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S*xing the politician: the Della Bosca scandal

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Friday, 11 September 2009


Life is a sexually transmitted disease. R. D. Laing

Sex is boring “down under”. When it is exposed as something that politicians do, notably with those who are not their spouses, it thrills. The reaction to a person who was supposedly a contender for the New South Wales premiership tells us as much.

The affairs (may we use the plural?) of Labor politician John Della Bosca betray again how the dark ages of morality and sentiment have not quite left Australia’s appraisal of politics and sex. Prurient details are digested like a fatty English cholesterol-laden breakfast (more sausage please), and no act, to cite an old quote, is left un-stoned. The expectation that an officer of the Crown remain somehow moral is one of those absurd sentiments that should have been ditched centuries ago, but remain in provincial cultures easily vexed by matters of the flesh.

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The criteria that matters on matters of high office, and is the only one of interest, should be whether Della Bosca’s performance (here come the sniggers) is impacted upon as a result of his behaviour. Some claim not: he is in the prime of his life, rutting like an energetic goat and losing weight. Let us use the words from Caroline Overington’s piece in The Australian, September 5: “He’s lost weight, and gained confidence, so much so that he was ready to make a run for the office of NSW premier.” This is part of the politics of the bedcover, the clandestine screw and the dirty phone call. If his duties are not impacted upon significantly, if he has not abused his office through subsidising his activities, other bins should be scoured and scavenged.

More alarming is the half-baked, Mills and Boon feminism which has taken guard over this affair, seeing the lurid details of this matter like dogs on heat. Some don’t quite go down that path, and Ruth Ostrow’s sexual sermons in this saga are predictable: “The idea that he should have to pay a professional price for a sexual misdeed is quite childish” (The Australian, September 5). But, dear Ruth, infantilism and sex go hand in hand in the Antipodean reading of politics. Rostrow does hit the money with the remark that key ideas are forgotten in this moralising binge. Hypocrisy or a misuse of tax payer’s money should be key considerations.

Writers are going through Della Bosca’s underwear with glee, noting the emergence of a “dominant” mistress type, suggesting that these writers have been asleep at the wheel while human personality and sexuality were progressing.

Bettina Arndt is happy to offer her bit. Mistresses, she claims, have been hitting the news at a rate of knots, a “steady stream … demanding their 15 minutes of fame”. Was it always that different? The troublesome, self-serving mistress is an historical phenomenon, not a miracle of society who has emerged from the bedroom in recent years. The French, as they tend to do in such situations, have a fine description of the eternal condition: “The chains of marriage are so heavy that it often takes three people to carry them.”

Some sexologists and feminists are worried that Della Bosca has somehow undermined his office by engaging in this affair, suggesting that they have their focus on something else entirely. Anne Summers assures us that the affair is important, proceeding to bore us with the sexual details as if it were a castaway wet dream. As Summers was happy to indulge audiences with on ABC Television’s Q & A on September 3: “you can’t ignore the fact that we are talking about a minister of the Crown, who took his young girlfriend into his office in Parliament House and apparently had sex with her there, who missed a plane to open a medical centre.” (Yes, Anne, he did have intercourse in the particular office when he should have been opening a function. Your point being?)

The issue of how an officer of the Crown has abused his staff and members of the public in previous incidents of anti-social madness suddenly seems less relevant. Della Bosca’s brutality and public outrages are well known. But, the fact remains that we want the sex, and we want it now. It somehow becomes a matter of public interest that copulating in an office is more significant than cutting ribbons.

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It is true that Della Bosca is an unsavoury character, equalled only by his uncharitable and combustible wife. He has, within Labor party circles, been said to have a loyal team and treats them well. But instead of focusing on details that affect his office, we are treated to the cries of the sexually starved who live vicariously through public figures who “get it” all. Let us, as members of the public, ignore the soiled sheets and get on with the business of criticising governance.

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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