There was a time in Australian politics when ministerial conduct was important. So significant was trust that Ministers could lose their portfolio for the simplest misdemeanour.
In John Howard’s first term as Prime Minister he lost 7 Ministers after introducing a Ministerial Code of Conduct. The code required members to divest themselves of share portfolios and to tell the truth in Parliament. Tell the truth. Gee, that’s a laugh.
Of the seven Bob Woods resigned over a questionable expense claim. One was stood down over a teddy bear and another over a television set.
As Prime Minister, John Howard certainly came down hard on those who didn’t obey the rules but later, because he was losing so many Ministers, he softened them.
The question is of course is; “What’s to stop Malcolm Turnbull from acting?” And the answer is that the right-wing of the party won’t allow it. They value their perks as a precious right that sets them apart from us ordinary folk.
The same goes for behaviour. Politicians think for some obscure reason that they are entitled to tell lies, lie by omission, bend the rules to a degree that we folk cannot. Telling lies has become an everyday privilege for the likes of Dutton, Morrison, Pyne, Joyce,Turnbull and they do it without so much as a wink of the eye. They don’t even feel concerned that they know that we know they are lying.
At another time in our political history Barnaby Joyce would have, without hesitation, resigned. Today the power, the position and the money comes before dignity and trust.
This week we have had former Prime Minister Tony Abbott making a nonsensical speech about immigration while Barnaby Joyce has been serenading the media seeking forgiveness for the wrongs he has committed. Neither of them has the common decency to walk away.
Both have tasted the lushness of power and the smorgasbord of possibilities it offers.
Australia has now fallen from the top 10 measure of corruption and is it any wonder with the example set by politicians.
Remember former Health Minister Sussan Ley’s purchase of a unit around this time last year? Documents show that Ms Ley travelled from Sydney to Brisbane on 9 May to make an announcement at Wesley hospital of $1.3bn in funding.
“All above-board,” I hear you say. You are correct to this point. Then she jumps on another plane to the Gold Cost where she says – or more correctly a spokesperson says – she met with local health stakeholders about access to new medicines. Strangely, no one seems to know who they are.
Then after staying the night with her partner at the taxpayers’ expense she, on the spur of the moment decides to purchase from a Liberal Party donor, a unit worth $795,000.
It was “not planned nor anticipated,” the spokesperson said
Well sorry, try pulling the other leg. Doesn’t even require a pub test.
The ministerial code of conduct clearly prohibits the use of public office for private purposes.
“Ley’s explanation that the purchase ‘was not planned nor anticipated’ is woefully inadequate and an insult to Australians,” Opposition shadow Catherine King said.
Barnaby Joyce the unqualified acting Prime Minister at the time, said; “If they made a purchase, even though I admit it is a substantial purchase, that’s not the reason she went to the Gold Coast. She went to the Gold Coast for work.”
In recent years both sides of Parliament have been guilty of the most outrageous claims, including Bronwyn Bishop’s infamous helicopter rides.
If Turnbull has any decency, even a scintilla of leadership he would have sacked Joyce.
He wouldn’t, of course, because he is a weak leader and the far-right see it as their divine right stemming from of a born to rule mentality, to rip off the public purse.
According to the last Essential survey only 13% of the population trust our politicians. What a dreadful space for our politics to be in, remembering that politics has control over everything you do except what you do in bed and it seems they are also after that. What has happened to the once noble profession that there isn’t a man or women that can articulate a narrative that might explain to the Australian just where we are headed and why?
Instead we have a group of self-indulgent publicity seeking, egotistical people, without the ability to put together a few sentences absurdly sounding like parrots. Talk they can but explanation seems beyond them. What has happened to the likes of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating who explained the function of politics and its relation to the largest of ideas and how ideas were formed and policy debated?
And when that was done the fourth estate had its go. Alas, it to has disappeared. The journalistic function of prosecuting and interrogating the big ideas seems to have died with the likes of Michael Gordon. Australian politics has turned into a circus but it’s no laughing matter. It has no grace, no flair, no style, no emotion, no wit, no poetry, no truth, no transparency and most of all it has no trust.
Joyce may survive but he will be relegated from retail to wholesale together with others who cannot be trusted.
To say it has been a bad start to the year for the government would be an understatement. It’s a shocker. If it has anything it is a passion for all those things that make us an unequal society.
My thought for the day:
“Governments who demand the people’s trust need to govern transparently to acquire it.”
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