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How to clean up Australian politics

Hidden away in my ‘To read’ file I found a piece written by former Liberal Party leader John Hewson. I shall have to clean my list out more often in the hope of finding more gems. Hewson’s piece is important and I’m not sure how I missed it because I have witnessed him going through a Fraser-like conversion in his approach to politics in the past few years.

The piece was written almost 12 months ago and spoke of a favourite subject of mine: how to clean up our politics to make for a better democracy for all Australians. John Hewson proposes six Rules of engagement.

To make his case, Hewson recalls the time:

“Scott Morrison had his Trump Lite moment when he stared blankly at the Australian people and told them that an internal report – which they were not allowed to see – had found $100 million in sports grants were legitimate. It said much about the lack of transparency that is at the heart Australian politics and its parlous state.”

He goes on to recite other examples of Morrison’s oft-quoted adventures into fooling the Australian people and says that voters are sick to death of it. All of which is true except it doesn’t seem to hurt him in the polls. Even as I write, the public is being tricked into believing that the COVID-19 vaccines only a month ago could not be brought forward, yet now they miraculously can.

Hewson continues:

“The National Party carries on, seeing such programs as slush funds for the Nationals’ interest, not the national interest, blithely disregarding the erosion of their standing in regional Australia. On they go, pushing for the government to fund a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland in defiance of all logic: there is no net demand for electricity in North Queensland; banks won’t fund it; insurers won’t insure it; renewables are cheaper and have significant export potential.”

He notes that this is all to do with how we fund our political parties and who can lobby them in Australia. He also points to the standards and methods parties use to select their MPs and Senators.

“All political parties know these systemic weaknesses but, rather than fix them, and they seek to exploit them.”

Point one, he proposes cleaning up both campaign and party funding:

“While I would prefer to confine donations to individuals, to say $1000, and ban all corporate, union, foreign and institutional donations, I recognise some Constitutional questions. Hence, I recommend, with regret, that all campaigns be publicly funded, with tightened eligibility, and any administrative donations to parties and their affiliates are fully declared, on line, as they are made, and banning all foreign donations.”

The only thing preventing this is the major parties themselves who both have a vested interest in seeing that the status quo remains.

Second, he wants to:

“… make lobbying more transparent. Ministers and key bureaucrats should be subject to full and real-time disclosure of who they meet and when, and to what end.”

Of course, this would add a great deal of openness to how the public understands their representatives spending their time. Appointments should be fundamental to any MPs’ diary. It wouldn’t be hard to display a list of meetings/appointments daily and in real-time.

Thirdly, Dr Hewson says we should:

“… introduce truth-in-advertising legislation to politics. It would be independently monitored and enforced, with a limit on campaign advertising spending.”

Again, not challenging to monitor. The amount of money spent on government advertising in the guise of information when it is nothing more than political propaganda. This also to party advertising during elections where the truth seems to be ignored completely.


“… introduce legislation to identify and penalise false, deceptive, and misleading conduct, as is done in business. Politicians need to be held accountable for what they say, promise and do.”

The Prime Minister and many of his cabinet are an example of what Dr Hewson is suggesting here. The pace at which they speak. The half-truths-lies by omission and full-on lies are just calculated to mislead the public on the true meaning of the words they use. The voter doesn’t need to be lied to at all, let alone at the Coalition rate.


“… set independent standards for those who stand for election. The parties would still vet and verify their candidates – their CVs and their citizenship – but they would also be accountable for lapses and subject to penalties.”

Hewson again is correct. As a Coalition, the standard or intellectual quality of its MPs is nothing short of deplorable. People like Christensen, Kelly, Canavan, McCormack, Price, Robert and others would be passed over in private enterprise for a job of a similar standard.

And sixth, Dr Hewson recommends:

“… a fully-funded Independent Commission Against Corruption to oversee all activities of our politicians, bureaucrats and federal government, with the capacity to receive anonymous references, and with defined links to the Australian Federal Police for prosecution.”

Being elected to politics is not a ticket to put your snout in the funding trough.”

Such a body wouldn’t be necessary if politicians were honest, but they aren’t. However, the problem is that the party with the most corrupt offences is expected to write the legislation.

As justifiable as Dr Hewson’s six points may be l would, if reshaping our democracy is the purpose, treat his suggestions as the first salvo in a more significant reconstruction.

There still remain the questions of what sort of democracy we want to be and how far we are prepared to go to achieve it.

Nothing goes on forever without some form of repair work so we could start with the Constitution. What about Question Time and states’ rights? Then we might have another look at becoming a republic. And of course, the recognition of our First Nations People in the Constitution.

What about the voting system? Is it fair? What about the breakdown in the conventions and institutional arrangements of our democracy that Tony Abbott wrecked?

The reader might like to add to my list.

There was a time when we trusted our politicians to do the right thing while we got on with life. It was a time when politics was a principled occupation. Those times are long past.

My thought for the day

Debate is not of necessity about winning or taking down one’s opponent. It is an exchange of facts, ideas and principles. Or in its purest form, it is simply the art of persuasion.

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  1. Martin Hubbard

    I totally agree however, I think we need a fundamental principle on which to build. If we align expectations of politicians to private business we would immediately debase the current self centered culture. Private enterprise employees have a duty statement that includes minimum standards that must be continually maintained. Failure to meet minimum standards attracts counseling and retraining and if at the end of that process they cannot meet the requirements they no longer hold that position. In effect this would make them accountable and critically force them to perform to a minimum standard or forfeit their job. All they need is incentive and it’s our duty to both apply and enforce such limitations.

  2. Carole

    Question time should be the opportunity for the people to have their questions answered by the government. MPs should be required to put these questions to the appropriate minister. Time to end the farce of Dorothy Dixers.
    Lying to the Parliament should attract a financial penalty as well as suspension from the chamber.
    An integrity commission with big teeth please.
    Politicians retiring should have the choice of taking a pension or entering the workforce. If they want to work the pension should be delayed until retirement.
    Pork barrelling is bribery and should be treated as such.
    Using the office for financial gain should be a criminal offence attracting a gaol term

  3. wam

    It is ironic that one of your most excellent pieces come from a liberal politiciam, lord?
    Many labor supporters of are glad that the cake gave us keating but sad that hewson’s resignation unleashed the lying rodent, the rabbott, tried and failed turnbull and scummo.
    Your thought is worrying, in that debates are two sides lying by omission to support one side of a dichotomy with each side having time to expose the lies. The there is either a vote or a judge(s) decision
    The death of question time is not due the essentially fair ‘dorothy dixers’ but the ‘I move this member not be heard’ and albo not following up the inadequate answers in the commercial media who are more likely to get answers.

  4. pierre wilkinson

    Imagine if we actually had a free unbiased press.
    One that could hold the government of the day to account, and check the veracity of opposition pronouncements.
    One that could call on the government to live up to the ideals of transparency and honesty.
    Imagine that.

  5. Elaine

    I have never been a big fan of Australia becoming a republic, one only has to look at our current government to see many good reasons not to go that route. They are bad enough now, imagine how we would go with one of them as a president. It isn’t a long leap to see that quite a few would be Australian Trump’s.
    If a politician works after they leave politics, and that includes as an unpaid advisor to a lobby group or company, they lose all post political perks including their pension. This loss to be permanent.
    No international donors. No corporate donors. No donations from lobby groups, which includes ones like the gun lobby. To be fair that would also remove union donations, but in a fair playing field they shouldn’t be needed.
    Parliamentary privileged needs to be re-assessed, as it is regularly abused.
    A dormitory building, with suites of rooms, should be set up for those who don’t have a dwelling in Canberra. Politicians can stay there free, or for a fee if requiring more than one bedroom, but there will not be any money for them to stay elsewhere. The current system is constantly abused with politicians paying rent to a domicile in a spouse or friend’s name.
    Rorting should be instant lost of ministry, minimum, with a stated period before they can hold another portfolio. A stated maximum number of breaches, after which they have to retire from politics; if they were in private industry they would be sacked.
    A gazetted minimum number of sitting days. They can sit more, but this current lot hardly bother to sit at all. No secret advisory committees.

  6. Keitha Granville

    What a shame Dr Hewson didn’t have these revelations while he was leader and actually capable of doing something about it. Many of our political leaders become human and decent after they leave.

    I would like to see a comprehensive lost of the promises made and at the end of the term the same list should be checked off to see what has been achieved. Anything less than 50% would be seen as a fail and the lectorate could make another better choice.

    Yes, Dorothy Dixers OUT

  7. Ross

    John Hewson only became somewhat human in his outlook after he left the Liberal Party or rather after the Liberal Party left him. A bit late but Kudos to him.
    Add to the wish list, no such thing a safe seat, the majority sitting on razor thin margins regularly changing hands. Long term governments have never ended being good governments.
    It’s like the tyres on a car, they wear out and have to be replaced with a better up to date model.
    The down side to that is sometimes there is no better up to date model on offer.
    Victorian state politics for example.

  8. Paull

    Regarding the fairness of our voting system. We need to go back to the method of numbering ALL boxes on a ballot paper, eliminating the ‘Preference Deals’, and the Tawdry business of a 1 above the line on the Senate paper
    ALL voters full intents should be made to stand, just because i vote [1] for a given candidate does not mean that my second preference should automatically go to someone that I despise

  9. BJ40

    The only way to clean up politics in Australia, is to get rid of Rupert Murdoch and his stranglehold on our politican’s
    and get back our once fare and humane democracy and to hold the corrupt LNP party accountable.

  10. George Theodoridis

    I don’t know if Hewson grew up or was always so wise.
    I don’t know if Keating grew up or was always so glib.

    Whenever I think of Hewson I think of Keating’s promise, “I’m gonna do you slowly” and I wonder, has Keating grown up from that point.
    GST! Pffft!

    I see and hear Hewson very often these days and every time I do, I’m pleased with what he says.
    Does anyone have any ideas where Keating hangs out these days? And I don’t mean banker’s symposia.

  11. leefe

    “I have never been a big fan of Australia becoming a republic, one only has to look at our current government to see many good reasons not to go that route. They are bad enough now, imagine how we would go with one of them as a president. It isn’t a long leap to see that quite a few would be Australian Trump’s.”

    We can design our new system however we want it; it does not have to be a replica of the USA.
    There is no reason we could not, for instance, remove the link of the GG to the British monarchy but keep the position’s role and power as is. Many countries have presidents and parliaments with the former acting principally as Head of State and not Head of Government.

  12. wam

    Why should the government not give a minister the chance to speak positively?? Without questions from labor to labor we would never know what has been done? The trauma is the lnp dicks have ‘… I move the member not be heard.’

    leefe We will have no say in the design and only simpletons would let politicians decide on a republic AFTER we vote to piss off, charlie and camilla. I want to know the details before we vote but, on this topic, there are more simpletons on my pages than rabbottians

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