An inquiry seemed at the time an overreaction for an act which may have been a spontaneous act by an MP who may have regretted his or her decision.
In light of the evidence from the inquiry, and Ross’ attitude to Bridges that sat behind it, in hindsight it was a sound decision to get to the bottom of it.
In hindsight it would have been a disaster not to. Imagine two years worth of secret recordings being released.
Bridges and Bennett have made mistakes. He shouldn’t have used the word “embarrassing” when announcing Ross’ health leave (unrelated to the leaking) and Bennett shouldn’t have moralised over affairs.
Yep. They were both trying to be careful with what they said, but got it wrong.
But given the complexity of the problem, the secret recording this week suggests that Bridges and Bennett performed better behind the scenes than they did publicly.
Anyone looking for a lesson in how to deal compassionately with someone with mental health issues, need go no further than the this week’s recording – which pre-dates the leaking evidence.
There is one truth that persists throughout the 18-minute conversation; they all acknowledge Ross has a real health problem, and Bennett and Bridges insist that he needs proper help and time to get well.
Towards the end, it is as though Ross has forgotten that he was secretly recording them. He shifts from a self–conscious demeanour to distress at his own misfortune. The support he is offered is quite moving.
They smother him in support and repeatedly offer him the prospect of future promotion from what is effectively No 56 in the caucus.
Importantly, though, what is clear from the tape is that they had decided that Jami-Lee Ross was going to be demoted off the front bench whether or not he went on leave for health reasons.
While the health issues were genuine and the concern seemed genuine, he was not being demoted for them.
He was being demoted because Bridges had lost confidence in him due to “disloyalty”.
Exactly what comprised that disloyalty is not spelled out and the conversation pre-dated Jami-Lee Ross being identified as the likely leaker.
But the allegations of disloyalty had been itemised at a previous meeting and are thought to have involved repeated bad-mouthing of Bridges to colleagues and undermining his leadership.
Front benchers can’t go around bad mouthing the leadership to all their colleagues, especially those who get trusted with strategic information such as polling. Well not if they want to remain on the front bench.
Ross was offered a deal he could not refuse at the time: either be demoted and have the leader announce the demotion publicly for disloyalty; or be demoted for disloyalty, take leave to address genuine mental health issues and have the leader only say it was for health reasons.
They were trying to give JLR a future. Again with hindsight maybe they shouldn’t have. Perhaps it would have been better to have publicly demoted him for disloyalty?