21 February 2023

Should skeletons in the closet disqualify political candidates?

| Ross Solly
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Terry Campese

Former Canberra Raiders captain Terry Campese (second from left) announcing his candidacy for the seat of Monaro … Photo: Supplied.

Sometimes you have to wonder why anyone would ever want to run for politics.

First, it’s not cheap.

Look what it cost David Pocock and his backers to get him elected. If you’re running as an independent, you better have very deep pockets.

Second, despite the general perception, politicians are not paid very well. Granted, a few will earn more in politics than they would outside the game. And there are some lifetime perks that ease the pain a little. But what seems the biggest hurdle now, for many, is the level of scrutiny applied to you as a candidate.

Yes, that scrutiny has been good at weeding out a few deadbeats and perverts that definitely shouldn’t be gracing any corridors of power anywhere. But the level of scrutiny being applied is also forcing out some candidates who, to be honest, have done very little wrong.

Terry Campese dressed as a police officer at a party

… and as he dressed at a 2022 party, splashed across News Ltd papers.

Terry Campese last week quit as the Labor candidate for Monaro, despite polling well and looking better than an even chance of snatching the seat from the National Party. Unlike some other high-profile downfalls during recent election campaigns, Campese was not forced to jump.

He was just sick of what he considered unfair media attacks.

I have known Terry Campese since his days as a Canberra Raider. Although not close friends, I always thought he was a guy who wanted to give back to his community, a lot like a former teammate of his, Alan Tongue.

He’s had different life experiences, genuinely lives and breathes his electorate, and seems to want to make a difference.

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The media, as is their right, checked out Campese’s background. They found he had visited an old school friend serving a stint in jail for drug dealing and also found a picture of him attending a private party dressed in underwear, a tie and a police hat. The video is online and there’s no doubt behaviour at the party would raise eyebrows at the least.

Campese quit because he said he no longer wanted to drag his community through the media.

“Unfortunately, I have come to realise that, for some, politics is not about representing people but about their own power with a ‘win at all costs’ mentality,” he said.

“Perhaps in the future, things will change and we will see more community members put their hand up to be involved in politics.”

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It’s time we also decided how high we want to set the bar when it comes to scrutiny. Nearly all of us have some skeletons in our cupboards – some jangle and clank a lot louder than others.

But if we are serious about making politics more representative of our community and enticing good people, albeit maybe with a skeleton or two, to run for politics, maybe it’s time we said enough is enough.

It’s not just the media to blame. Political operatives have become very good at trawling through people’s history and making sure ‘”friendly’ media can access all the juicy bits.

Maybe Terry Campese wasn’t cut out for politics. But should people who have done good for their community be hounded the way he was?

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Once a politician, your snout is in the trough

Political hypocrites always object to their own preferred candidate being exposed, while villifying others. Hypocrisy is a trait of cancel culture.

I sort of agree in principle but you are being hopelessly vague Ross Solly. Clearly there are misdemeanours that should be forgiven but also there are standards of behaviour we cant accept (serial paedophilia, multiple counts of fraud etc). All three sides should be scrutinised, the would-be politician, the other politicians who try to bring them down, and the media. If you make public claims of wrongdoing you should have to back them. So Ross Solly, please play the game! Explain why Campese should be forgiven for whatever it was that he was doing when photographed. If he merely romped around naked at a party, most people would see it as tasteless, rather than something that should prevent political career, but you haven’t reported what happened.

GrumpyGrandpa10:12 pm 21 Feb 23

You need to be part of a party machine or have wealthy backers. Politics is a grubby business and none of them and none of us are squeeky clean. Every one of us has done something we’d be ashamed of, if made public.

The difference is that “professional” politicians move on from the scandals. Wouldbe politicians with good intentions don’t have the experience or the thickness of skin to put their political ambitions ahead of their personal pride.

Stephen Saunders3:49 pm 21 Feb 23

But also, maybe Campese lacked, powerful enough protectors. Compare with Morrison, Scott. With John Howard’s favour, he overcame a lousy professional record, and an adverse finding from preselectors, to wreak three years havoc as a “bit of a bulldozer” PM.

Once you put yourself out there as a public figure, you become a target. No way of avoiding it unless you have powerful friends who can shut it down or a willingness to push defamation actions (which would mean being cross-examined about the truth of the claims unless you settle before it gets to that point). Whatever you do, you’re at risk of attack by the media including social media, so you need a thick skin and a family that can cope with the fallout.

No. Wanting to be a politicians is disqualifying enough.

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