Public Office and Private Failure

Is it disturbing that those who are caught out in public life by their private failings should claim that their private lives should be off limits and should have no bearing on their public performance. This issue is close to home for a Bishop living in the electorate of Mr Barnaby Joyce. As an observer who struggles like all people with sin, I think, “but for the grace of God there go I.” Judgement is not the response of heart but grief and a prayer for a man’s repentance. 

Holding public office is a massive privilege that comes with even greater responsibility. I am not a politician but as a Bishop in the Anglican Church I am one who holds public office. Placed by the public into political position, or by the church into the role of Bishop, comes with public expectations. Public office is representative. Indeed, we even call the centre of politics in this country, “The House of Representatives”, while using such lofty terms as “The Senate” to describe the other part of our Parliament.  From such places, “Orders of Australia” are awarded to those who commend themselves by their civic duty. But when public office suffers failures in private performance then the currency of lofty positions and honours will be devalued. One only needs to reflect on church scandals to realise the impact on Gospel currency. Public office in this country demands the very best people and for the sake of the nation the greatest accountability and scrutiny.

Public office in this country demands the very best people and for the sake of the nation the greatest accountability and scrutiny.

Representation cannot be compartmentalised such that private behaviour has no bearing on public performance. Even NRL football clubs get this. As an appointed representative, expectations differ within one’s own constituency. In politics economics might be at the heart of one voter, local infrastructure at the heart of another and communications for yet another. In all cases the voting public assume moral integrity. Those who seek such high office should be very clear that public expectations are always very high, as are the accountabilities and the scrutiny that accompanies this.

I write in what I think will be a vain attempt to address recent events in politics with a view to future politics locally and nationally and as a reminder to those who hold office in the Church. I say “a vain attempt” because I live in a fallen world where sin is so prevalent and its answer, Jesus Christ, is increasingly marginalised. Whether I find agreement or not matters little but the truth is that even a sin affected general public will rightly hold those in public office to a higher bar.

If you enter public office, whether you like it or not, your life will be subject to public scrutiny. Every aspirant to such noble position should closet their egos for a moment and consider this before accepting the responsibilities that go with the office. Equally every aspirant to public office should consider the impact of all their decisions on those around them. A spouse and children being drawn into such a public world should never have to face the media spotlight because of another’s wickedness or foolishness.

When caught out by such wickedness the right response should be to be silent and humble oneself before God.

When caught out by such wickedness the right response should be to be silent and humble oneself before God. Recent revelations by Mr Joyce that he may not be the father of the child at the centre of his love scandal are surprising, if not shocking, showing little love for the reputation of the woman involved. Why he would make such a revelation can only speak to the confusion that sin brings. The writer of the proverbs put it well when he said, “even the fool is considered wise for his silence.”  And again the proverb says, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” We can only pray for a fallen leader that he repent and not multiply words.

Of course this sounds pretty negative. But for someone with the integrity to want to be the best, and do the best, for our nation such accountability is a gift. The accountabilities of office should warn and set guards on one’s decision making. They protect spouse and family and others from public ridicule and they maintain the integrity of the office one holds.  While I find it interesting that in 2017 the so called “moralisers”, like myself, were told to get out of other people’s bedrooms, now we have a Prime Minister setting rules, or offering accountabilities, around sexual relationships in the office. Is this confusion or are we recognising private behaviour does have implications for public performance?

When such accountabilities are ignored by a few, questions will rightly be raised as to the standards of all. The good character of others will be impugned by association and the rise of a cynical society that has no respect for those who govern us will follow. I hope I don’t need to point out the disaster of this. Fail in public office in private performance and you can expect that failure to be public. It is a noble thing to aspire to high office but crucial to understand the high standard to which you will be held.

No one is perfect and no one expects perfection but we do expect humble and repentant responses and for most Australians we generally follow them with forgiveness.