PM open to drug and alcohol testing to fix government culture problems

If the aged care system ignored by governments over the past 30 years has been labelled a national disgrace, then what do we label the workplace culture in Parliament House that has festered like some rogue petri dish for 30 years or longer?

In the past six weeks, the government has faced claims of the alleged rape of a staffer in Parliament, a historical rape allegation against the attorney general, evidence of staff masturbating on a female MP’s desk and the sharing of lewd images with others who had committed similar acts.

The latest scandal to rock the government involves Liberal MP Andrew Laming, who on Sunday was forced to step down and undergo counselling after allegedly bullying two Brisbane constituents and allegedly taking an inappropriate photo of a woman’s underwear. Mr Laming says he will no longer contest the next election.

His behaviour may also lead to empathy and communication training, or clinical counselling, to help address problematic behaviour.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews, the MP who may be in line for Mr Laming’s job once he quits politics, says she has had “an absolute gutful” of the poor workplace culture within Parliament House and politics.

By all accounts it seems Parliament may have taken on more of the ‘bacteria’ version of the term ‘culture’ instead of the ‘ideas of social behaviour’ aspect.

Read more: Adviser wants Aussies to fund their own aged care

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been under pressure for his handling of these rape and sexual misconduct allegations. But is he blaming booze for the poor workplace culture in Parliament House?

According to The Age, the PM has said he was open to limits on alcohol in Parliament House and will conduct drug and breath testing of politicians in a bid to get his house in order.

A pair of Liberal backbenchers also believe placing alcohol limits on politicians while working and conducting drug and alcohol tests is a good idea.

(You read that right, we’re actually considering breath testing the people we elected to run our country while we’re paying them to run our country.)

Dr Katie Allen, Liberal backbencher and doctor, said she was shocked at the “underlying lack of professionalism” she had witnessed in Parliament House since her election in 2019.

She says alcohol was a problem in Parliament and, at the very least, pollies should undergo responsible drinking training.

Read more: Shockingly few people trust our pollies: study

Other ministers agreed a “drier environment” in Parliament wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“I’ve heard people talking about how they need to drink because it helps them to stay up at night,” Dr Allen told ABC’s Insiders.

“I sat in an emergency department as a young doctor, through the hours trying to stay awake – having a drink isn’t what you do. We are making important decisions on behalf of Australians.”

These are the people who should be setting “the highest possible standards in our workplace”, says Senator Sarah Henderson, who is also the chair of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

She wants a “zero tolerance” approach to any bad behaviour.

“I cannot believe there are people possibly involved in those incidents who are still in the building. I say get out,” she said.

“We need the bad eggs out of our Parliament, out of our party and there should and must be a zero tolerance for this type of behaviour.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says there’s a reason why pollies may be drinking on the taxpayers’ dime.

“The Parliament is an unusual working place. It has long hours, it’s particularly intense and we have very important work to undertake,” he said.

“But the behaviour and the conduct and the culture that we have seen exhibited by revelations of what has taken place in the Parliament … falls well below community standards and it has to change and it has to change fast.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Labor is open to anything that will improve the functioning of Parliament.

Mr Morrison may not be scoring major points for his handling of the crisis so far, but his party has confidence in his ability to tackle the problem.

“I think he is up for the challenge,” said Senator Henderson. “He led us through the pandemic, and I think that Scott Morrison is up for the challenge of fixing this.”

Are you surprised at what is going on in parliament? Do you have an opinion on pollies drinking on the job? Are you happy with how this crisis has been handled so far?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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