... and ain't i a woman?: The senator's skeletons

Issue 

The senator's skeletons

The WA senator with domestic violence skeletons in his closet was forced on April 3 to resign from his position as deputy president of the Senate, after his admission of having bashed his wife. Resignation was his only option. No individual who is a domestic violence perpetrator should be allowed to remain in a position of public authority.

However, while Noel Crichton-Browne's domestic situation made national headlines, the furore neatly served the interests of an altogether different abuse of authority.

The WA Liberal Party at the time of the "Crichton-Browne affair" was embroiled in internal factional disputes. Liberal opponents of Crichton-Browne deliberately leaked documents designed to damage his credibility — one of which was a copy of a restraining order taken out against him in November 1989 by his wife. The motive for this leak? Even his wife made it plain in a radio interview. "[He]'s got some political enemies."

The leak of the domestic violence order had very little to do with a genuine concern about violence against women. But it had its desired effect. This particular political score has been settled.

Has justice really been served? That would require an entire reorganisation of our parliamentary system. Real procedures and policies as well as education programs to change people's attitudes about domestic violence would be implemented. Parliamentary decision-making would be opened up to the public; issues and proposals would be debated publicly within electorates to ensure the accountability of elected representatives.

Instead, Crichton-Browne remains number one on the Liberal Party's Senate ticket (although that could change) and has retained his Senate seat. He was forced out as deputy president of the Senate when he became a victim of the same cloak-and-dagger, behind the scenes, undemocratic games that he himself was well accustomed to. Factional wheeling and dealing is a widely practised method of decision making behind the closed doors of parliamentary offices. It ensures unaccountability.

Although some may call the Crichton-Browne affair an experience of "public accountability", it would more accurately be described as a case of public scapegoating to serve the political ends of one particular faction in the parliamentary game that's so misleadingly called "politics".

There is no doubt Crichton-Browne should resign from politics altogether. He is certainly unfit to play the role of a representative of the people. But in supporting his censure, it is important to avoid tacit support of the undemocratic reasons behind this "accountability".

By Kath Gelber

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