Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Monkey In A Suit Is Still A Monkey

The allegation against New South Wales Assistant Health Minister Tony Stewart is not just that he touched a staff member on the leg. That makes the story sound tame and almost harmless. It sounds as if it could even be explained as a simple misunderstanding. But that is a misrepresentation of the allegation.

The details of the allegation are that the Minister was unhappy with the content of a speech which had been prepared for him by Tina Sanger. It is alleged that, in front of other guests at a charitable dinner, he expressed his dissatisfaction by forcefully berating her, saying that she was not up to the job, and that he wanted her out of his office. It is further alleged that she was forced to endure this tirade by the Minister placing his hand on her leg under the table and restraining her so that she could not move away.

That’s a whole lot more than simply touching a leg.

Shortly after Mr. Stewart denied the allegations, it was revealed that an anonymous phone call was made to the office of Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell, purporting to be from the partner of an employee of the minister. That phone call alleged that all of the Minister’s office staff are threatening to resign, and that the woman at the centre of it all has been told to keep quiet and she will be looked after.

Despite the denial by Tony Stewart, and the willingness of the Premier to accept it, the question still hangs in the air: If nothing untoward has occurred, why has Ms. Sanger been removed form Mr. Stewart’s office and reassigned? Of course, it could simply be a matter of removing a staff member whose performance has been in some way unsatisfactory, but even if that is the case the manner in which this appears to have been done is heavy handed and unprofessional. Any admonishment for poor work performance should be saved for the privacy of the office, not dealt with at a dinner table at a public event.

Of course, if there was something wrong with the speech, shouldn’t the Minister have noticed this before then? Shouldn’t he have read and reviewed the material at a much earlier stage? Doesn’t such an incident tell us more about the Minister than it does about his staff member? It would be easy to believe that the Minister has been embarrassed by his own inattention to detail, and then lashed out to blame someone else.

At a time when there are serious problems confronting the State such as the expanding budget deficit, the erosion of services, and the evaporation of public confidence in health and transport, the people of New South Wales deserve better than the distraction of this sort of tawdry episode. Following so soon after the Matt Brown dirty dancing scandal, this is just one more piece of evidence suggesting that despite the expensive suits, New South Wales is still being run by a pack of monkeys.

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