We could fix many of this country’s problems, or at least go a long way towards it, if it was not for the serial misuse and abuse of state power.
The examples are endless and the range immense – the misuse of entitlements, the appointment of like-minded ideologues to supposedly independent inquiries and statutory positions, using the AFP for political purposes with tip offs to compliant media, politicians acting as lobbyists during and after their term in office, secrecy about payments and contracts claiming “commercial-in-confidence”, attacks on representation and collective voice for the less powerful, personal profit from insider knowledge, political donations influencing laws (I still can’t get over former social security minister Kevin Andrews making one of his first acts to repeal gambling reform laws).
As Phil Cleary wrote in the SMH in September 2015:
Regrettably, so rife is partisanship and cronyism in public life that the system’s capacity to produce independent, objective thought on inquiries into corruption or malpractice is terminally compromised. How can the community have confidence in the findings of bodies such as royal commissions when those heading such inquiries are political appointees? This truth is brought into stark relief every time a new government is elected and the public service is cleansed of those considered political adversaries, and heads of statutory bodies who were appointed by the previous government are hounded into submission. What kind of democracy is it that calls for the resignation of the Human Rights Commissioner because she expresses dismay at the treatment of asylum seekers?
Self-regulation is clearly not working with our politicians. Former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, pointed out that our present system was like a cricket match where the captain of the batting side was also the umpire. When ministers or members of the batting side played false shots they are rarely and reluctantly given out. There really needs to be an independent umpire to not only monitor ministers and members but to also appoint the Speaker of Parliament from outside parliament.
The enormous rise in numbers of politicians’ staff combined with the direct political infiltration of federal-state public services and quangos with hundreds more jobs for the boys and girls has resulted in a well-established political class providing political parties with a career path for members.
Unfortunately while this career path, as anti-corruption campaigner Tony Fitzgerald states, “does include principled well-motivated people … it also attracts professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.”
There can be few other legitimate jobs with salary packages over $300,000 that can often be obtained with virtually no experience and qualifications and little restrictions on second jobs or holidays.
Ted Mack, in his 2013 Henry Parkes Oration, called for an end to politicians’ ability to gift prestigious government appointments to their mates.
A fully independent Public Service Board needs to be reinstated for all government appointments particularly for bodies such as the Ombudsman, Corruption Commissions, Auditor-General, Police Integrity Commission, the Electoral Commission, and Remuneration Tribunal. Appointments must be based only on proven competence and integrity. The main reason many of these bodies at present fall short of public expectations is that the executives are appointed by, and their briefs are constrained by, government. Yet their role will often involve investigation of government. In other words all those bodies that have no political functions but are there to ensure the integrity of the system should be independent of government.
The usefulness of Royal Commissions and ICAC hearings and bodies like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is constrained by politicians’ ability to appoint those who fill the positions.
They even appoint the people who decide on their pay rises. (Interestingly, healthcare giant Bupa chairman, John Conde, also happens to be President of the Australian Government Remuneration Tribunal.)
How many times have we heard promises from politicians to be transparent and accountable as they hide behind political spin?
How long must we stand by and watch resources wasted on political porkbarrelling? (I’m looking at you Barnaby)
Why must we pay for politicians to attend social events?
Why can parties accept foreign donations?
What does referring problems to Senate Committees actually achieve?
None of it will stop until we take the power to make public service appointments out of politicians’ hands and until we impose independent regulation and oversight on them.