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Redefining “public interest”

Government is constitutionally obliged to act in the public interest. The institutions of government and the officials and agencies of government exist for the public, to serve the interests of the public. This ‘trust principle’ expresses the condition upon which power is given to the institutions of government, and to officials, elected and appointed alike.

Acting in the public interest has two separate components:

  • objectives and outcomes – that the objectives and outcomes of the decision-making process are in the public interest, and
  • process and procedure – that the process adopted and procedures followed by decisionmakers in exercising their discretionary powers are in the public interest.

Whilst the first may be somewhat subjective – some think submarines are more important than aged care – the second is not. The processes and procedures surrounding decision making are crucial in order for citizens to have confidence that it is the public interest being served rather than private, personal, parochial or partisan interests.

The government should comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law rather than trying to find loopholes to get around it.

We have had the unedifying spectacle of environment minister Sussan Ley going to court to contest that she does not owe a duty of care to the next generation to act on climate change and refusing to release a report she has had since December because parliament hasn’t racked up 15 sitting days in the last four months.

Rather than emphasis on public officials acting ‘in the public interest’, the term is now most associated with freedom of information applications or in journalists’ legal defence against prosecution brought by the government. It’s less about the quality of their decisions and actions and more about our right to know about them.

Due process must be followed in decision-making to ensure public officials are acting fairly and impartially, with integrity and professionalism. Without transparency and accountability, it is impossible to expose corruption or serious maladministration.

We now have the AFP joining the call for a far-reaching anti-corruption body that can compel witnesses and hold our lawmakers to at least the same standards as the people who enforce the law.

The rorting of parliamentary expenses has become a joke. (George Christensen is milking it for all he can). Conflicts of interest abound in the allocation of public funds, in regulatory decisions, and in appointments. (Reference the Taylor dynasty.)

Over the last nine years, the public interest has been totally subsumed by the interests of the Coalition and their powerful and wealthy puppeteers.

Scott Morrison has successfully completed his coup, disenfranchising party members and installing sycophantic supporters, but he has failed at every turn in his constitutional obligation to act in the public interest and should, along with his enablers, be rejected by the public whose interest he so wilfully ignores.

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  1. Jack Cade

    The papers are reporting that the AFP is demanding both major parties commit to an ICAC.
    Can there be any clearer evidence that Scummo is rooted than the Palace Guard demanding something that some of us think would have THEM scrutinised?

  2. New England Cocky

    It’s time! ….. AGAIN!!

  3. Phil Pryor

    The P M, or Piggery Manager, Joyce the Juicehead, Cash the broom jockey, Fat George the Manila Masturbator, a treasurer with fingers as an abacus, Merde Dog the pay/ring/choir master, a cast of hundreds of attached maggots, parasites, teat emptiers, warts, abcesses, boils, whelks, carbuncles, all posing as conservative supporters and there it is, the team of turdulous tossers, bludging selfishly on the rest.

  4. Jack Cade

    NEC It was TIME twice before, and the Electorate decided they didn’t agree. It allowed a foreign Monarch and the CIA to manipulate a drunken sot to pull the plug, and endorsed what they did. Then they agreed that Abbott to roll Gillard/Rudd, each of whom had more ideas and talent than anyone in the Coalition.
    I remember that Menzies, the ace draft dodger, begged to be allowed to send Aussies to Vietnam, and Australia re-elected him.
    I have no faith in the Australian voter.

  5. Canguro

    Let’s build missiles, for protection against non-existent enemies. Let’s buy submarines, to protect us against who knows who. Let’s invite Great Satan’s military to set up camp on our shores, all the better to shit-stir the neighbours in our Pacific region. Let’s spend spend spend on more and more hardware designed to kill, brutalise, terrorise; toys for the boys, the knuckleheads who think donning a uniform and becoming yet another mindless drone might earn them a VC just like our current living recipient, covered in dingle dangle little crosses to celebrate his murderous thuggishness; let’s spend billions in the pursuit of death of yet-to-be-identified others that could have been better spent on future-proofing to the extent that best practice allows; like…

    … acknowledging an ageing population base and setting up systems of management and care for that contingency

    … soberly reflecting on the inevitable consequences of global warming and its local impacts, and shifting as rapidly as possible to alternative systems of energy production and rapid adoption of emergent technologies that minimise contribution to the ongoing warming

    … seeing that this country has a housing crisis in terms of affordability and availability and actually doing something to alleviate that crisis

    … taking the environmental impacts on flora & fauna of land degradation and feral species seriously and setting in play a determined effort to haul back the appalling decline in both population sizes and the risks of extinction to vulnerable species

    … taking seriously the well-known observation that the best a country can do for its future is have a well-educated population and set in practice a committed system to give children the very best start for their future with world-class education, free of antiquated dogma and irrelevant tropes of useless value in a rapidly changing world,

    … acknowledging the past atrocities levied against this country’s indigenous and first inhabitants and actually do all that is required to alleviate the often appalling socio-economic conditions that they are forced to endure, along with a complete revamp of policing practices and a ruthless stamping out of racist behaviour not only towards our indigenous citizens but to all who call Australia their home but remain ostracised due to their race or ethnicity

    … guarantee a minimum living wage for those who will inevitably be locked out of the wage-earning ‘system’ due to skills redundancies, retrenchments, retirements etc.

    Given the clock is ticking, 1.5C rise above baseline locked in by 2035, 2.0 by the end of the century perhaps, it’s the least any responsible government can do.

  6. Kaye Lee

    I couldn’t agree more Canguro. We are spending hundreds of billions on weapons to fight non-existent wars, making ourselves a target and our neighbours nervous, whilst completely ignoring all the very real and present crises we are actually facing right now. It’s madness.

    The land missiles they are buying have a range of 2000 km. They can’t even reach from one side of our country to the other let alone threaten attack/retaliation on another country. The US and UK armaments companies will be chuckling.

  7. Michael Taylor

    Canguro, brilliant comment. ✊

  8. Pete Petrass

    “The papers are reporting that the AFP is demanding both major parties commit to an ICAC.”
    I would suggest the wording is important here because by “demanding both major parties commit to an ICAC” the statement implies that labor are not committed.

  9. Canguro

    Thank you Michael & Kaye too, undeserved kind comments from the maître and one of the finest essayists on this site.

  10. Fred

    Kaye: Even worse is the purchase of F35 fighters with a combat radius of circa 1100 km, which is way less than the distance between Perth and the SA border (1500 km). Could be useful in a skirmish with PNG and close homeland defense and that’s about it. The Solomon Islands are >3000 km away, so no influence there.

  11. Terence Mills


    You have identified the very dangerous road that the coalition are taking in their quest for a Khaki election.

    Dutton is trying to build up a conspiracy of fear against imagined, imminent aggression from China. In a foolish moment the other day he even hinted at trade sanctions against China. This talk is dangerous, it is purely election rhetoric but it could inflict massive damage on the Australian economy. Dutton is silly enough to believe that by denying China access to our commodities, particularly iron ore, he would be doing us a favour : he clearly doesn’t understand that the Australian economy and our standard of living – rightly or wrongly – depends on a strong trading relationship with China.

    Politics aside, this man and his boss are a danger to Australia’s prosperity !

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