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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Trust Thing

A month before the furore over the Budget and broken promises,12% of Australians rated Federal (and state) parliamentarians highly for ethics and honesty, according to the most recent annual Roy Morgan poll of attitudes towards 30 professions. Nurses (91%), doctors and pharmacists (86%) were way out in the lead.

The pollies were down two (state parliamentarians three) points in a year, and a whopping 11 points since 2008, only matched by Ministers of Religion who dropped 13% in the same period.The ministers' current 37% score however is three times that of the politicians who tied with union leaders and in a field of 30 came in ahead of just three, real estate, advertising and car sales types.

With confidence in politicians to do what is right at such a low level, you would have to think someone in government is thinking about how to reverse the trend. It's not evident anywhere I look. 

Tony Abbott seemed onto this, citing the trust deficit as the biggest of those facing government from the time the election was called in August 2013. But it hasn't proved his strong suit then or since.

The Coalition for example had nothing to say during the campaign about how it planned to restore trust other than the mantra 'stop the boats' etc. The Budget, and denial that any promises have been broken will relegate the 'say what we do, do what we say' part of this to a storage box in the attic

Within a month of being elected, in response to the first integrity blow up, the government initially ignored abuse of entitlements by parliamentarians that came to light then spoke of changes at the margins rather than taking this head on and acting to ensure full transparency and accountability.

Our leader(s) in eight months haven't spoken up about the importance of open transparent and accountable government, leaving Immigration Minister Morrison unchallenged to set secrecy as the prevailing 'tone at the top.'

Agencies seemed to get (in some cases welcome) the message, almost uniformly refusing FOI access to incoming government briefs, a monumental turn around from three years ago. Some, well experienced in gaming the system, have taken this to new levels.
(Addendum: during Labor's last gasp, they and the Coalition rushed through legislation to exempt the parliamentary departments from FOI.)

Against this backdrop (and no response to the Hawke review which said someone should do the job thoroughly, he couldn't and didn't) the FOI framework is set to return to darker days that predate the 2009 reforms with the Budget announcement of the abolition of the Office of Australian Information Commissioner. FOI seems headed back to 'orphan' territory with no high level advocate or sponsor to proclaim, safeguard and nurture its essential elements. Reviews are headed back to the AAT at $816 flagfall plus plenty for help to match the legal resources available to the agency.

As to the goverrnment's intentions about proceeding with its predecessor's application to join 63 other countries in the Open Government Partnership all we hear is the matter is 'under consideration.' After eight months this reminds of Yes Minister where the phrase meant 'we have lost the file.' 'Under active consideration' at least meant 'we are trying to find it.' 

We didn't manage to send a minister to an OGP conference in London last year, and told Indonesian President SBY none could be spared to take up his invitation to Bali earlier this month..

We claim "Global leadership in combating corruption" but having ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2005, we are yet to complete the required National Anti Corruption Plan.(The link to the Plan at the bottom of the page on the AGD website leads to "Not Found", no irony intended I'm sure.)

We have heard nothing about political donations and lobbying reforms despite regulations that are inadequate and pathetic disclosure requirements and the fact that the Federal Liberal Party is feeling the heat from the NSW ICAC hearings.

The Greens introduced the National Integrity Commission Bill in the Senate last Thursday. The Bill
"establishes a National Integrity Commission as an independent statutory agency which will consist of the National Integrity Commissioner, the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and the Independent Parliamentary Advisor and provide for: the investigation and prevention of misconduct and corruption in all Commonwealth departments, agencies, and federal parliamentarians and their staff; the investigation and prevention of corruption in the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission; and independent advice to ministers and parliamentarians on conduct, ethics and matters of proprietary. Also: provides for the establishment of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Integrity Commission.." 
Three Coalition speakers spoke in the adjourned debate and generally poured a bucket on Labor and The Greens, but did not indicate government support. Labor (see John Faulkner's speech) is generally supportive although yet to decide.

Related issues such as a code of conduct for parliamentarians don't rate a mention anywhere.

Last week, both major parties passed legislation that confirm that refugees subjected to an adverse security assessment by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, have no right to know the reasons, can be detained indefinitely and can't challenge the merits of the decision.

Let me know what I've left out.

That 12% in April may prove to be a high point. 

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