When it comes to violence against women, there is no room for debate. Confusion is not an excuse. Drunkenness is not an excuse. Grief is not an excuse.
The full details of the alleged attack on a female member of staff at the Coral Beach bar should emerge over the course of a thorough police investigation.
As of Thursday, McKeeva Bush has not been arrested nor charged. If any charges arise out of the incident, it will be up to the courts to determine guilt or innocence. We don’t intend to prejudge that process.
What is already clear, however, is that the veteran politician and former premier is guilty of conduct unbecoming his office.
He has not denied that an “incident” took place and that he “reacted badly” to staff at the bar who came to his aid after he fell. He has even issued a public apology, though he notably steered clear of directly acknowledging an assault.
While his descriptions of events make it difficult to determine precisely what he is apologising for, his admissions are alarming.
The Speaker acknowledges that he passed out in a public space and lost recollection of events, that he needs professional help and that he has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
He went on to name his alleged victim, who, unlike a publicly elected figure, had a reasonable expectation of anonymity. It has long been the accepted standard to shield the identities of victims of violent crimes, especially when the individual is a private citizen. As Bush knows, public opinion can be a harsh judge and it was unfair to subject this woman to unwanted and uninvited scrutiny.
The rest of his public statement details his personal struggles to deal with grief following the death of his daughter nine years ago and the more recent loss of his mother. He also pledged to “cease any use of alcohol” and seek “long-term professional help” for the “emotional pain” he is dealing with.
While we sympathise with the Speaker over his personal losses, citing them in an ‘apology’ over an alleged assault on a woman seeks only to deflect from the severity of his actions.
There is an old adage that one should never ruin an apology with an excuse.
As a public figure, Bush has an opportunity to demonstrate what it looks like when an adult sincerely acknowledges that he has done wrong. He assumes responsibility.
That said, we hope the Speaker gets the help he needs to deal with his personal problems.
Whether he should do so while maintaining one of the most important roles in government is another matter.
Ezzard Miller, one of the few politicians to come out with an unequivocal response to the incident, rightly points out that Bush’s comments raise “inevitable implications for his ability to sustain the confidence, trust and respect essential to his role at the apex of government”.
For his own sake, as well as for the country, it may be time for the Speaker to take some time away from the spotlight. A temporary “leave of absence” is not enough and, as Miller points out, does not appear to be a constitutionally viable option.
Whatever the underlying causes, politicians and public figures should rightly be held to high standards of personal behaviour. From his own account, Bush fell well short of those last weekend.
While due process must take place in terms of any legal accountability, we should not have to wait so long for personal or political accountability.
We call on the honourable Speaker to do the honourable thing: Resign from government.