Weaponising Rumour: Australia’s New Political Sensitivity

The hide of Australia’s political classes has been worn.  Some members, admittedly, never had one.  With tiptoeing around language ravaging, and in some cases savaging discussion, pondering policy has become nigh impossible.  What matters after the Barnaby Joyce affair is rumour and private speculation.

First came the threatening malice associated with Jobs and Innovations minister Michaelia Cash.  Having been pressed by Labor Senator Doug Cameron in a Senate Estimates hearing about her newly hired chief of staff, including relevant employment record, Cash went volcanic.  The minister, wrote Jenna Price with tart disgruntlement, “is what you get when you hire on merit.  Or at least the Liberal Party’s version of merit.”

Having touched upon “staff matters” – a self-designated sacred zone – Cash warned Cameron to be “very, very careful” as she was “happy to sit here and name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office over which rumours in this place abound.”

This gave an odd twist to proceedings: the former minister for women had effectively made women potential dynamite in an unsubstantiated claim of impropriety, sexual or otherwise.  It would be for “Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building now for many, many years.”

After the hearing, Labor Senator Penny Wong weighed in, demanding Cash withdraw the “outrageous slurs… impugning the staff working for the Leader of the…

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