Australian federal MP Dennis Jensen is not the first politician to produce a racy thriller. One-time British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd has penned some breathless prose, as has the former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.
Dr Jensen, though, may be the first to lose his job, as he sees it, over a novel containing one steamy sex scene.
A conservative Liberal Party backbencher, Dr Jensen is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and a climate change sceptic. He boycotted the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations, and sparked outrage recently when he said taxpayers should not be funding the “noble savage” lifestyles of remote Aboriginal communities.
His views endeared him to a group of powerbrokers from the party’s evangelical Christian wing, whose support he was counting on to help him contest his Perth seat of Tangney at a federal election due later this year.
However, when local Liberals met earlier this month to choose a candidate for Tangney, the MP was cast aside – by a humiliating 57 to seven votes – in favour of Ben Morton, the party’s former state director.
‘Fruits of victory’
An angry Dr Jensen blamed a “smear campaign”, allegedly mounted in collusion with The Australian, which days earlier had revealed the existence of his book, The Skywarriors, about an imaginary war between Australia and an Indonesian regime briefly backed by China.
The newspaper reported that the 54-year-old used his parliamentary letterhead when writing to a Sydney literary agent in 2007 seeking a publishing deal.
It also reproduced a scene from his book following the downing of an Australian warplane in the Indian Ocean. A fictional Indonesian dictator, Rajiv Rono, tells his mistress, Yasmine, that “those arrogant Australians won’t know what has hit them!” He then rips off her blouse, “completely ignoring her protests”, and enjoys “the fruits of his victory”.
The story was enthusiastically picked up by the rest of the Australian media. Then came a second article in which The Australian reported that Dr Jensen had “recently left the family home… to live about 60km away [outside Tangney] with his new girlfriend”.
“It was a one-two shot against me,” Dr Jensen told the BBC.
“One, he’s a purveyor of smut. Two, he’s abandoned his wife and kids to shack up with his new girlfriend. This was a very well organised, well co-ordinated strike, aimed with laser precision at my religious supporters, and it was quite effective in scaring them off.
“In fact, my wife left me in July 2014. She lived in the electorate home. I lived down at our holiday home. I met my current girlfriend, and we’ve been together subsequently, in November 2014. So none of that stuff was current.”
Yes! Yes! Yes! minister
How does the sex scene in Dennis Jensen’s The Skywarriors stack up against raunchy writing from politicians across the world?
“Flushed with the excitement of the moment, Rono felt that he just had to relieve himself. He violently pulled Yasmine’s blouse buttons apart, completely ignoring her protests. Yasmine didn’t believe in wearing bras; in fact, she didn’t really need to” – Dennis Jensen in The Skywarriors.
“She gently picked up his hand and guided it to their ecstasy” – former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie in The Year of the Dangerous Ones.
“The din from the party mocked me as Karen attacked my surly worm with gusto” – Australian Labor Party MP Graham Perrett in The Twelfth Fish.
“Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the Huntress. She rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders. ‘Tell me, or I will make you do terrible things,’ she hissed” – Former US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in 1945.
“On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct” – Tony Blair in his autobiography, A Journey.
Dr Jensen is now suing The Australian for defamation – an action which prompted one columnist to hail him as “that rarest of unpublished authors, who sues a publisher for publishing material, the publication of which he had previously actively sought”.
In another paradoxical move last week, the MP self-published a Kindle edition of The Skywarriors, meaning that a work subject to a defamation claim is now available on Amazon for anyone with a spare A$6.51 ($5.07; £3.54).
Even at that price, readers expecting a raunchy read may well feel cheated. The book contains just one sex scene: the 154-word, toe-curling encounter already reprinted by multiple news outlets. When two fighter pilots subsequently get together, we learn only of their “voyage of gentle and passionate discovery”.
And apart from mention of an Australian oil worker engrossed in Penthouse just before his rig is attacked by Indonesia off the Kimberley coast, that is it.
Instead, the novel serves up page upon page of technical detail about combat aircraft and radar systems, along with characters such as Australian pilot Jenny Peters, whose athletic physique indicates she is “unlikely to have weight problems later in life” and whose “shapely calves need no assistance from any stocking”.
A former submarine operations researcher with the federal government’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (now Group), Dr Jensen calls The Skywarriors – which he wrote in 2002, two years before entering parliament – a techno-thriller, after the genre pioneered by Tom Clancy.
The MP’s father, who is a journalist and author, advised him that every book needs at least one passage of graphic sex to get published, he says. However, after completing The Skywarriors, Dr Jensen – a member of the joint standing parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade – decided not to pursue his quest for a publisher, fearing that it might harm Australia’s relations with Indonesia and China.
So why self-publish it now?
“The plot is out in the public domain now, so the damage is done. And I thought I might have a shot at seeing if it would sell. Also to put the record straight and show it’s not a work of erotica, as The Australian portrayed it.”
‘Done’ with the Liberals
Dr Jensen, who has held the safe Liberal seat for nearly 12 years, insists the candidate selection battle was “on a knife edge” until the negative articles appeared.
In truth, despite him winning record majorities, he has never been popular with local Liberals, who tried to dump him in 2006 and again in 2009. The first time, then Prime Minister John Howard intervened; the second, the party’s state council stepped in. This time, it seems that there is no-one willing to save him.
Now Dr Jensen is “done with” the Liberal Party, whose MPs are expected to confine themselves to “branch stacking, fundraising and brainless conformity”, he claims. And while he is considering standing as an independent, he believes the recent publicity has probably ruined his chances.
Does an alternative career as a fiction writer appeal?
“It would, but I know it’s extremely difficult to make a living. For every Wilbur Smith you’ve got thousands that haven’t made a penny or certainly not enough to support themselves.”