Do Liberal Party MP's in Australia have any Morality at all (Cont) ??



Dishing private dirt also managed to bring down Senator Noel Crichton-Browne. The hard right Liberal powerbroker was a deeply disliked, divisive figure in his own party. But he had been able to hold on to power through several challenges until Liberal party opponents obtained an apprehended violence order showing he had bashed his wife, Esther. The grim details surfaced in this newspaper and spread through the press.

At that time, Crichton-Browne's reputation was also being battered by news that he'd told a journalist at the 1995 Liberal Party state conference in Perth that he planned to "screw her ti&s; off". Crichton-Browne's ghost lingers on, but after that he was out of the party.

THERE are rules to this ugly game. First, these tactics work best in parties that insist on their devotion to family values. Those who claim the respectable high ground make themselves much more vulnerable to accusations about sex and booze - the sort of stories that show they're human just like the rest of us. The most feared of the moral warriors within the Liberal Party are the hardline self-righteous who, despite their professed knowledge of the Bible, forget the lesson of Galatians chapter 6, verse 7 above.

Second, these tactics don't work unless the leader is already on the slide. Dishing dirt about the private life of a leader riding high in the polls is dangerous. The party stands to suffer far too much collateral damage. The plotters risk their own careers. The press isn't nearly as interested. The scandal card is usually played to hasten the end that's already in sight.

Brogden's destruction fits the pattern perfectly. The context in which the journalist Glenn Milne gave the first details of Brogden's bad behaviour at the liquor lobby's bash in Sydney's Hilton Hotel was absolutely clear. In last weekend's Sunday Telegraph he wrote: "The reports follow a less-than impressive result in last week's Newspoll, where Mr Brogden trailed Premier Morris Iemma as preferred premier by 9 per cent. There is a perception at federal level within the Liberal Party that, despite trying hard, Mr Brogden is making little impact on Labor."

Brogden's opponents on the hard right of the party had been manoeuvring against him for years. The fact that Carr's departure from public life had given Brogden no bounce in the polls was both fresh cause and a good opportunity to move against the leader. So those Liberal sources at "very high levels" of the party brought the story to News Ltd.

The crucial third rule is that everything depends on persuading someone in the media - usually a columnist -to take the story seriously, to turn party scuttlebutt into public scandal. This is the point at which the media's responsibility is absolute: to judge - regardless of messenger, motive and surrounding political events - whether there really is a story and whether it justifies turning a spotlight on the private life of a political figure.

We do things differently in Australia. Fleet Street tabloids report any peccadilloes in blazing headlines. London papers bring to political reporting the carefree invention and thirst for blood of Hollywood celebrity magazines. In America, questions of "character" - code for Christian virtue - is the media's excuse for prying deeply into politicians' lives. But that rationale for scandal mongering doesn't really wash with the Australian public.

A private story without a public dimension still provokes a big backlash in Australia. What gives a story that extra dimension is always a matter of judgement. But for whatever motive the Brogden story was brought to Milne last week, he had a right to report it. The leader of the Opposition insulting the Carrs' marriage - and the insult was directed at both of them, not just Helena Carr - was news and deserved reporting.

But all the rest - the hugs, jokey propositions, boorish behaviour and allegations of affairs - was trash and should never have seen the light of day.

Commentators during the week were quick to ask who would enter public life in this country knowing they might one day be the victim of such media exposure. And it's a perfectly fair question.

But there's another, more pertinent question to be asked right now: who in their right mind would aspire to being a Liberal premier of NSW - or even represent the party in State Parliament - after witnessing the ruthless destruction, by his own hard right colleagues, of John Brogden?


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This page was last updated Mon Sep 5 05:39:27 2005 Pacific time