Divorce - the word that dare not speak its name in Liberal Party literature

By Mike Seccombe
August 25, 2004

In her famous song, the country and western singer Tammy Wynette would only spell out the word in front of her son: D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

But the Liberal Party, it seems, is even more ashamed, and will not use the word at all in front of voters. Go to the candidate profiles on its website and you will notice straight away one of the headings is "family" - as befits the party's status as the party of traditional social values.

But if you search through all 150-odd Liberal candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate you will notice something odd. Despite marriage breakdown being common and no longer carrying the stigma it may have once had, there are apparently no divorced people among them.

By and large, the married ones are identified as "married", the single ones are identified as "single", while the divorced ones are only mentioned as "mother of three" or "father of two".

Some who are divorced and childless, or in de facto relationships, are accorded no family status at all.

In all, the website avoids directly dealing with the marital status of about 28 sitting or hopeful MPs and senators. Those listed as "father of" or "mother of" include the Education Minister, Brendan Nelson (Bradfield), Joanna Gash (Gilmore), Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar), Peter Slipper (Fisher), Warren Entsch (Leichhardt), Gary Hardgrave (Moreton), Trish Draper (Makin), Phil Barresi (Deakin), Fran Bailey (McEwen), Judy Moylan (Pearce) and Senator Judith Troeth (Victoria). These people are all divorced, although Brendan "father of three" Nelson is still with his third wife.

Among those accorded no family status at all on the Liberal website are: David Jull (Fadden), Michael Johnson (Ryan), Petro Georgiou (Kooyong), Julie Bishop (Curtin) and Senator Brett Mason (Queensland).

Several of these people, when contacted yesterday, said they were puzzled about the coyness in the website listings.

Joanna Gash, for example, said she had never tried to hide her divorce and alluded to it in campaign material. Warren Entsch, also, was not embarrassed at his divorce, nor by his current de facto relationship. A spokeswoman for Julie Bishop said her boss's divorce was no secret.

Asked for an explanation, the party's federal director, Brian Loughnane, first said it was a matter for individual candidates.

When it was put to him that several candidates had said it was a matter for head office, he conceded the list had been compiled there but said there was "no deliberate policy decision taken" to avoid mentioning the "D-word". He denied that "mother of" or "father of" had been formulated to try to present candidates as conforming to the idealised conservative family unit.

Ross Cameron (Parramatta), revealed recently as an adulterer, is still on the "married" list.