It’s the annual dead zone in Australia. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is when many Australians can luxuriate in not needing to know which day of the week it is.
Not in Canberra. This is the season for a small scandal and a front bench reshuffle. This afternoon the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull released a statement saying he has effectively accepted resignations from two ministers, Jamie Briggs and Mal Brough.
Both will step down from their front bench positions amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour in one case, and allegations of corrupt conduct in the other.
Earlier today Jamie Briggs announced his resignation following an incident with a female public servant at a bar in Hong Kong on an official visit. In his statement the South Australian MP said:
“At no point was it my intention to act inappropriately and I’m obliged to note for the record that nothing illegal has been alleged or in fact did occur. However, in the days following the evening, the public servant concerned raised concerns about the appropriateness of my behaviour towards her at the venue. I’ve apologised directly to her but after careful reflection about the concerns she raised and the fact that I was at a bar late at night while on an overseas visit I have concluded this behaviour has not met the particularly high standards for ministers.”
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed.
“On this occasion his conduct fell short of that standard. After being invited to reflect on his position, he offered his resignation which I have accepted. While disappointed by the conduct that led to his resignation, I thank Mr Briggs for his capable service as a Minister.”
Exactly what “inappropriate” conduct manifested, is unclear. But it’s hard to join the dots between a late-night bar visit and conduct that resulted in a minister’s resignation without getting a pretty messy drawing.
Shortly after Briggs’ announcement, news that Brough would step down surfaced. The Special Minister of State and Minister for Defence Material and Science will stand aside pending the completion of inquiries by police over the alleged copying of the diary of former speaker Peter Slipper. Unlike his erstwhile front-bench colleague Briggs, Brough’s scandal isn’t fresh. It’s been an ongoing saga and the PM has faced a steady stream of criticism for promoting Brough in the first place and keeping him installed whilst the AFP investigates.
Accepting Briggs’ resignation for unbecoming conduct and allowing Brough to continue would have been an untenable position for the PM. So he nipped the two troublesome buds at once.