Hours after Malcolm Turnbull announced his now aptly nicknamed "bonk ban", political commentators have slammed the Australian Prime Minister's decision, calling it a "gross overreach".

Thursday night TV political panel show Q & A - presenting a special episode for the #MeToo movement - stepped carefully when it came to discussing the global campaign.

But when deputy PM Barnaby Joyce's sex life came up, specifically how it inspired Turnbull to ban sexual relationships between ministers and staffers, the panel didn't hold back.

Josh Bornstein, a prominent workplace lawyer who has dealt with a number of sexual harassment cases, called it a "panicked response" and said it "detracts from the Me Too movement".


Joyce's relationship with his former staffer Vikki Campion — albeit an affair and the one that ruined his 24-year marriage — is and was consensual.

"My view might be totally out of line but it's that consensual relationships are perfectly okay at work. I don't have a difficulty — despite some of the issues with Barnaby Joyce — he's had a consensual relationship with a 33-year-old woman who is perfectly able to decide," Bornstein said.

"The bonk ban is a gross overreach," he added.

Bornstein's sentiment was supported by Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist for theAustralian newspaper.

Albrechtsen has been particularly outspoken about the #MeToo movement over the past few months, expressing concerns it is promoting a social media mob mentality.

Sex at Parliament

In regards to Turnbull's decision to ban sex among those working in Parliament, Albrechtsen said Australia was getting on a "very fast train" and "we don't quite know where it's going to go".

The decision to ban sex in the workplace is a difficult rule to enforce as, all the panellists agreed, a large number of people meet their partners in the workplace.

And as Bornstein jokingly put, "can you imagine what would happen to the halls of the ABC if the bonking ban ... would there be anybody left?"


Turnbull, in a press conference earlier Thursday, slammed his deputy's decision to start a relationship with his former staffer.

"I think we know that the real issue is the terrible hurt and humiliation that Barnaby, by his conduct, has visited upon his wife, Natalie, and their daughters and, indeed, his new partner," Turnbull said.

"Barnaby made a shocking error of judgment in having an affair with a young woman working in his office. In doing so, he has set off a world of woe for those women and appalled all of us. Our hearts go out to them," he added.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has banned sex between ministers and their staff.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has banned sex between ministers and their staff.

Albrechtsen said the Prime Minister setting himself up as the "morality police" would be a difficult thing to enforce.

"How do you enforce this? Do we have a grandfathering provision for those currently in a relationship? A transition?" she said.

But relating the #MeToo movement to Joyce's relationship and baby with his former staffer shouldn't be happening, Q & A panellist and a pioneering sexual harassment professor Catharine Lumby said.


"We're talking about abuse of power when we're talking about sexual harassment. If we're talking about consenting adults and things are safe and consensual, I don't think we should be bed-sniffing, personally," the Macquarie University professor said.

Earlier Thursday, the ABC expressed its disappointment over Charles Waterstreet's decision to withdraw from Thursday night's Q & A panel.

Waterstreet, a controversial Sydney barrister who has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate comments, withdrew from the #MeToo edition late on Wednesday night.

The high-profile barrister has always denied the allegations, but made the decision after he was contacted by the NSW Bar Association's President Arthur Moses.

Moses wrote to Waterstreet informing him "it was his firm view that it was neither appropriate or prudent for him to appear on the Q and A television programme to discuss issue concerning the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement."

Despite withdrawing from the panel, Waterstreet wasn't spared from Thursday night's discussion.


When introducing fellow lawyer Bornstein, the panel's host Virginia Trioli said, "Josh, I'll start with you — our only male panellist tonight — which wasn't our intention, but that's what we've ended up with".