Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Affairs Of State

The surprise resignation of John Della Bosca as health minister and leader of the government in the Legislative Council represents the latest in a long series of disappointments delivered by members of a government which has run well past its use by date. Rather than occupy themselves with running the affairs of state, they have been chasing their own tails over the leadership of the party, and now it seems just plain old chasing tail. It’s not because he has been involved in an affair with a younger woman, and it’s not because he has been unfaithful to his wife and family. Those are matters that are nobody’s business but their own. What matters is the allegation that it has interfered with his ability to fulfill his duties.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the young woman at the heart of the matter has claimed that she didn’t know how the minister found the time to do his job because he spent so much time with her. She has specifically stated that there were times when the minister cancelled work to be with her. She has alleged that the minister missed a flight to Armidale to meet with health department officials and to attend the opening of a hospital, spending the day with her instead. John Della Bosca rejects the allegations that he neglected his duties, but that won’t stop many people from believing that he has, which in politics is close enough to kill a career.

Of course, politicians have had affairs before, as have doctors, lawyers, journalists, housewives, and landscape gardeners. It hasn’t stopped them from doing their jobs, and ordinary everyday people won’t find themselves on the front page of the newspaper if they do. Moral judgments about politicians’ private lives are not commonly a part of the Australian experience, unless there is any suggestion of abuse or illegality. An affair is not necessarily enough in itself to warrant a resignation, but from a political perspective there really was no other option. Mr. Della Bosca himself has said that his poor personal choices should not be allowed to be a distraction from the important issues of running the government, and that’s why he has quit.

In a way, he is right. His private affairs should not be allowed to detract from affairs of state. But that is why so many people are so outraged. At a time when the government already has an abysmal reputation for its consistent failure to deliver adequate services for the people of New South Wales, when business leaders have publicly warned the government that their own lack of discipline is damaging the reputation of the state and hindering investment, at a time when the party can’t even make up its own mind about who should be Premier, at a time when the majority of voters are itching to tick the box marked “none of the above”, this is a distraction which is appalling.

If there is anything good to come out of this entire debacle it is that there is now a very good chance that it will actually stabilize the leadership of Nathan Rees. One of the key contenders and back room powerbrokers has been put out of action, probably permanently. Not only has he been ruled out of consideration for the top job, it would be reasonable to assume that his once great influence inside the party has been further diminished. In the wake of this disaster, even the most cynical plotters will realize that it is now imperative for the remaining players to band together to support the incumbent Premier. They might just realize that it is far better to work at shoring up the Premier’s perceived weaknesses rather than trying to exploit them. They might just finally understand that it is far better to actually stop the scheming and plotting and focus on employing whatever talents they do have on actually trying to dig the state of New South Wales out of the hole of despair they themselves have helped to excavate.

They might, but I wouldn’t count on it.

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