A lack of gumption, maturity, and composure are not bars to high elected office, alas. If they were, voters would have been spared the spectacle of Jamie Briggs and Peter Dutton behaving inappropriately – and badly – towards women, making public fools of themselves, and creating brush fires for the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to extinguish. For want of a vestige of discretion, the concept of federal ministerial standards has been left torn and frayed, Mr Briggs' ministerial career is over (with his future in Parliament also said to be in doubt) and Mr Dutton's reputation has again been tarnished.
The circumstances surrounding Mr Briggs' undoing remain sketchy, in part because of privacy concerns. What's known is that Mr Briggs made a suggestive remark about a young DFAT staffer's physical appearance on an informal evening out during a ministerial visit in November, and that he later kissed her on the cheek or neck. The junior diplomat later filed a formal sexual harassment complaint against Mr Briggs.
Asked by the Prime Minister to reconsider his future on or about December 5, Mr Briggs is believed to have resigned shortly after, but not before supporters, including apparently his wife, sought to characterise the complaint as an exaggeration, releasing an apparently unremarkable mobile phone image of the minster together with the staffer on the evening in question.
One of those supporters, it transpires, was Mr Dutton, who was so incensed at a newspaper article headlined "Briggs booted for being fool" that he described the female columnist who wrote it as a "mad f---ing witch". The SMS text message was meant for Mr Briggs, but was mistakenly sent to the journalist concerned, for which the Immigration and Border Protection Minister quickly apologised.
It's understandable that MPs would spring to the defence of embattled friends or allies, loyalty being a quality prized above all others, particularly intelligence, in politics. There's little in Messrs Briggs and Dutton's recent backgrounds to suggest they're particularly worthy of protection or safe-keeping, however. Before his Hong Kong escapade, Mr Briggs was perhaps best known for his alleged involvement in the destruction of an expensive Italian marble table at a party in former prime minster Tony Abbott's office which spiralled out of control. His ministerial achievements are modest.
Mr Dutton's ministerial career began earlier, under John Howard in 2004, but his record is similarly forgettable. If Mr Dutton has shown a talent, it's for political tough-talking, but he's also been prone to gaffes, such as the time he was overheard on an open microphone joking about the plight of Pacific Island nations facing rising sea levels.
Members of federal cabinet are expected to be competent ministers and skilled advocates for their party's political agenda. They're also required to demonstrate the behaviour, demeanour, and thinking that people expect of their elected leaders – whether on duty or off. And this includes being respectful to women. Jamie Briggs' clear failure on this count warranted his removal, and unless Peter Dutton does what is expected he too could be on the same path.