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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Era over with changing of the guard

Honesty, decency, openness and transparency are concepts that are getting a strong run in the discussion about departure of the Howard government and the arrival of Kevin Rudd.

Ross Gittins in "A vote for honesty and decency" in today's Sydney Morning Herald"

I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.

How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa (which, for all Howard's ministers knew, may have been carrying terrorists), the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal (which no minister had any knowledge of) and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.

Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.

Alan Mitchell in "All eyes on public scrutiny" (no link available) in today's Australian Financial Review:
..it is good to have washed away the stench of the AWB scandal, the Immigration Department's thuggish incompetence, and all the rest of the Howard government's tackiness. Kevin Rudd and his government brimming with enthusiasm for open, decent and accountable government.

Labor is committed to implementing law reform commission's 1996 recommendations to strengthen the federal FOI law. It also promises to protect whistleblowers and "drive a culture shift across the bureaucracy to promote a pro-disclosure culture".

It is that last promise that will be the most difficult and most important. And it is Rudd who'll have to do the driving. Only when he has shown repeatedly his commitment to openness, despite the short-term political costs, will ministers and public servants start to change their behaviour in ways that increase the life exptency of his government.

It is difficult but surely not impossible".
I would just add that in order to get there the new PM should be taking advice, not just from the secretaries of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Treasury, and from those in the Attorney General's Department who have a tendency to see these issues through a legal prism. A broader perspective, uncluttered by involvement in the closed government Howard era, will be necessary if this sort of change agenda is to be achieved.

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