ANALYSIS

THE private lives of ministers are now public property following Malcolm Turnbull's ban on sex with staff, driven by the Barnaby Joyce scandal.

Voters are now entitled to know every time a minister strays, in case an underling was involved.

A minister's sex life has become as legitimate an area of examination as political donations and registers of pecuniary interests.

That is the huge changed Malcolm Turnbull has forced on his adult colleagues in his bid to answer the hostility roused by Mr Joyce's personal history.

A grim Mr Turnbull during his press conference. Pic: Kym Smith
A grim Mr Turnbull during his press conference. Pic: Kym Smith

The Prime Minister had a political motivation in making the extraordinary announcement. Barnaby's Law is a political measure.

The new ministerial boundaries are a response to widespread revulsion over his deputy's mangled circumstances, and the fact people were hurt when they were exposed.

Mr Turnbull had to placate a growing outrage which was damaging his and the government's standing with voters.

Mr Turnbull does not have a vote in the Nationals' party room, but he has now done all he can to remove Mr Joyce as the Nationals' leader - another political necessity. Mr Turnbull has made it obvious he is among those appalled by the Deputy Prime Minister's behaviour.

Mr Turnbull can’t sack Mr Joyce as Deputy PM. The Nationals have to do that. Pic: Kym Smith
Mr Turnbull can’t sack Mr Joyce as Deputy PM. The Nationals have to do that. Pic: Kym Smith

The new rule was the second humiliation of Mr Joyce in once afternoon following the announcement he will not be Acting PM when Mr Turnbull travels to the United States next week.

Mr Turnbull has moved beyond the usual concerns, such as protecting national security and taxpayer funds. He has even moved beyond protecting the welfare of junior staff.

He has put into writing the unwritten law that senior political figures must meet a higher moral benchmark than many of their electors.

What the Prime Minister did not clarify was how his ban would be enforced and interpreted.

Vikki Campion, the former staffer with whom Mr Joyce is now expecting a child.
Vikki Campion, the former staffer with whom Mr Joyce is now expecting a child.

First, there is the matter of definitions.

Yesterday Mr Turnbull ruled that ministers must not "have a sexual relationship with somebody who works for them".

Remember US president Bill Clinton's initial 1998 statement on White House intern Monica Lewinsky: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

He didn't have sexual intercourse, but they most certainly went through some of the prelims. It is not known whether that activity is technically included in the Prime Minsiter's ban.

Would it be acceptable for a minister to have sex with a staffer from a cabinet colleague's office? Presumably that would also come under Mr Turnbull's objection to a "very bad workplace practice," with one person having greater power than another.

What would happen if, as Mr Joyce described his evolving relationship with Vikki Campion, a friendship turned into genuine love?

Should the minister resign from the front bench? Should the staff member involved do the quitting? Should the staffer be sacked, possibly commencing a messy unfair dismissal case?

The Prime Minister's response was probably born of exasperation and frustration over a damaging political issue he could not control.

However, he might have set out on a course he will not be able to control either.

It is difficult to impose a moral code on a group. Just ask any established religion - or political party.



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