27 February 2024

Random booze tests on MPs could too easily become weaponised

| Chris Johnson
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Booze tests

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.”

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.”

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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