Woman Bites Dog: Unequal Affairs in Australian Politics

| September 14, 2009

As one political sex scandal roared to life in New South Wales two weeks ago, another in Tasmania finally came to an end. 

There are considerable differences between the stories of former NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca and former Tasmanian Cabinet Minister Paula Wriedt. Both may have committed the same adulterous sins, but while Della Bosca already appears to be back on track to one day lead the NSW Labor Party, Wriedt continues to attract raging criticism from her former constituents.
In the year since she attempted to commit suicide, when her affair was about to be made public, Wriedt has received very little public support from her any of her former parliamentary colleagues.
The two stories paint a vivid picture of the reality of political scandals in Australia, where there are two very different rule books for men and women.
Of Dellla Bosca.
Della Bosca’s affair with Kate Neill, a woman half his age, gained the obligatory amount of "SHOCK! HORROR!" publicity in every mainstream news medium when it was revealed on Tuesday September 1.
But in reality, the story was typical of most sex scandals: a man falls in love with a younger woman, then promises to leave his wife, then doesn’t, then the mistress airs the dirty laundry to the media.
Ho hum. We’ve heard it all before.
Della Bosca resigned from his position on the frontbench and everyone got back to work.
Did the incident kill his career? It certainly doesn’t appear so. A few days later, NSW Police Minister Tony Kelly said it would be the state’s loss if Della Bosca did not return to the frontbench. News Limited’s NSW state political editor Simon Benson went further, saying: 
"Few people would be in a position to make moral judgments about the man. And they won’t. Affairs have never meant political death in Australia and there are many who have been where he has, metaphorically speaking, and then returned to positions of power and even greatness…he could return to the ministry under a Sartor or Keneally government, or the front bench, or even leadership in a Labor opposition after 2011".
Of Wriedt.
Meanwhile down in the Apple Isle, Wriedt was finally closing down the year-long saga which nearly claimed her life. 
Her story was the “(wo)man bites dog” reversal of Della Bosca’s regular old “dog bites man” scandal.
She was a young, attractive and very successful politician who had an affair with her ministerial chauffeur Ben Chaffey. When serious depression, an idiot football identity who was misconstrued as saying (on national TV) that he wanted to ejaculate on her and Chaffey’s claim for more than $100,000 in damages were added to the mix, something had to break.
It did.
On Monday August 4, 2008, Wriedt was rushed to the Royal Hobart Hospital, after attempting to commit suicide. The day after, her affair was finally exposed in the media – months after journalists had started hearing rumours about it.
Wriedt spent weeks in hospital and was on sick leave indefinitely until she finally resigned from Parliament in January, several months after Premier David Bartlett sacked her from State Cabinet.
Last weekend, Wriedt wrote a deeply personal first-person account of the incident in the Sunday Tasmanian. It was her chance to finish the scandal in her own words, after being harassed by reporters for months.
While Wriedt’s article did attract some sympathy, especially from those aware of the realities of depression, it also attracted severe criticism.
So Paula has found the will to live, so would I if the taxpayer gave me $740,000 as a golden handshake…My heart goes out to the real sufferers,” wrote one person in one of many similar responses beneath her story on the Sunday Tasmanian website.
Another, showing how Wriedt was regarded by many Tasmanian men, wrote: “Putting all things aside for 1 minute – that photo of Paula holding the Mars Bar, she is unbelievably attractive.”
Their future.
Thankfully, Wriedt is making a strong recovery from her illness and has agreed to act as an ambassador for national depression initiative beyondblue. The 40-year-old is spending as much time as she can with her two children and is yet to commit to any further career aspirations.
Della Bosca, meanwhile, is content licking his wounds. The publicity of his affair is lessening by the day and the story has shifted to how long it will take him to resume his place in the Government’s hierarchy.
His sex scandal lasted two weeks.
Wriedt always knew things would be different for her, “I knew a sex scandal would make headlines for not just days but weeks and years and completely overshadow my ministerial career of nearly 10 years”, she wrote last week.
She was right.
But only because she was a female living and working in a world where successful men have affairs with women – not the other way round.
Mark Worley is Sydney based journalist. A former Tasmanian who moved to the big smoke three months ago, he is currently getting to know his new city working the night crime reporting shift at the Daily Telegraph. As the senior reporter at the Sunday Tasmanian, he wrote several articles covering the Paula Wriedt scandal. Mark is currently studying for a Masters degree within the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Sydney.