Australian Green MP: ‘breathalyzers for people writing laws’

Reported in Time:

In September, the state’s police minister, Matt Brown, resigned after claims that he cavorted in his underwear and straddled the chest of a female MP during a parliamentary office party. Premier Nathan Rees said Brown had told him “there was substance to the assertions around drunkenness, dancing and music.” In a public apology, Brown admitted only that “I behaved in a manner not befitting a minister.”

Now, some MPs want all the state’s legislators to face random breath tests; others say the lawmakers should be encouraged to check their own alcohol levels before voting on important bills. “If you are going to have breathalyzers for people driving cranes,” said Green party MP John Kaye, “you should have breathalyzers for people writing laws.” Asked an indignant Sydney Daily Telegraph reader: “How many ‘ordinary’ Australians would get away with drinking on the job?”

In Western Australia, new Premier Alan Carpenter has vowed to ban alcohol in parliament, saying MPs “should not be able to drink freely during working hours.” And in Canberra, the national capital, a politician recently rebuked her colleagues for drinking “until the early hours” at a public bar near Parliament House, saying they set a bad example for the young.

Efforts to separate parliamentarians from the bottle have a long history in Australia. In the 19th century, a rogue’s gallery of MPs were better known for drunken raillery and fist-fighting than for any legislative achievements. But for their modern-day counterparts, more sober norms — and ubiquitous cameras — help ensure that censure is loud and punishment swift.

In 1998, a conservative MP resigned after being videotaped slurring his words in a parliamentary address. In 2003, the leader of the Australian Democrats party was forced to stand down after Senate cameras caught him manhandling and abusing a female colleague during a late-night session after a Christmas party. He later apologized for “physical aggression” and said he needed help with “personal health matters.” Commenting on the incident, a former government staffer wrote that he often saw politicians in Canberra “drink until the early hours of the morning. They get a few hours’ sleep and are back at their desks early the next day attempting to deal with issues of magnitude.” In 2004, the Green party tried to have the New South Wales parliament declared an alcohol-free zone after a government member assaulted a female colleague. “After dinner … things get a bit raucous” in the Chamber, one Greens MP explained. And last year an MP in Western Australia was suspended from parliament after allegedly getting drunk and snapping the bra strap on a female staffer’s shoulder.

3 thoughts on “Australian Green MP: ‘breathalyzers for people writing laws’

  1. langa

    “In the 19th century, a rogue’s gallery of MPs were better known for drunken raillery and fist-fighting than for any legislative achievements.”

    Sounds good to me. If getting drunk and fighting keeps them from passing laws, I say bring on the booze!

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