The MP that destroyed a hotel door is set to go on indefinite leave with full pay. The premier that offered him support has repeatedly promised to punish intoxicated politicians. A double standard is clearly present.
Will Fowles, the MP who kicked a hole through a hotel door will continue to be paid by the taxpayer throughout his treatment for drug and alcohol issues. He does with the “full support” of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Fowles, the Member for Burwood, is expected to be away from his post indefinitely.
Fowles said, via a statement that “I have, for a long time, been dealing with addiction and other mental health issues…I will take a leave of absence to properly deal with my health issues.”
That fell short with former Premier Jeff Kennett (who also founded mental health advocacy group Beyond Blue), who slammed him for referencing his mental health issues.
“What I object to very much indeed is him using the coverall of mental health illness in any way contributing to this act,” he told 3AW radio on Friday. “Mental health does not lead to acts of violence, criminality or antisocial behaviour, in a majority of cases. Alcohol and drugs do, but not mental health.”
The Age has noted that “Labor sources indicated there have been concerns around parliament relating to Mr Fowles’ struggle with alcohol abuse since he was elected in the November 2018 landslide swing that returned the Andrews government with an increased majority.”
While drug and alcohol problems are no laughing matter, questions must now be aimed at Daniel Andrews, as the Victorian premier has a long history of publically taking a stand, repeatedly vowing to institute a scheme of random alcohol testing in parliament as early as 2014, and as late as 2016. The plan was also a commitment prior to the 2014 election, with Andrews promising that with MPs would lose a week’s pay or face suspension if they were found intoxicated at work.
In 2016, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy noted that he had no objection to the plan, but outwardly questioned how much Mr Andrews believed in the plan, stating that “The Premier has had more than two years to implement this idea,” he said. “We agree it should be introduced along with random drug testing, and while Daniel Andrews is at it, he should also introduce random alcohol and drug testing of everyone on government construction sites – which he canned.”
When quizzed by The Age in 2016, Mr Andrews’ spokesperson said: “The Andrews Labor Government will deliver on each and every one of its commitments.”
In 2017, a bipartisan committee to analyse the idea dismissed it as “impractical”, with The Herald Sun noting that the “policy to breath-test MPs was informally discussed then dismissed at the House Committee in the past six months and hasn’t been raised by the government since. The government has not pushed the idea since the election.”
Practicality aside, what we clearly have is a culture problem. In deferring to a committee, we’re allowing the fox to investigate the chicken coop.
In 2016, The Age asked an unknown Labor MP about their thoughts about the plan being instituted. “Surely we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” that MP said. The example of Fowles’ door, and the pieces of the marble table smashed when Tony Abbott was cast aside, speaks to the issue. It shouldn’t be left to these ministers to apply their own standards, make grandstanding apologies, and hopefully be changed by the experience. In 2016, Greens leader Greg Barber said it was up to party leaders to ensure their MPs adhered to standards, noted that “Green MPs don’t loll around the chamber drunk.”
Frankly, no. If they’re representing us, I certainly expect better. As, in the Fowles example, Andrews’ Labor already knew. Choosing not to act until they had to, is the issue.