There was a time in this country when government took advice from public servants.
You know, those who work for the government in their specialised fields and offer independent advice.
One would think that advice from these people who diligently and independently gather all there is to know on a given subject, and then without fear or favour place it in the lap of government, would be the people to consult.
But no, that old thinking went out the window a long time ago.
Now we need panels, lobbyists and advisers to whom we pay millions of dollars.
And as if the government – backed by advice from as many public servants from as many departments as is required and as many advisers as they can lay their hands on – together with the state premiers and officials from federal and state departments the Prime Minister has decided to suspend the parliament for five months and appoint a panel of business people to manage the government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic.
These people are apparently more gifted than the heads of the public service – including the head of Treasury.
Presenting facts to people who have reasoned by virtue of their feelings that they are right is totally futile.
This new panel of gifted business people are as deputy chairman former Telstra chief David Thodey. The Board members include former Labor government minister Greg Combet, former health department Jane Halton, former Toll Holdings boss Paul Little, and EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna.
They will be joined by Philip Gaetjens, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary, and his counterpart at Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo and will be known as the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC).
Julie-Anne Spargue from the AFR tells us it will be chaired by former Fortescue Metals chief Nev Power whose job it will be to “coordinate advice to the government on actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the global coronavirus pandemic.”
I know very little about Mr Power and just what experience he has had managing pandemics, but I’m sure it would be no more than that of the head of the public service or the head of treasury, for example.
All I know is that he is a mining executive, as are others on the panel, a friend of the PM, and according to the Prime Minister won’t be constrained by the codes and traditions of the public service, and that:
“When I rang him the other day, I simply said, ‘Nev, I need you to serve your country.’ And he quickly responded … and he stepped up.”
(Morrison is becoming more like Trump every day: “The codes of the Public Service”?)
The peoples of all the nations of the world increasingly seem to be having less to say about their own destiny.
So, the parliament will suspend parliamentary sittings until August 11 and wont bring down a budget until October.
The government has always been paranoid of criticism. ‘Accountability’ isn’t a word they particularly like. That is why they are so secretive.
After all, the LNP has governed appallingly and achieved nothing yet they are now asking the people to take them in good faith and guide them through a pandemic and a recession when they still haven’t recovered from their ill-fated 2014 world’s unfairest budget. (Maybe that’s a bit unfair, but you get my point.)
Now we know that the possibility of a recession was very real before the virus hit and there wasn’t much business on the government’s books, but closing parliament down for so long is a big call.
In fact, it must be a bit of a joke. How are they going to pass the necessary legislation to deal with the crisis?
It is as Tony Burke, Manager of Opposition Manager Business said:
“I will be more than surprised if we can go from now until August and find that the legislation we put through the parliament today is all the nation needs for Australia to handle this pandemic, all the nation needs to deal with the crisis of unemployment and recession that we’ll be facing.”
To think that during a crisis of this magnitude you can simply close the doors of the people’s parliament so as to escape scrutiny.
The government may argue that it wants to totally concentrate its efforts on the economy and the virus, and there is certain legitimacy in this argument but it certainly flies in the face of known democratic principles.
I notice that Margo Kingston, author of “Not Happy John” fame tweeted last Monday night:
the people have lost their parliament for 5 months
devastating for accountibility of the federal government – politicians and public servants – to the people
shocked an electronic workaround wasn’t found
— 🔥Margo Kingston💧 (@margokingston1) March 23, 2020
The Australian’s sometime-left-wing stirrer Peter van Onselen wrote (paywall) that the parliament:
“… kept operating through both World Wars. It operated during the Great Depression and even the Spanish Influenza of 1919. In those days we didn’t have the technology nor know-how we do today to make it even easier to keep parliament open.”
Crikey’s Guy Rundle argued that (paywall) MPs should continue to do their jobs – “no excuses.”
Former Treasurer Wayne Swan joined the chorus, tweeting:
Its in the national interest we all do our best to work together.
The decision to effectively abolish the Parliament for months Is decisive, partisan & revealing.This
Govt Is scared & rattled. That’s not in the national interest #auspol
— Wayne Swan (@SwannyQLD) March 24, 2020
If ever there was a justification for recalling the parliament one only has to look at the performance of the government thus far. Here are three examples:
- The Prime Minister should be outlawed from delivering any public notifications regarding government decisions.
- Government Services Minister Stuart Robert’s performance regarding the MyGov debacle illustrates why we need the federal parliament to hold this government to account. He should be immediately sacked from his portfolio.
- Then of course there was the debacle with the Ruby Princess.
The better performing states premiers are currently overshadowing the government’s performance.
They need to reopen the people’s parliament, restore our democratic processes and lift their game.
My thought for the day
Never confuse what you want with what you need.
In a strange twist, having written all this, on Monday 30 March the government in perhaps the greatest ever back flip in Australian political history came out with a wage’s package that just a week ago they absolutely and empathetically opposed.
What a truly staggering conversion from the pursuit of a surplus a month ago to compassionate socialism today.
Without at this time going into the whys and wherefores of their decision I agree with the thoughts of Barrie Cassidy who tweeted.
This wages subsidy ticks a lot of boxes. Generous, same figure for everybody, applies to part timers and casuals with a 12 month link to employer. And to those retrenched after March 1. And you deal with your employer not Centrelink to get it.
— Barrie Cassidy (@barriecassidy) March 30, 2020
And of course they will have to reconvene the parliament to pass the necessary legislation.
A further thought
Economics is not a capitalist gift to the right of politics to further the wealth of the rich or a plaything for politicians to cement their power. Economics should be a process used to mold a humane and rounded society committed to kindness and compassion. One where the pursuit of success is encouraged while at the same time acknowledging that fairness and equality of opportunity is real in economic terms.
Imagine, if you will, an Australia where economics has a human face to it: Where the common good controls capitalism.
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