Remember Cheryl Kernot?
For you people too young/apolitical/naïve to have remembered or cared (as was the case for me), Kernot was the leader of Australian Democrats, defected to the ALP in 1997, and quit politics after losing her seat (Dickson, Queensland) in 2001.
And Evans was the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Keating era. He helped orchestrate Kernot's defection, but quit politics in September 1999. In 2002 I had an opportunity to talk with someone in DCITA who knew someone who used to work for him when was in charge of the Foreign Ministry (yes, a convoluted relationship as it must be for non-Canberrians like me). All I recall of the conversation is that Gareth would sometimes get nasty and throw staplers – yes staplers – at his underlings when he became frustrated.
Anyway, if you remember the July 2002 fiasco, people became angrily divided on whether it was appropriate for the media to have revealed the affair and thus given it attention. In particular the question was over whether Laurie Oakes' role in bringing about the exposé was acceptable, ethical, professional, etcetera.
"No" says Greg Barns, former Howard staffer, now a member of the democrats* – also the guy who stupidly defended Andrew Bartlett's manhandling of Jeannie Ferris at some pollie Christmas Party in 2003 (but that is another story).
The feeding frenzy on Kernot and Evans simply shows one thing: the media cannot resist a yarn about sex and power. Just as they couldn't in Britain in 1963, or or in America in 1998.And, for various reasons, others agree. In a letter to the SMH, Libby Werthein, wrote:
What about Bob Hawke and the journalist and the many other woman [sic] he had affairs with? What about all the other male politicians who have had affairs? ... Bob Hawke would have been constantly in the media for his affairs ... This is another form of sexism and I am sorry you are buying into it ... The issue of the affair should never have been raised in parliment [sic] and good on Gareth for denying it.Shouldn't have denied it? Even though it was true, and it was with another member of parliament? And then there are others who said "do we really care?" Well, they are fooling themselves. Of course we care! Just because the scandal involves sex, suddenly we are meant to treat it with kid gloves?!
Frankly, I think the media should have asked Kernot and Evans to tell the truth as soon as he denied it in parliament. That would have been the preferred modus operandi. I'm surprised we had to wait until Kernot published her book omitting mention of the affair for Oakes to get up and insist that a vital fact had been kept secret!
Although I kind of feel sorry for Kernot, and I had some respect for both her and Gareth as politicians, if you are a public person – like a politician – and sleep with another public person in the same public sphere – like a politician, then the public deserves to know. Certainly if you write an autobiography and haven't yet been exposed then this is your opportunity to tell the story sensitively in your own words – not to mention dramatically increase publicity for your book! Cheryl made a critical mistake. Maybe she was actually crazy enough to think she'd get away with it!
Given the benefit of a few years of hindsight what do you blog readers out there think now? First, did Laurie Oakes make a mistake? Second, did Kernot?
The lesson I take from this anyway is that if you are in the public eye – or even if you're not – and have an affair, be prepared that you may one day have to reveal it to the world before someone else does it for you!
Update: Greg Barns is no longer a member of the Democrats, according to Andrew Bartlett, who pointed this out in a comment on this post.
Categorised as: politics, society
Technorati Tags: Gareth Evans, Cheryl Kernot, Laurie Oakes, sex scandal, Australian politics, gender politics, journalistic ethics