Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, Politics /

It’s all over the press. In case you’ve missed it, here is a quick summary: the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has impregnated one of his staff, a much younger woman, while still officially married to his long-suffering wife (with whom he has four children). The affair was an open secret in the Canberra circles, but completely blew out of proportion over the last few days (I am not sure why. Politics, probably). There are now questions about the use of taxpayer money (you are not supposed to employ your partner. But was she his partner?), and also because he presented himself as a ‘family man’ (The irony!). Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is a sorry mess and I am #teamfirstwife all the way, but, being French, I am struggling to understand the media frenzy. What I am trying to say is this: in France, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. It would be considered, well, a private affair. All French politicians find a way to employ their friends, mistress and family members. When they can’t, they ask a fellow MP to do it for them, and they return the favour. More often than not, knowing who has slept with whom is a guessing game in political social circles. But apparently, not in Australia. What am I talking about? Well, because of the ‘Barnababy’ scandal, Australia has banned sexual relations between government ministers and their staff. This is called the #bonkban, and has been trending on Twitter.

This much I know: such a sex ban couldn’t happen in my home country. People would laugh at it out loud. You have to understand that things haven’t changed in my home country. Sexual harassment is still rife in France, and more often than not it is considered acceptable. Recently, there has been a scandal about a senior minister having an affair with a young intern twenty years ago. She accused him of rape a bit more than ten years later, but the limitation period had expired. Somehow the story resurfaced recently. Nothing will happen to him, and there won’t be any #bonkban in France -nobody has even considered, let alone mention it. Let me make something clear: if the intern had been my daughter, I would be fuming. I would have considered beating the guy up (I am 25% Sardinian -don’t mess with me). Nobody has defended her, nobody has even mentioned that, when you go to work, you expect to be safe from your boss’ advances. At least, the Australians are doing something, and trying to address the problem. Obviously the ban will be difficult to enforce, and I am sure that there will be lots of difficulties, but hey, kudos to Australia. In the meantime, it looks like the elites in old Europe will never change. Why am I not surprised?

I imagined a French Conseil Des Ministres (that’s a Cabinet meeting) discussing an hypothetic sex ban with staff in France (obviously this is a satyre!)

It’s not really relationships between minister and their staff that are the problem. It’s more about love stories between journalists and politicians. Such affairs usually involve a young sexy female journalist and an older party leader. Sometimes, they even get married. That said, it usually ends in tears, as has happened between the former President and his journalist girlfriend, who took it very badly when he was caught on a scooter bringing croissants to his mistress. The regular girlfriend found it extremely humiliating but took the whole sorry affair in her stride, and wrote a popular book about the whole experience. Never underestimate a scorned woman.

But back the the hypothetic sex ban. Such a meeting  would follow a strict agenda:

– Part A is about draft laws. They are discussed and the President can veto them if he/she didn’t agree with the cabinet ministers, which has happened in the past.

– Part B is about civil servants nominations.

– Part C is about the communication plan of the government. They have to agree on whom would say what in order to make sure the cabinet would look united.

– Part D is a relatively new addition to the agenda. It is an open debate on a topic decided in advance.

The sex ban would of course be discussed right from the start. It would probably be the only item in part A. We French love to debate, and there would be lots of questions to clarify the conditions of the ban. Needless to say, there would be no part D that day. The debate would be fierce. Here are a few questions the President would have to answer:

How is the ban enforced? By whom? What if the relationship is consensual? Isn’t this ban anti-constitutional?

This is a typical French argument. Whenever we’re not happy with a law, we claim it’s anti-constitutional.And after all, it could be claimed, this ban goes against the right to a private life (the private life in question would be the Ministers’ one, not their interns or staff, obviously).

Aren’t we becoming too puritanical? What happened to sexual freedom? After all, the galanterie is part of the French culture, right? What about our long tradition of libertinage? We can’t become like the Americans, can we?

Is the Elysee receptionist part of the staff? Whose staff are we talking about exactly? Can we still have relationships with staff from other ministers?

Of course you can. Everybody would look reassured. There is a way around this, right?

Is it possible that sex with staffers overseas may be permitted? Does the ban only apply to France? Does the ban apply to European staff too?

Would there be an amnesty for past relationships? How would it work? Do you realise that this ban will endanger the stability of our institutions? What a mess! Unbelievable.

What if you can’t remember what has happened? Sometimes, you just get drunk, or high, and, you know, you don’t really remember. After all, life can be messy. Would the ban still apply? Would we still have to declare a one-night stand?

Yes you would. Seriously?So unfair…

Would we still be allowed to use Tinder and Grindr? And what about casual encounters with staff? Would they be included in the ban?

What about ex-wives? Could we still employ them?

Don’t you think that this ban is a bit of an over-reaction?

We need time to sort ourselves out. When would the ban be enforceable?

Now? Are you joking? We need at least 6 months. And shouldn’t we do a referendum for such an important issue?

In Europe, when you don’t know what to do, you organise a referendum.

In short, I am pretty sure that things would continue without any major changes in my home country, and that such a ban would never happen.

That said, I am curious to see how things pan out in Australia, and I believe that the #bonkban is a step forward: call me old-fashioned, but you’re supposed to work at the office, not hit on your subordinates.