''Nepotism,'' writes Adam Bellow, son of a Nobel prize-winning novelist, ''is the bedrock of social existence.''
And a good thing, too, he reckons. In Saul Bellow's son's 2003 polemic In Praise of Nepotism, he argues it's both natural and necessary for powerful people to promote their relatives. They're often the best people for the job, he suggests. Besides, voters know what they're buying. ''Americans,'' Bellow writes, ''were conscious that in casting a vote for George W. Bush they were electing not just a man but a family.''
Australians were wondering this week what sort of a package deal they had purchased with the former Coalition MP Alex Somlyay. Fairfax Media revealed that Somlyay had allegedly defrauded taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars by paying his wife Jenny for non-existent work in his electorate office.
Somlyay, a recently retired MP of more than 23 years, denies these allegations, but there remain a number of curiosities in his story. These include a pay rise awarded to his wife the month after he made his retirement speech.
It's clear from Somlyay's rebuttal that he belongs to the Adam Bellow School of Political Employment. After a day evading questions, Somlyay finally explained that his wife was almost uniquely qualified to be his ''researcher''. He employed his wife because it was ''impossible to find someone with the skills, tact and discretion'' to work in his political office. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Somlyay insists his wife worked every one of her reported 2030 hours, and earned every cent of her $69,157.15 salary.
Tony Abbott, whose wife and daughters have never featured on his office payroll, would strongly disagree with Bellow's and Somlyay's views concerning familial employment. So suspicious is the Prime Minister of political nepotism that in November he introduced the first rules that prohibit MPs and senators from giving jobs to their relatives.
Abbott's order is not retrospective. If MPs are currently employing relatives they can't be told to sack them. But as of January 1 this year, appointments of family members to political offices will not be approved.
Many wondered what the Prime Minister was on about when he ordered these changes. Was political nepotism really so prevalent that it required its own paragraph in the parliamentary rulebook? Or was this just a fig leaf to conceal Abbott's determination to do nothing serious about political rorting?
Following the events of the past week, it appears the first interpretation may be the correct one.
After Fairfax Media published the fraud allegations against Somlyay, readers and sources were quick to offer additional examples of familial employment.
What about Kevin Rudd? Didn't he employ his son Nicholas as a ''senior adviser'' during the election campaign? Well, as it happens, he did. And what about Chris Hayes, Dick Adams, Glenn Sterle, Chris Back, Ian Macdonald and Rowan Ramsey? Haven't all of these current and former MPs from both Labor and the Coalition hired their wives or partners on the public dime?
What about Liberal MP Dennis Jensen (daughter), Liberal MP Don Randall (daughter), former Labor senator Trish Crossin (daughter), Labor senator Helen Polley (daughter and niece), Labor MP Michael Danby (son), Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker (son), Liberal MP Steve Irons (son), Nationals MP George Christensen (sister) and Liberal MP Bob Baldwin (daughter)?
I do not believe it would be appropriate, desirable or even possible to find an employee [other than his wife] with the flexibility to live on the road with me. - Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey
And that's before one gets to nepotism-once-removed. ''Nick Champion employs Nimfa Farrell. Don's wife,'' a source said.
A phone call to Senator Farrell elicited a history of employment that includes Mrs Farrell not only working for current Labor MP Champion but previously for Labor politicians Bob Catley, Michael Atkinson, Annette Hurley and Linda Kirk. All except Catley were affiliated with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, a trade union of which Senator Farrell is a former national president.
In another example of favouritism, if not exactly nepotism, former prime minister Julia Gillard attracted unwanted attention when news broke of the resignation of her media officer, Alexandra Williamson, in 2012. This followed allegations that Alexandra's father, Michael, Labor's former national president, had defrauded the Health Services Union of several million dollars.
Awkwardly, the man charged with policing Abbott's new rules banning nepotism - Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson - has been rather nepotistic himself.
''I don't think it's any secret I employed my son,'' Senator Ronaldson said. ''The Prime Minister has now made the new rules clear.''
Abbott, who is viewed within the Coalition as being the most instinctively in touch with popular opinion, thinks there is something deeply unsavoury about politicians employing family members.
But if, as Bellow argues, nepotism is ''a drive as basic as sex and aggression'', the Prime Minister is asking his colleagues to abandon their deepest instincts. Hearing the cries of protest from MPs following Abbott's decision, one gets a sense of what Bellow means.
''I won't be sacking any of my staff,'' declared WA Labor senator Glenn Sterle at the time, in an interview with News Corp.
''How can I put this diplomatically? It won't be happening. My wife worked for a state MP for years and is more than qualified for the job.
''And you know what else? I like keeping our marriage together. I don't like going to bars in Canberra … I can go home and get a home-cooked meal.''
In interviews for this story, a number of MPs said there were good reasons why politicians hired family members, and argued their nepotism was in the national interest.
Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey, who represents the electorate of Grey, which covers some 90 per cent of South Australia, wonders who else but his wife would put up with such extraordinary travel demands.
''I do not believe it would be appropriate, desirable or even possible to find an employee with the flexibility to live on the road with me,'' Ramsey said.
Nor is Liberal senator Ian Macdonald a fan of his leader's new employment rules. He said his wife Lesley was ''absolutely trustworthy'' and had ''the corporate knowledge of my office going back to its inception''.
''The only impact of the new rules,'' said Macdonald, ''is that a married woman who works constantly, as Lesley does, will not be paid anything for her efforts as any other married woman doing the same work would be paid.''
There are many other good reasons for nepotism, MPs say. Trust - and more specifically the need for politicians to protect confidences - was a common theme.
''It's an issue of loyalty,'' said one Liberal MP, who has employed his daughter. ''Politics is a very sensitive environment. You can assume things are going well in the office while you are in Canberra, but you really don't know.''
Politics is a paranoid business and the security of having family members nearby can be comforting.
Former Labor MP Dick Adams, who employed his long-term partner Dee Alty for 18 years, said: ''Internally, people are a bit insecure. Someone can undermine your office very easily from within your own party.
''That didn't apply to me and that's not why I employed Dee,'' Adams added. ''[But] I know in some offices that's something they get really worried about - having someone they can have ultimate trust in.''
There are also economic benefits to hiring family. It saves MPs undertaking the costly and time-consuming process of executive recruitment, especially at short notice.
Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, who employed his daughter Samantha to fill a short-term position, said: ''The department won't go through the process of advertising [for temporary jobs].''
So with all these benefits, why does Abbott object so strongly to nepotism? Well, for one, the practice can create perceptions of banana republic-style cronyism. At the height of the expenses scandal last October, the Prime Minister is understood to have told his party room that it was ''not a good look'' for Coalition MPs to be employing family members
There are other reasons, of which Abbott is keenly aware. Nepotism diminishes Australia's meritocracy. It makes the political class even more insular.
Sources close to Alex Somlyay's electorate office are not aware of any work performed by the former MP's wife last year.
In Somlyay's final year in office, as he was winding back from work and spending hours serving as the ''Member for Golf'' at the Horton Park Golf Club, constituents say Somlyay did just fine with three - and in fact, mostly four - full-time staff members.
Somlyay insists his wife spent 270 days last year researching and writing his speeches and preparing him for committee meetings. She did all this from home, he says, adding that there was nothing unusual about listing his wife on the payroll under both her maiden and married names, suggesting two different people.
Hansard records do little to support Somlyay's claims. They indicate he spoke only 10 times in the House of Representatives - including his committee appearances - during the period covering his wife's employment. Some speeches are a few paragraphs long and none suggest the contribution of a couple of thousand hours' worth of research.
Somlyay gave his retirement speech last June and ceased all work as an MP in August.
So why did his wife get a pay rise in July? And why was she getting paid for research duties until December? These are now questions being considered by the Australian Federal Police.
If Abbott needs a cautionary tale to explain why he's made the right decision to ban familial employment, he could refer to Somlyay.
Or he could remind his colleagues of former US president George W. Bush, who employed nepotism on a heroic scale.
As Bellow writes: ''No sooner had Bush taken office … than he began handing out appointments to members of other Republican families.
''Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, became chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Elaine Chao, wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, became secretary of labor. Chao's chief labor attorney, Eugene Scalia, was the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Elizabeth Cheney, the vice-president's daughter, became a deputy assistant secretary of state; her husband became chief counsel for the Office of Management and Budget.
''And in a crowning act of nepotistic chutzpah, Bush acceded to Senator Strom Thurmond's request that he appoint 28-year-old Strom Thurmond jnr US attorney for South Carolina.''
Bellow argues - his book was published in 2003, after all - that such rampant nepotism was not necessarily a bad thing. But knowing the destination of Bush's nepotistic adventures, Abbott appears well advised to rule politics out of the family.