27 February 2024

Random booze tests on MPs could too easily become weaponised

| Chris Johnson
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There are calls for alcohol and drug testing of MPS and Senators. Photo: File.

Barnaby Joyce won’t be attending parliament this week and the leader of his party thinks that’s a wise move.

Nationals leader David Littleproud copped some internal flak for advising the former deputy prime minister to take some time off after being filmed sprawled out on a Braddon footpath cursing into his phone late at night after a recent parliamentary sitting day.

Barnaby copped it sweet. He admitted he had mixed alcohol with prescription drugs, got quite wobbly, fell over and was actually swearing at himself.

Littleproud subsequently told the media his shadow veterans affairs minister had a few family and personal issues and that he’d advised him to take some leave.

The problem for Littleproud is that Barnaby is one of the Nats’ best parliamentary performers – a point many inside the party were at pains to point out to their leader.

Could the Nationals afford to be without him while parliament is in session?

They’ll have to cope as it seems Barnaby took his leader’s advice and is having a few days off – although he has made a media appearance from his Tamworth property to discuss policy issues.

That incident, combined with the Nationals deputy leader Perin Davey slurring her words with a line of questioning during a Senate Estimates hearing just a few days later, has led to calls for mandatory alcohol and drug testing in Parliament House.

Independent MP Zali Steggall quickly jumped on the case and wants the government to introduce random testing.

So soon was the opportunism that there was nowhere to go when Senator Davey, who had admitted she’d had a couple of drinks at a party function just before returning to the hearing, said she wasn’t inebriated at all.

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Davey said during a subsequent radio interview that she wasn’t drunk but actually has a medical condition that sometimes makes her slur while speaking.

She’d had two emergency operations, in fact, plus an 11-day stay in hospital when an abscess behind her tonsils burst in 2019.

“I acknowledge when I’m tired or if I’ve had a glass of wine, or if I’m stressed, my throat catches. Sometimes a bit of mucus will fall down my throat and I’ll have a coughing fit, sometimes I slur words,” she said.

“It’s something that I’ve never talked about because I’ve always thought it’s personal. But I also didn’t think that the way I delivered what I was saying mattered. It was more important what I was saying …

“To just have someone selectively clip the video to make it focus on words that I’m stumbling over and imply that I was incoherent through the whole thing, I’m just distraught about.”

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This exposes a serious problem with someone using these incidents to score political points.

Steggall didn’t waste any time issuing statements, asking questions of the Prime Minister, and conducting media interviews to say the incidents proved it was high time politicians were subject to random drug and alcohol testing.

The problem it exposes is that the results of any tests would be easily weaponised.

If an MP or Senator can be attacked over episodes that are maliciously filmed and edited – and that actually have their foundations in medical conditions – imagine what someone might do with the results of a random test.

It is perilous territory.

A cross-party parliamentary task force has recommended new rules be introduced to clearly prohibit MPs and senators from being affected by drugs or alcohol while working.

It calls for disciplinary action for those who breach such rules.

Government frontbencher Tanya Plibersek made perhaps the most sense on the topic to date.

“I don’t think people should be drunk at work. It doesn’t matter where they work. I don’t think anybody should be drunk at work or drug-affected, obviously,” the Environment Minister said.

“I think it’s a bit of a sad situation if we have to be drug and alcohol tested … you do have to be careful about taking that approach. I could not be clearer: I don’t think people should drink at work.

“[But] honestly, if you’re electing people and you trust them with the future of the country, but you can’t trust them not to be drunk at work, I think you need to think twice about whether you vote for them next time.”

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This is all topsy turvy. Sure, Barnaby being hammered like that was not good, but let’s keep it all in perspective. Currently, parliament is just about full of politicians who thinks it’s absolutely fine – in fact, comparable to eating a crumpet at breakfast time – for *abortion to be legal, which is nothing more nor nothing less than the attempted normalisation of murdering innocent babies. In a word, parliament is just about full these days of people who would qualify as actual psychos, and yet all we see is **indignation about Barnaby drinking too much, in what is literally the equivalent of thinking a molehill is bigger than a mountain. Which person in their right mind sees things like that?

Psycho tests before anyone enters parliament? Now there’s an idea any normal person could get behind.

*some estimates have the number of babies killed since it all became the rage at around 60 million. One thing that’s interesting about that blood curdling figure is how people today think they’re outstandingly compassionate for their feigned concern for holocaust victims and the like, and yet stand idly by as 60 MILLION babies are maniacally slaughtered, in a manner that’s now as equally mundane as eating a crumpet for breakfast. The Romans who entertained themselves at the Colosseum would be proud.

**notice also how this indignation never arose when Lidia Thorpe disgraced herself out the front of a strip club around the time of The Voice, even though she was almost as drunk as Barnaby, and was hurling around sexually harassing and racist taunts, to boot. Thus, not only is the current song and dance about Barnaby clinically myopic, but is also very selective and (only) agenda driven with its targets, too.

@Vasily M
1. While totally irrelevant to the topic of the article, you are entitled to air your views on abortion. You are not entitled to enforce those views on others by denigrating those who are pro choice and believe each woman has the right to have control over her own body.

2. Lydia Thorpe received quite a lot of publicity and condemnation for her disgraceful behaviour outside that strip club. Perhaps your myopia has clouded your memory.

Some might do less harm to the country when they are drunk. 🤭

Make it compulsory for all. It may be possible to weaponize random testing, but not compulsory testing. A mate of mine used to work in a coal mine where everyone was breath-tested every day before they were allowed on site. If it’s good enough for the miners it should be good enough for the pollies. What they do in their own time, within the law, is up to them and their electors.

Nothing wrong at all to drug and alcohol test politicians. If they don’t like the conditions what the public expects then don’t get on the public purse and all the benefits that go with it even into retirement. It would also be good to read what their choice of drug and alcohol is.

Why is there alcohol being consumed at all in the Parliament House it’s a place of business and should be taken seriously. It’s not a night club or a pub and the 2 should be kept seperate

We all know Zali’s motivation and there’s nothing altruistic about it. Barnaby Joyce wasn’t doing his day job when he was videoed. The other Nationals Senator was unfortunately. Is it a sackable incident, probably not but certainly worth a strong ticking off. It would a sackable incident if it was repeated.

Really, Rob? For those who are obviously not as “in the know” as you, perhaps you can enlighten us as to Zali Stegall’s motivation.

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