party Rooms for several episodes of “Hoarders”

    • mulga mumblebrain

      Once you could find a little semi-precious stone amongst the dross. Not often, but the occasional intelligent, half-decent, semi-human being. Not today. The same goes for the Alternative Lieberal Party. Leigh seems moderately intelligent, but is a ‘Market’ fanatic, which renders intelligence null and void. Otherwise, from Shorten down it is disheartening.

    • james unkles

      Can we not use an American word, trash, say rubbish instead

  • mulga mumblebrain

    Every MSM outlet MUST lean to the Right. It is essential to consolidate elite rule. The dangers of Thought Crime are too wretched to contemplate.

  • axeman

    Wayne Swan’s announcement the Friday before Christmas that a surplus was not achievable eclipses any incompetence made by any Australian politician.

  • Douglas

    The worst government ever.

    • mulga mumblebrain

      ‘The worst Government SO FAR’, Douglas. There is worse to come, before the end.

  • jonkerr7

    Very different approach from this govt compared to Labor and Scott Thompson.

    • Athinker

      You probably need to explain that a bit better.

      What hapenned with Labor and Scott Thompson?

      Is this better or worse? Why?

    • mulga mumblebrain

      Well, that’s because Labor needed Thompson’s vote. The need to avert Abbortt coming to power was paramount. When he did he was possibly even worse than expected.

  • mulga mumblebrain

    There’s Rightwing ideological, class and personal hatred, too. At least Swann helped us avert a recession, unlike the rest of the OECD, but that means nothing to the greedy dullards and ignoramuses of the Right.

  • fehowarth

    She was a diplomat with rank.

  • jonkerr7

    Oh I didn’t realise that. Not sure what their criteria for blocking posts but I feel that as long as there is no swearing or abuse then let it through.

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