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There might be a ‘fine, fine line between pleasure and pain’ but there is most certainly a very fine line between self-interest and corruption – and too many present and past politicians are straying to the wrong side of it.

“Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” portrayed the Westminster system as it once operated in Britain.

Ministers were supported by a career Civil Service, where promotion was decided on merit and seniority, where employment in the CS was for life (except, pre-WWII, for women, who had to resign on marriage) and where a member of the CS would earn instant dismissal were they to accept a gift!

I know this as fact because my parents were both in the Civil Service – my father in a technical area as an engineer and my mother (until she married, aged 35, in 1931) as Personal Private Secretary to the Controller of the Stationery Office, who was, I believe, at that time, Sir William Codling. In reminiscing, she also often mentioned a Colonel Scorgie, who is referenced in that link.

In her boss’s absence – which was usually nearly all day, every day, while he attended meetings, many with government Ministers – my mother had the task of having to tactfully advise many politicians that they could not access certain official documents, often White Papers, which they were anxious to see. All offers of bribes – by way of gifts – had also to be tactfully refused, and she was well informed as to who was or was not authorised to have access.

The scene in Australian Minister’s offices these days is very different.

While I am sure that senior Public Servants are called on for advice, many of the Minister’s advisors are from an entirely political background. It seems that their first brief is to ensure the reelectability of the current government, rather than to provide accurate information on the suitability of the proposed policy direction, in terms of benefitting the country.

And as to lobbyists and leaks – the integrity of government is ‘notable by its absence’ best describes the situation.

Together with our 3 children, I left England at the end of 1970, to join my husband who had taken up a professional appointment in Darwin.

I read a lot about the history of the Northern Territory, including reading Xavier Herbert’s “Poor Fellow My Country“, I was aware through the media of the corruption in Queensland under Joh Bjelke-Petersen and, over the years, I also acquired a lot of information about past and, in some cases, continuing corruption in other states – most notably NSW and Victoria, but WA had a very bad patch as well..

Several States, as well as the NT, have now established some form of anti-corruption commission, as recommended by the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland. Their effectiveness is limited by the scope allowed to them by the politicians, and, the less the scope, the more corrupt the government, seems to be a fair conclusion.

In theory, those enrolled to vote aim to elect a government which will work to better conditions for the electorate, supposedly based on the policies they have taken to the election, and we are allowed to expect transparency and integrity in the government’s proceedings.

Most if not all of the ex-politicians in the photograph below are among a remarkably large group – sourced from both major parties, but more significantly from the Coalition – who have retired from politics with a very nice superannuation (such a pity that Bronwyn Bishop is not in the picture!), the right to be addressed as Honourable by all previous Ministers – a title some of them dishonour by their behaviour – and – a very nice income from their post-politics engagements.

Australian politicians at Commonwealth level are close to being the best paid in the world and we have two more levels – state/territory and local – below them, so the cost of supporting governments in Australia is totally disproportionate to our population size.

Originally, payment for those elected was based on the idea that many of them were foregoing a career and, to be seriously interested in being a candidate for election, their remuneration should be reasonably attractive. Further, returning to their previous career without loss of seniority etc, was uncertain, meant they had to have a reasonably generous superannuation scheme.

The amounts they should receive are determined by the Remunerations Tribunal, which uses, it seems a very formulaic approach, and it would be rare to see Parliament refuse to accept the Tribunal’s recommendation for an increase.

Yet at present Parliament is not sitting, and there must be a limit to the amount of constituency business with which MPs can occupy themselves.

Meanwhile the PM is quietly beavering away, collecting together a group of senior business representatives, almost exclusively from the fossil fuel industries and you can bet your bottom dollar that, a few years down the track, Morrison and some of his closest associates will also feature in a photo of former Ministers securing juicy sinecures.

Meanwhile, with no oversight from Parliament, the PM is establishing a fossil fuel driven future – completely ignoring a heaven sent opportunity to revive the economy by fighting climate change.

He went to the last election with only one policy – tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations.

His ruthless climb up the ladder to the top position has been well documented and clearly shows a man for whom the driver is self-interest, with no pity for those trampled in the process.

A factor in the Coalition’s winning of the 2019 election could well have been the – dare I call it corrupt – pork barrelling through the sports grants.

All attempts, however feeble, by the Coalition to establish an anti-corruption watch dog have so far gone nowhere, but – praise be – religious discrimination laws seem to have been assigned to the dustbin!

The picture is not pretty – and even if our actions on climate change pale into insignificance beside those needing to be made by the really big polluters, USA, China and India – showing willing, added to efforts in Europe and elsewhere, would do much more good than harm.

I strongly feel that the actions of too many of our politicians go way beyond self-interest – ignoring their duties to electors – and actually move substantially into the realm of corruption.

Another facet of the government’s lack of consistency is the unspent $60 billion!

Millions were left without substantial help, while businesses were given first priority to be able to continue in existence.

If Morrison was prepared to spend the money for employees who, it transpires, do not exist, then he should use if for those who do exist, but who were abandoned because they fell outside his arbitrary criteria.

Morrison currently has a one seat majority and even if Eden Monaro turns that into a 2-seat majority, it is not an overwhelming mandate  – particularly as he gained fewer than half the votes.

To ignore social distancing by inciting a revolution, out on the streets en masse, demanding attention to climate change action, would be irresponsible.

But come the end of the lock-down, we need to be prepared for action.

This probably corrupt and definitely uncaring government must be brought to heel!

I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:

“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”

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13 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    Mick Young lost his ministry because of a stuffed toy. Under an observed Westminster system, few of the current LNP members would survive, and the same goes for a few of the recently retired LNP luminaries who are currently revered as ‘great Australians’, such as one who commandeered an ADF plane to fly across the entire width of this Island continent for a root.
    Corruption is so commonplace that it never gets mentioned in any msm. Not that it did in the Murdoch press anyway – The Talking Toilet brush started to give a spirited defence of the Morrison Mob before I switched The Insiders off this morning.
    And as for Frydenberg – a Labor treasurer lost his ministry because he didn’t understand an esoteric fiscal term. Frydenberg doesn’t even understand what ‘fiscal’ means!

  2. HumeAndTwain

    Very valid observations. I retired from a USG position in early 2007 … already under the six years of Bush II (to that point) the telltale signs of the erosion of the standards that had been in place and enforced since the 1970s, after the Nixon debacle was noticeable. The deterioration since then in the US, and, obviously here in Australia is utterly depressing. The self-serving actions of far too many politicians, and the resulting corrosive and damaging effects on the operation and views of various governments is extremely saddening and worrying to see. Beyond the damage to processes and systems, the way the tide increasingly feeds into the acceleration of inequality throughout societies should/should wake people up to the dire consequences. But, it doesn’t seem to be occurring. Is this how the Romans ignored the deterioration of their Republic and ultimately their entire society?

  3. Andrew Smith

    Agree, also says something about the broader culture of Australian politics, business and society. I was a PS in the ’80s and declined an opportunity to inform a shadow minister about same Dept., being told it may be useful for me later (if anything, would have told him to simply watch Yes M/PM). Later consulted and liased with university, TAFE etc. international personnel where the vocabulary they used referred often to ‘top people’, ‘being connected’, ‘in the loop’ etc. suggesting neo feudalism or simply pop stars in their own minds?

    Over a decade ago US writer Thomas Frank wrote the ‘Wrecking Crew’ quite prescient for Australia and reflecting the radical right libertarian strategy imported into Australia, corrupting politics, PS, corporates and society:

    ‘Frank describes the rise of a ruling coalition dedicated to dismantling government. But rather than cutting down the big government they claim to hate, conservatives have simply sold it off, deregulating some industries, defunding others, but always turning public policy into a private-sector bidding war. Washington itself has been remade into a golden landscape of super-wealthy suburbs and gleaming lobbyist headquarters―the wages of government-by-entrepreneurship practiced so outrageously by figures such as Jack Abramoff.

    It is no coincidence, Frank argues, that the same politicians who guffaw at the idea of effective government have installed a regime in which incompetence is the rule. Nor will the country easily shake off the consequences of deliberate misgovernment through the usual election remedies. Obsessed with achieving a lasting victory, conservatives have taken pains to enshrine the free market as the permanent creed of state.’

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3351062-the-wrecking-crew

    Like Trump sacking Inspector Generals Australia lacks significant media to hold power to account, in fact much media including NewsCorp, ABC Insiders/Q&A, 9 Fairfax, shock jocks etc. are integrated with political PR, and power; more similar to MPs culturally than Australia’s diverse population and electorate.

  4. Yes Minister

    @New England Cocky Don’t forget the bureaucracy. Corruption in all three arms of government has been deliberately developed into an art-form in Australia. Government in the most corrupt country in the world is quite literally organized crime.

  5. Lambchop Simnel

    I think if we found out just how deep run corruption here and across the world, we would walk away so gobsmacked we would never be able to cope with it, forever.

  6. johno

    Lambchop, would a bex and a good lie down suffice ?

  7. New England Cocky

    @ Yes Minister: Agreed. I was clearing out my bibliomaniac’s library yesterday and discovered the set of your namesake. It is worth going back to those books, written by well established and disenchanted public servants, to see the accuracy of their scripts as applied to present day Australian politics.

    The Liarbral Nazional$ are deliberately building the worst export economy in the OECD for the benefit of foreign owned multinational corporations that have moved primary and secondary processing overseas thus ‘stealing” jobs from Australian citizens to maximise profits for those corporations and their foreign resident shareholders, leaving Australia as a mining pit comparable with the Democratic Republic of Congo and other similarly ravaged and corrupted African economies.

  8. DrakeN

    Much of the so-called “Western World” industry, finance and politics is merely a legalised form of Mafia.
    Where do you imagine that those not-too-bright and largely uneducated country yokels in Sicily got their inspiration from?
    Rampant, often illegal capitalism; that’s where.
    To quote the Great Bard: ” ‘t was ever thus.”

  9. Lambchop Simnel

    Thanks DrakeN,

    Wouldn’t it be good to see some people on the receiving end of their own pathologies?

  10. Jack Cade

    New England Cocky

    The writers of the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister scripts swear that all of the scripts were based on actual happenings in UK government – even the episode about the Communications Room (‘There’s a delegation of Teachers waiting for you in the Communications Room, Prime Minister.’ ‘Thank you Bernard. I’d better hurry before the Bells goes.’)
    One of their sources was on Harold Wilson’s staff.
    I think they were the best comedic scripts ever written, and utterly believable.
    The current Australian political landscape has little scope for comedy. It’s a slowly unfolding national tragedy.

  11. Mrs Wobbly

    I enjoyed reading this article Rosemary and thank you I agree It’s so very true sadly, in our Australian non democratic federal parliament, corruption is running rampant, unaccountable and unchallenged to the demise of the Australian people’s democratic rights. Its long over due and time to make all politicians stand up and be accountable to the people that they purport to representing.

  12. totaram

    Mrs Wobbly: Yes, indeed! And what can we say, when the leader of the opposition stands up in Parliament and says that he hasn’t seen any corruption in Government? He may be right, because the laws have now been so “adjusted” that anything these pollies do is not illegal.

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