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The serial misuse and abuse of state power

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.


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  1. Ricardo29

    Leaving aside the disgraceful, unconscionable actions of Dutton and his fascist megadepartment in the handling of the offshore refugee centres, perhaps the most egregious abuse of power has been by the AG, Brandis, a man whose lack of legal knowledge has been regularly demonstrated, in appointing dozens of just those partisans, failed political colleagues, to the AAT and other bodies. These appointments should be legitimate targets for a Labor when elected, but I have little hope that they will pursue the path of transparency and appointing independents given their willingness to go along with so many of the assaults on our privacy that Mr Magoo has initiated. Refusal to support the Greens call for an audit of all politicians over the dual citizenship issue is just another concern, especially as most cross-benchers reportedly support it. The argument that it imposes an onus of proof on the individual is pretty thin, even specious.


    what u point out Kaye is the distinct lack of accountability in australian political arrangements as they are set up by the constitution. I see a possible role for the future elected Australian head of state in a republic. i would prefer the title ‘Governor in Chief’ rather than “President’. The head of state could appoint speaker/president etc in each house, the heads of all tribunals, judges to courts, the heads of all commissions and obudsman. thats for starters.


    we can get the ball rolling by having the people of the states elect their state governors

  4. Kaye Lee


    Brandis’ treatment of Gillian Triggs, Justin Gleeson and Graeme Innes was unconscionable. Appointing Andrew Nikolic to the AAT was another slap in the face.


    Ted Mack also said “One feature of our original federal constitution that should be reinstated is a role for a directly-elected Governor-General to fully umpire the system in addition to the traditional role as head-of-state. He or she could also head a fourth arm of government known as the Integrity Branch.”

  5. Glenn Barry

    What we have is a subtle totalitarian state, where whenever the legality of government decisions is challenged, those adjudicating are biased and partisan.

    Dutton frequently gets slammed in both the AAT and courts, Brandis is getting that problem fixed and LNP corruption has become so prevalent that they no longer even attempt to properly conceal it

  6. Nearly Normal Frederick

    But the abuse of power has always has been the case all over the world in all times and places. It occurs almost everywhere and not just in all tiers of government supposedly democratic or otherwise.
    Churches, schools (mean girls, and bullies both male and female), the workplace, the office, service organizations including, here in Victoria, many Country Fire Fighting units, clubs of all kinds, and of course the “traditional” father-knows-best family.
    Power always corrupts in one way or another and sooner or later.
    All person to person relationships , and the relationships of everyone in groups large and small feature the mostly unconscious dramatization of power relationships. Some kind of alpha personality or personalities almost always dominates, with very rare exceptions.

  7. jim

    The mere fact that current GG are appointed on the say of the Liberal Government makes that appointment political.
    Any swing to a republic needs a considered decision on how GGs/presidents and state governors are appointed.

  8. Rhonda

    It’s a bloody mess, and a shamelessly transparent one at that. What a bunch of dirty dogs!

  9. diannaart

    Agree completely with Kaye Lee’s article and with Rhonda’s succinct comment.

    How we untangle this nest of snakes is the issue. Not holding my breath.

  10. totaram

    Nearly Normal Frederick: So what do you suggest? Business as usual?

  11. Kaye Lee

    There are some sayings in life that have great impact when you hear them.

    The standards you walk past are the standards you accept.

    Have the courage to change what you can and the strength to endure what you can’t.

    Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.

    It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

  12. kerri

    And this is precisely what the LNP mean when they say “small government and lower taxes”!

  13. Matters Not

    What really worries me about articles like this (useful as they may be) is that they effectively and affectively reinforce the notion that democratically elected government is somehow the natural and inevitable enemy of the masses. That government is bad and therefore less government intervention is good. Thus – let the market rule and all that.

    Seems to me that the one percent clap and cheer (silently) when the vast majority of the population make the concept of government the scapegoat..

    While maybe not intended (confident that’s the case here), it’s the covert message that we need to consider. Most people see government as antithetical to their interests. Yet it’s the only hope they have. Something about throwing out baby and the bathwater.

  14. Glenn Barry

    @matters not – whilst I agree with your sentiment, the discussion needs to turn on identifying what is actually occurring, the transition to a combination of corporatocracy/totalitarianism/fascism by stealth and differentiate that from an actual representative democracy.
    Whether democracy can flourish or even exist amidst the corrosive onslaught of free market neo-liberal capitalism is worthy of discussion.

    We’ve got a global array of masters of the universe out there somewhere with their money mantra who know the price of everything and the value of nothing

  15. Ella miller

    Kaye Lee, again thank you for shining a light into the dark corners of our society and existence.
    What a tangled web we have to ensure the status quo remains.
    I totally agree with a speaker being chose outside of the political class.
    I fear that change is not going to be easy and we may never live to see it.
    Do we need to start with introducing an ethics component into university degrees such as Law, Commerce, Public Relations, and Accountancy.If there is a course such as politics, into that as well.
    I have no idea how we could overcome the fact that “money talks and the dogs bark”
    Thank you Kaye…have you thought about going into politics?

  16. Harquebus

    How far up the regulatory tree do we have to go? Who will umpire the independent umpires?

    In my opinion, only when we elect politicians based on their principles and strength of character as well as policy will politics change. That means, don’t vote for party politicians. They are permanently bound to absurd ideology.

    It’s about time the general public woke up to themselves, gathered up some courage and abandoned Labor and The Coalition altogether. There should be no need for an independent umpire.

    “Politics: From the latin ‘poli’ meaning ‘many’ and ‘tics’, meaning ‘blood sucking creatures.'” — Robyn Williams

  17. Kaye Lee


    I am not calling for smaller government or less intervention – just less of the parasitical spin doctors and image consultants and pollsters and staffers and lobbyists. Take away the jobs for the boys.


    Only late at night when I have had one too many glasses of wine.


    I agree that is an issue – who umpires the umpires. If there is a transparent merit-based system for public service appointments that is open to legitimate challenge we must surely do better than allowing the politicians to just gift positions to their mates. No way in the wide world would Tim Wilson have got the HRC position over Graeme Innes for example. Likewise Hockey’s appointment as Ambassador – he had to ask Greg Norman for Trump’s phone number and seems to have been missing in action ever since.

    The winner-takes-all system has led to a whatever-it-takes mentality. Perhaps we should consider a multi-party executive with proportional representation. It would make it a lot harder for the government of the day to lie.

  18. Frank Smith

    An excellent article Kaye Lee. As you point out there is need for a major overhaul but that would be very difficult to achieve I believe. But a start could be made by moving to an external Speaker for the House, a Federal ICAC and banning of “political staffers”. I see absolutely no roles for these useless low-life spin merchants when pollies have access to professional public servants. Question time needs a complete overhaul as it has become a useless circus – an independant Speaker would then be responsible for forcing Ministers to answer questions succinctly and rule out idiotic “Dorothy Dixers”.

  19. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    Perhaps we should. The current system ain’t workin’. Not for us anyway.

    Frank Smith
    I agree. Those Dixers show all what a farce our national parliament has become. An unreality show.

  20. Kaye Lee

    If we stopped televising question time in the HoR I doubt anyone would even turn up. No-one asks legitimate questions. It’s an embarrassing circus.

    Senate estimate hearings are far more interesting and revealing, not only because they show us what our politicians are really like as questioners, responders, and chair.

    I so felt for the Navy guy the other day having to answer Pauline Hanson’s rubbish questions about submarines. It was funny for me but so obviously excruciating for him.

  21. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, that Navy guy gave me the distinct impression that he had no doubt whatsoever that he was dealing with a complete idiot.

    Perhaps he was. ?

  22. Matters Not

    Re Hanson and the subs limited to underwater time of 20 minutes. Someone set her up. That she went ahead and asked it anyway says so much re her understanding of – anything.

    What next? Perhaps solar panels which come ‘pre-loaded’ but only with a shelf life of X minutes …

    Yet she gets the votes. Shows that democracy is far from perfect. The education system doesn’t work for far too many.


    Dictatorship of the Parliament. What we have in Australia is a head of state without power. The power of the head of state has been usurped by the Executive arm of government in parliament. The Prime Minister is effectively the head of state. This has come about since Bob Hawke’s the Australia Act in 1988. What we have is close to what the UK had under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell after they decapitated Charles 1. That is, a dictatorship of parliament without any accountability mechanisms to keep them in check and no mechanisms in place to advance our wretched situation. The role of the monarch/head of state was to counter balance parliamentary power and act directly in the interests of subjects and intervene on their behalf if necessary. Notably, the UK could not wait to get rid of the position of Lord Protector which Cromwell created for himself, when Cromwell died 21 years after he took that office and reinstate a reformed Monarchy to protect the people against the excesses of parliament and state misuse and abuse of power. We are not citizens in Australia nor are we subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. We are subjects of a parliamentary state dictatorship and will continue to do be so until we have a Bill or Charter of inalienable civil and political Rights and genuine measures available to hold Parliament to account. I am not proposing the maintenance or extension of the Monarchy in Australia but a properly elected head of state with genuine powers to protect the rights of the people. Think you are in a democracy? Think again.

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