It is said by Australian political historians that Bob Hawke’s first ministry of 1983 was arguably the finest the country has ever had. It contained men of the calibre of Lionel Bowen, John Button, Paul Keating, Mick Young, Bill Hayden and Gareth Evans. The outer ministry included names such as Kim Beasley, Barry Jones, and Dr. Michael Blewett.
The only thing it lacked was a balanced representation of women. History also shows that the Labor Party has in the past 30 years corrected this. The boys club has not.
The ministry was successful because its leader acknowledged the intellectual capacity of his ministers and their capacity to implement the party’s policy platform. Added to that was Hawke’s ability to listen. He insisted that ministers (much to Keating’s annoyance because it leads to very lengthy cabinet meetings) be given ample time to put forward their case and for an open debate to take place. Ministers were allowed to speak openly and candidly to the media and the public about their respective portfolios.
Tony Abbott who leads the boy’s club in Canberra has decided that governing the country will now become secret men’s business.
Now there are valid reasons why some aspects of Government business should be secret. These include state secrets, intelligence, issues of war and design patents. However, the type now being practiced by Abbott is based on fear. A fear of embarrassments, of disclosure that might affect image or popularity. It takes away the people’s right to know. Instead, it is based on a need to know philosophy that is both insulting and disingenuous.
A friend suggested to me that given the standard of intellect in his cabinet you could hardly blame him for silencing them. You have to keep people like Pyne and Joyce in their places otherwise you would have bushfires breaking out everywhere.
I countered that by saying that when leaders suppress information or silence people from public debate, or you deliberately withhold material from the public then you are serving yourself and not the people. Can you imagine as a minister being told that if you want to make a statement regarding your portfolio you would need to have it cleared by some minder in the Prime Minister’s office? It says three things. One, if you cannot be trusted to convey your message in a way that reflects government policy then you should get another job. Secondly, that you are not on top of your portfolio or thirdly the party thinks you are incompetent and you are being muzzled.
So now we are faced with a government intent on lying by omission. By information drip feed. It is a policy that cannot survive because the truth is not something that you can hide simply because we are not sure how people might react to it.
Of course, a hungry media intent on feeding the 24-hour news service won’t allow it to happen either. This can be seen with their fishing excursions into politician’s expenses. In the absence of news, they will create it. Governments of any persuasion cannot escape scrutiny by silencing people or hiding things.
Eventually, the truth has a miraculous way of justifying its existence.
We do after all have a thing called the Freedom of Information Act. We all have a right to know. We pay their salaries and their bills, so we have a right to know where that money is going, and why.
Take for example Scott Morrison’s decision not to ease restrictions on media access to detention centres. Journalists now have to sign an agreement not to interview asylum seekers. Yes, that’s right. They are not allowed to talk to people. And at the end of any visit, they have to hand to officials for review any recorded content or be in breach of the agreement. Yes, it’s called democracy based on your need to know. Not on your right to know.
The Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia has been hailed as successful by the Murdoch press, but can anyone tell me just what the government’s Asylum Policies are? It seems to me that there is a set for Indonesia and then there is what they decide to tell us. It seemed to me like Abbott just acts tough at home while capitulating abroad.
Science, of course, is the great provider of truth and the revision of it. It’s in its readiness to update change and review that makes it so compellingly honest. Now we have a conservative government unafraid to show its mistrust for the change that science brings with it. So much so that it has delegated science to the recycle bin of its ideology. We don’t need to know if it’s counterproductive to capitalistic intent.
The public has every right to be suspicious of a government who deliberately withholds information and condones secrecy. Even be contemptuous of it. If Tony Abbott expects to gain the respect of the Australian public, he will not do so by treating us with this disgusting destruction of our right to know.
‘’We will decide what you should know and the manner in which we inform you. Continue to be calm, disinterested, compliant and ill-informed. And by doing so I shall govern at length.’’