Our pollies should be sharp, not sozzled

John Hanscombe
April 3 2024 - 12:00pm

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Imagine the trouble if you turned up to work drunk. If you were operating heavy machinery, even if only a little tipsy, you'd be sent packing. Chances are you'd be sanctioned, too. Pay docked or worse.

Not so if you're a politician. At least not under leaked recommendations for a new body to police parliamentary misconduct, as recommended by the Set the Standard report by the former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins. Those recommendations cover sexual harassment and assault, violence, bullying and discrimination.

The recommendations for those offences include suspension from Parliament, and the docking of 5 per cent of their pay. They cover not only MPs but their staff as well.

WATCH: The dangers of underage drinking

But sanctions for drunkenness remain unspecified - even though there is nothing heavier than the machinery of government.

Being three sheets to the wind in a place where important decisions are made is a lesser offence than being a bully, a sleaze or a bigot. But it's still serious.

The new recommendations specify that drunkenness is not an excuse for bad behaviour but shouldn't drunkenness - or the consumption of any alcohol at all in Parliament House - be outlawed just as it is on a building site, in a mine or behind the wheel of a semitrailer?

Had Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann been denied entry to Parliament House on that fateful night because they'd been drinking, might they (and us) have been spared the labyrinthine legal mess and lawyers' picnic in which they find themselves? Pubs routinely deny entry to drunk punters. Surely, Parliament House should as well.

And what of Barnaby? Forget the failed acrobatics off the Canberra planter box. We might have been spared all those occasions we've seen him scarlet-faced and dozing off on the Opposition front bench.

You and I can be subjected to random breath tests whenever we take a vehicle onto a public road - for a good reason. Alcohol affects our brains, clouding judgment and reaction times. Drink-driving increases the chances of a crash. That's why we have laws outlawing it.

Drinking on the job can be a big problem. Picture Shutterstock
Drinking on the job can be a big problem. Picture Shutterstock

There are no laws to stop politicians from drinking - on the job or out of hours. Perhaps there should be.

The 30-year Whitehall Study of 10,000 British civil servants found that those who consumed four or more alcoholic drinks a day were six times more likely to have a shrunken hippocampus in their brains. This should be noted by politicians and their staffers because the hippocampus is the region in the brain associated with reasoning and memory. Moderate drinkers were three times more likely to show hippocampal shrinkage.

It can't be asking too much of the people we elect to govern to have sharp reasoning and memory. And maybe, just maybe, by being sober they could actually set the standard rather than paying it lip service.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should Parliament House be declared an alcohol-free zone? Should politicians be breath-tested before engaging in debate or committee work? Do our political leaders set proper standards of behaviour?Email us:

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- Five more cocaine packages have washed up on NSW beaches over the Easter break. About 7.30am Monday, police were notified "three suspicious packages had been located at Sydney's Northern Beaches". Then at 8.25am, police were contacted about two further packages that had been found.

THEY SAID IT: "The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour." - William James

YOU SAID IT: Travel is meant to be liberating but is anything but when you're weighed down with too much luggage.

David agrees: "A well travelled friend of mine only ever takes a carry on bag with him, even on a three-month jaunt to Europe. I'm going to Japan next month and doing the same, not least because I'm told the Shinkansen bullet trains have very limited luggage storage."

Not Rob, who writes: "Packing light is something I have never embraced. Sadly it's part of my general anxiety - the need to be prepared for anything and everything."

"After 35 years of travelling for work, I never want to see another airport or board another plane," writes Heather. "Having to make do with insufficient clothing, hope that the undies will dry overnight, I would have packed my own washing machine had I been able!"

Lai's husband has mastered the art of travelling light: "Most of his journeys over the last 50 odd years have been to India and South-East Asia. He leaves Australia with passport, money and credit card, mobile phone and a book. Upon arrival he buys what he needs, wears and launders it all, and before departure donates it to someone in greater need than he. He even done this on his trips to the US."

Ces likes to travel light: "However, trying to convince the other half has proved an impossible task. And what's more, she claims she wears everything and frequently does."

Tony has travelled both ways: "Over packed and packed lightly. Light packing is definitely the way to go. Over packing can lead to torn muscles and aching backs. Not my idea of a holiday. I'd rather pack light and buy the strange brands of what I may have forgotten. I'm often amazed at what fellow passengers try to cram into the overhead lockers and the anger on their faces when politely told by cabin crew that it's going into the hold and they'll have to pay excess baggage fees."

"A childhood spent with a bushwalking father was excellent training in travelling light," writes Maggie. "He had an eagle eye for an unnecessary item; 'Count every ounce; every ounce counts', was his mantra. As a 10-year-old, I was able to walk behind him, carrying all that I needed for a week. Now I head overseas with one small suitcase and a small backpack. So liberating."

Diane is travelling next week. "Can I be ruthless and pack like you? It will be an interesting exercise as I always take things just in case," she writes.

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.