Bloggers blunder on ministerial responsibility

I’ve decided to take on board Terry Sedgwick’s wise words and follow the advice of Kingsley Amis:

“If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.”

ALP barrackers Tim Dunlop and Christopher Sheil have both gone into bravura foot-stamping mode in the wake of the publication of the Butler Report in Britain about faulty intelligence and subsequent events in Iraq. Both Tim and Chris are demanding that PM Tony Blair (and Bush and Howard for good measure) must resign because they took their countries to war on “false pretences”.

Chris even attempts to give his resignation demand a spurious semblance of legal propriety by asserting that Westminister ministerial responsibility somehow requires it!:

Since when did accountability turn on being able to prove that a minister who bungled his responsibilities big time knowingly bungled his responsibilities big time?

Somewhere along the line, the onus has been shifted from the minister’s responsibility to prove that he didn’t mislead parliament and the people, to citizens having to prove that he deliberately, knowingly misled the parliament and the public. Which is to say that, somewhere along the line, the accountability test has been converted from a technical to a moral test. Instead of the politician having to prove that he was right, we have to prove that he lied. Instead of him having to prove competence, we have to prove his evil intent. This is absurd. …

Bush, Blair and Howard made the gravest of possible government mistakes in taking their nations to war on false pretences. For the sake of the long-term operational health of these democracies, they should walk or be pushed.

Chris’s argument is specious nonsense, as I’m sure he knows. That’s probably why he effortlessly segues between “does” and “should”, and attempts to confuse the issue still further by shifting from “lies” to “self-deception” and resorting to his old favourite Hannah Arendt.

This document usefully summarises the modern doctrine of ministerial responsibility in the UK:

Individual ministerial responsibility means that a minister is responsible to parliament for the actions of his department and is expected to give accounts to parliament of matters relating to his department, such as relevant events or policy changes. The convention is designed to create accountability of ministers to parliament and to safeguard civil servants from blame. It covers such things as policy errors, mishandling of policies and personal misconduct. In practice the first two parts of this convention have become diluted and politicised: ministers are reluctant to accept responsibility for policy errors or failed policies, and whether they go or not usually depends on the support or otherwise of their party.

And this one (from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) summarises the doctrine as it applies in Australia:

The secretary of a department is, pursuant to the Public Service Act, responsible “under the minister” for the general working of the department and for advising the minister in all matters relating to the department.

This does not mean that ministers bear individual liability for all actions of their departments. Where they neither knew, nor should have known about matters of departmental administration which come under scrutiny it is not unreasonable to expect that the secretary or some other senior officer will take the responsibility. Ministers do, however, have overall responsibility for the administration of their portfolios and for carriage in the Parliament of their accountability obligations arising from that responsibility. They would properly be held to account for matters for which they were personally responsible, or where they were aware of problems but had not acted to rectify them.

Thus the modern, evolved ministerial responsibility doctrine has a very similar content in both Britain and Australia. Moreover, there are quite compelling reasons why the doctrine has evolved in this way. The sheer size of modern bureaucracies and the multiplicity of functions and activities with even a single department or agency mean that it is simply unrealistic to expect any Minister to have detailed “hands-on” knowledge of all operational matters. It would be a Russian roulette mockery of acountability to require Ministers to resign for cock-ups they didn’t and couldn’t reasonably be expected to know about. Of course, as the Howard government document suggests, it might be otherwise if the Minister does nothing about systemic problems in his department that lead to a cock-up, despite being aware of those problems. But the Butler Report finds no such thing. You couldn’t reasonably have expected Tony Blair or Geoff Hoon to don trenchcoats and go out spying in the backblocks of Iraq, or analysing electronic intercepts to ensure the veracity of intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs. They had no choice but to rely on the intelligence experts.

Whether Tim and Chris like it or not, ministerial responsibility doesn’t require Ministers to resign where they acted in “good faith” without knowledge that the intelligence on Iraq was faulty. The respective governments might well pay the ultimate electoral penalty when they eventually face the people, but no rule or convention requires them to resign in the meantime. Chris does his readers no favours by knowingly misleading them about the conventions of ministerial responsibility. If ministerial responsibility applied to bloggers misleading the public, he would be obliged to resign.

Personally, I think Tony Blair’s response to the Butler Report is vastly more impressive and persuasive than Chris and Tim’s shrill foot-stamping.

Throughout the last 18 months, throughout the rage and ferment of the debate over Iraq, there have been two questions.

One is an issue of good faith, of integrity.

This is now the fourth exhaustive inquiry that has dealt with this issue. This report, like the Hutton inquiry, like the report of the ISC before it and of the FAC before that, has found the same thing.

No-one lied. No-one made up the intelligence. No-one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services.

Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end.

But there is another issue. We expected, I expected to find actual usable, chemical or biological weapons shortly after we entered Iraq. We even made significant contingency plans in respect of their use against our troops. UN Resolution 1441 in November 2002 was passed unanimously by the whole Security Council, including Syria, on the basis Iraq was a WMD threat. Lord Butler says in his report:

“We believe that it would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence of Iraqi possession of stocks of biological or chemical agents, or even of banned missiles, does not exist or will never be found.”

But I have to accept: as the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy.

The second issue is therefore this: even if we acted in perfectly good faith, is it now the case that in the absence of stockpiles of weapons ready to deploy, the threat was misconceived and therefore the war was unjustified?

I have searched my conscience, not in a spirit of obstinacy; but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know, in answer to that question. And my answer would be: that the evidence of Saddam’s WMD was indeed less certain, less well-founded than was stated at the time. But I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis he retained complete strategic intent on WMD and significant capability; the only reason he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 US and British troops on his doorstep; he had no intention of ever co-operating fully with the inspectors; and he was going to start up again the moment the troops and the inspectors departed; or the sanctions eroded. And I say further: that had we backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand we needed to take on WMD, never have got the progress for example on Libya, that we achieved; and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place and every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened.

As I shall say later: for any mistakes, made, as the Report finds, in good faith I of course take full responsibility, but I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam.

Quite. Or rather it’s certainly a better place, anyway. Whether it’s currently safer probably depends on one’s proximity to a suicide bomber in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.

PS – I should note that Chris is at least consistent. The Evatt Foundation website that he administers published this article by political scientist Allen Patience at the time of the children overboard affair in 2002. It too asserts that ministerial responsibility “should” require resignation in the event of major cock-ups irrespective of Ministerial knowledge, but at least adds the caveat that “Ministerial responsibility has long been eroding in Australia as the executive has tightened its increasingly authoritarian grip on the Parliament.” Patience thereby tells his readers that he is lamenting the erosion of the convention, not asserting that it has been breached in its modern diluted form. It’s a critical qualification that Chris’s post lacks. However, even Patience’s discussion blurs the critical distinction between conduct where the Minister’s own conduct warrants censure, and conduct of his department for which it is asserted the Minister should carry the can irrespective of personal fault or knowledge:

Throughout the Howard Government, Ministerial responsibility has fallen to a new low. Once a Minister was obliged to resign because he brought a toy Paddington bear into Australia without listing it on his customs declaration. Today Ministers who have conflicts of interest, who misuse their parliamentary allowances and privileges, who distort regulations to spy on people opposed to their policies, who blame public servants for administrative errors, or who take up lucrative post-retirement jobs linked to their former portfolios have all become the sine qua non of contemporary Australian public life. This amounts to a debauching of a fundamental principle of sound democratic governance. But almost nothing is being said about it in the public domain; the debauching is now all but taken for granted.[emphasis added by KP]

The bolded examples all involved some degree of personal culpability or involvement of the Minister, and should properly have resulted in resignation even under modern ministerial responsibility doctrine. The fact that they mostly didn’t does lend credence to Patience’s observation that standards of governance in Australia have fallen under the Howard government. But to “blame public servants for administrative errors” does not require Ministerial resignation, unless the errors are those of the Minister in the sense discussed earlier. It’s this latter form of “no fault” automatic accountability that Chris Sheil demands of Tony Blair.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2021 years ago

Yes, a very impressive and persuasive defence by Blair. Thanks for reproducing that link, Ken. He’s certainly a far better orator and advocate than George Bush.

In respect to Chris’ demand for resignation, I guess his sincerity will be tested after Latham wins the coming election and he or one of his ministers makes the inevitable bad call on something. I’ll be very impressed if Chris calls for that resignation with the same passion as in this case.

Come to think of it, he could make it easier for us by responding with a link to his call for Carr’s (or senior minister’s) resignation because of the NSW rail and public hospitals fiascos.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Nice try Ken. Or not that nice actually, as I’m sure you know. Is apologia for pollies on a discount over here, or are you a Howard barracker? Your first source of authority appears to be some course somewhere in the UK, and incorporates discretionary interpretation. Your second source is none other than John Howard’s guide [sic] to ministerial responsibility, which is available from pm&c, not authorised by pm&c, and isn’t in any event definitive in its own terms (“Ministers do, however, have overall responsibility for the administration of their portfolios and for carriage in the Parliament of their accountability obligations arising from that responsibility”). Take your Liberal Party hat off for a moment, replace it with a citizen’s hat, and try this one:

“Ministerial responsibility extends to the actions of departmental officers, regardless of whether or not the minister was aware of these actions. In the words of one of the textbooks on [John] Howard’s undergraduate reading lists, Constitutional and Administrative Law, by E C S Wade and G Godfrey Phillips, individual ministerial responsibility reguires that ‘for every act or neglect of his department a Minister must answer’ and ‘[f]or what an unnamed official does, or does not do, his Minister alone must answer in parliament and the official, who cannot be heard in his own defence, is therefore protected from attack’. Since ministers themselves are not appointed as, or expected to be, ‘experts’ in their portfolio, their departments are staffed by expert public servants whose role is to serve governments impartially, and to offer advice freely and fearlessly. At a liberty to follow or reject advice, a minister whose department acts improperly or commits serious errors or gives incorrect advice, or who deceives the parliament because of those errors, is expected to resign. This at least was the theory that was more or less followed in Australia for decades.”

– Helen Irving, Faculty of Law, Sydney University

Now no-one, not Irving and least of all me, would argue that the doctrine hasn’t been diluted in practice in the last couple of decades, but this is only to say that the theory has broken down somewhat in practice, not that it has actually been withdrawn, amended or redrawn. The theory still stands, as it hasn’t been replaced by another (elsewhere I’ve suggested ways in which the emergent gaps could be filled, but this is to digress).

The important point for citizens is that the westminster theory of democratic accountability remains an entirely legitimate and indeed noble source of appeal. Even in light of recent practical dilutions, the main burden of the changes has turned on the gravity of the offence. Imho, for the reasons I’ve argued at Back Pages, it remains only in citizens’ interests to fully insist upon operationalising the principle in the case of extreme errors(eg war on false pretences).

In short, you appear to have misled your bloggers, and not only on my politics. As the westminster accountability principle has nothing to do with blogging, I don’t insist that you resign.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris,

“Conventions” are unwritten rules that change over time in accordance with evolving practice and altered circumstances. A classic example is that (leaving aside Kerr’s other conduct) it’s now fairly well-accepted that denial of Supply by the Senate is a proper basis for a G-G to sack a government. That wasn’t part of the convention until after 1975: the convention evolved.

Similarly with the convention of ministerial responsibility. Noting that actual conduct has “been diluted in practice in the last couple of decades”, both in Britain and Australia, amounts to a concession that the convention has changed by evolution. Whether it should have have been allowed to evolve in that way is a different question, and it’s your failure to make that distinction clear to which I objected.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Ken I’d argue that it’s more than a convention – it’s actually an integral part of a coherent theory. It’s a crucial link in the theoretical chain of accountability, without which the theory snaps. The evolving ‘convention’ is that the minister doesn’t resign unless the matter is of sufficient gravity, or, under the Howard government, if he can get away with it politically etc etc.

The explicit idea that ministers never need resign suggests not an evolving convention, but the emergence of an entirely new paradigm of accountable government. We are, in a sense, presently in a half-way house, the old is not yet dead, the new not yet born. In these circumstances, citizens do well to summon up the standing principle, even if the result is to face the need for a new one.

In any event, I’ve addressed the real world problems of ministerial accountability in numerous posts. Tedium says we can’t wheel out every thing on everything every time we write a post. And in any any event, in this case, I’d argue the qualifications are redundant.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris,

The problem with demanding reversion to the old undiluted version of MR is that it isn’t going to happen. Whether you believe the dilution occurred merely because the executive dominates Parliament (as Patience assumes) or, as I argued, because size and multiplicity of function makes it hopelessly impractical, the reaility is that no government is going to revert to the old doctrine. Governments of both political persuasions in both the UK and Australia have moved away from it over the last few decades, as we all seem to agree. They know that the result of reinstituting the more rigorous version would be that the government would regularly and unpredictably lose valued ministers who’d done nothing wrong themselves.

Rather than make demands we know won’t be met, surely it would be better to propose accountability measures that have some chance of implementation in the real world, at least by a fresh government unpolluted by cynicism and arrogance. Latham and Labor should be promising things like:

(1) beefed up protection for public sector whistle blowers;
(2) beefed up FOI legislation; and
(3) legislative enhancement of the powers of Senate committees, to allow them to require attendance and answers from all public servants and military and intelligence officers.

John Faulkner doesn’t mind suggesting that it was wrong for Howard to prevent military and intelligence officers from attending before the Senate (as it was), but I haven’t heard him or his party promising to do any different or implement measures to entrench such requirements. Are you aware of any such policy promises? Howard at least came into government promising enhanced accountability, albeit that the promises were ignored or rapidly diluted once in office. You don’t seem to be expecting even that of Latham. Why not?

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Noting your addition to the post Ken, you’ve still got my position wrong (as well as wrongly assuming I’m the dictator of all that goes on the Evatt website – there’s lots of stuff there I don’t agree with – it’s a broad church, over which I’ve never had sole and these days have less and less responsibility).

I’m definitely not at all arguing a ‘no fault’ case (although you could possible make one in this instance – in our interests, not as partisans, but as citizens). No, I’m arguing that the accountability principle is an essential safeguard against (1) plausible deniability – how on earth do you know that Blair is being truthful? Obviously you don’t (see my post); and (2) systemic irresponsibility – the elementary way for citizens to help ensure leaders don’t make grave errors is to ensure they walk whenever they do. I can’t believe you’d be surprised to know that this can do wonders for the extent to which a minister’s mind can suddenly become concentrated on the machinery that produces his advice.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

We’ve lapped each other in our comments Ken. First off, can we address this:

Howard at least came into government promising enhanced accountability, albeit that the promises were ignored or rapidly diluted once in office. You don’t seem to be expecting even that of Latham. Why not?

You have taken a position in defence of Howard here, and somehow think I’ve some responsibility for Latham. I know, you and lots of folks always make this assumption, but it’s wrong, and it doesn’t wash with me at all. I’m anti-Howard, which means nothing more than that I’m default pro-Latham, who I’ll take a watch and wait and see approach. But at the moment Latham is in opposition, and so I don’t really care that much about what he does or doesn’t do, except insofar as it effects whether he can knock off the short chap. I’ve got no brief for the ALP. From my perspective, I’m just a citizen, and as a citizen, I like accountable government, full stop (from this perspective, your position seems like betraying common citizen interests to toady up to government authority, but be that as it may …). If Howard is a failure, and Latham is a failure too, that does nothing to cancel out any points I have. It only means two failures, and being doubly being pissed off.

But to the issue at hand. Howard won’t walk, I know, but that’s no restraint on a citizen insisting he should as a matter of principle and citizen self-interest. If we don’t call for a leader to walk when he takes our country to war on false pretences, we have no basis to complain the next time he does the same.

Re new measures, I’m not a big fan of whistleblowers, but this isn’t a universal negative, only to say there is much to be unpacked here before it can be sensibly discussed. I also have my cynicisms about FOI, but, again, there is unpacking needed here to discuss the issues properly.

One thing that I am an extremely enthusiastic supporter of is public hearings to scrutinise and periodically review major appointments. This goes straight to the main dilution of the westminster system (no – I think the ‘complexity’ argument a weak one – I’m talking about the destruction of permanence and the hiring of non-accountable operatives). As we move increasingly to a Washminster-style system, I think there is a crying need to adopt something like the US system of regular public congressional hearings for department heads in central agencies such as PM&C and treasury and key regulatory agencies. I’ve argued some of the points in this thread (a little in the post, but mainly the thread itself).

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2021 years ago

Some interesting points from an ethical and accountability perspective.

I think it’s true that there haven’t been many ministerial falls in the last twenty years, but I don’t know that responsibility is dead.

Whitlam used it against Cairns and Connor. Fraser against Withers, and possibly others.

It died a bit in the Hawke-Keating years. The stuffup over Pay-TV licence bids, which was all according to the fad theory of the time that the highest bidding would only come from the most efficient (as distinct from the most reckless) bidders didn’t lead to anybody’s fall, except for a few minor bureaucrats taking a rap.

My view was that the Minister (Bob Collins, I think) should’ve gone then, not because he was directly responsible for the hare-brained scheme, but because he signed off on it.

And Ken, if you think it is now extinct, observe how Howard behaved over the ethanol scandal. When caught out in a denial, his response was that he was really answering a different question. If the concept was dead, he would not have needed to resort to this fudging.

I agree with Ken that it’d be nice to see Latham talk about setting higher standards. I think he’s avoided this precisely because, after the disappointment of Howard the average voter is going to think,

“Yeah, yeah. They all promise that before they get there.” He has set himself out as a little different from other leaders, which might do more to win trust in the short term.

There is, as Ken points out, a difference between moralising and current realities. But I think we are still entitled to ask for more from our leaders and certainly not to allow them to get away with crap.

After all, if it was good enough when trying to build up support for the invasion to invoke the spirit of Winston alone against Hitler, it ought to be good enough to follow Winston’s example. When Gallipoli (Winston’s initiative) was shown to be a disaster, Winston resigned from govt.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Don,

Misleading Parliament is a different matter. That remains a clearcut concept, where you can get away with inadvertent misleading as long as it’s corrected as soon as discovered, whereas being sprung in a deliberate lie requires resignation/dismissal. I don’t think even Howard yet argues against that, although he plays around with the definition of truth!

The discussion we’re currently having is not about misleading Parliament, deliberately or otherwise, but
(a) whether misleading the people inadvertently requires resignation; and
(b) whether leading the nation into war on grossly wrong information requires it. I won’t say “false pretences”, because that’s the label for a criminal offence that requires mens rea, and the point is that the Butler Report clearly found that there was no basis for concluding that the misleading was intentional. Thus, even if it had been a case of misleading Parliament per se, ministerial responsibility in relation to misleading would simply have required that the erroneous information was corrected as soon as reasonably possible after the error came to the communicator’s attention. There’s no basis for asserting that Blair or others failed to correct the erroneous information promptly.

That’s why one can only sustain a case for resignation being required by hearking back to the old rigorous form of the doctrine that hasn’t been applied for at least the last 25 years, that “a minister whose department acts improperly or commits serious errors …, is expected to resign.” As you yourself observed, the doctrine in that form hasn’t been honoured at least since the days of Whitlam and Fraser. And it won’t be in the foreseeable future. That’s why I think we need to look elsewhere for effective, realistic accountability measures.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Don, Latham had a fair bit to say about setting higher standards of accountability in his New Politics speech in March. He doesn’t specifically address the question of ministerial responsibility, though it’s perhaps implicit in some of the parliamentary reforms. If Labor were to implement all these suggestions, it would be an unalloyed good thing.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Aside from this fabulous debate…
I am left thinking that a bunch of governments came to believe some ideas about a country, a complete nation for god’s sake, which led them to invade the joint and kill thousands of people.

The reasons were wrong. That is the single biggest pile of whoopsie I have ever seen delivered in contemporary politics. War. Invade. Destroy. Reason – wrong.

We can’t just tiptoe away, give back the keys and leave a tenner on the table. We blew the place up. It’s been on fire. It is an ex sovereign state.

It doesn’t matter that we can cook up rationalisations to say it was a good thing anyway. The fact is, we did it. It is so big I can’t get an ethical grip on it.

Beyond this, though, is the obvious point that the governments these people ran made a total technical cock up of the business of getting and interpretting information about the world. They listened to the wrong people, they ruined their own checks and balances in the bureaucracies, they savaged opponents, and they surrendered to a mass attack of wishful thinking. The incompetence was titanic.

If I did that, I would be too ashamed to get out of bed. It is not a question of what technically these shameless limpets of office are required to do. It is a question of ethics – and first and foremost we should require integrity of our politicians. Otherwise we have given the nation to sleazebags, thieves and hucksters.

As a layperson, the only thing that I think should save them (and I would like to see Blair saved, actually) is that they now lay down a proper procedure for reconstructing both Afghanistan and Iraq. Aside from all the political manoevers, this means the public commitment of sufficient aid to do it.

Agreeing to foot the bill for a decent education system, effective health infrastructure and some power stations would be a start.

Somehow, we have to understand the import of the act. To declare war and invade another country.

James Dudek
James Dudek
2021 years ago

I think what we are missing here is that since the end of Gulf War I, it had been Saddam Hussein’s responsibility to prove that he had disarmed. It was not up to the US, the UK, Australia, or the UN to prove that he did have the weapons. The ambiguity was the problem.

Saddam had 12 years (and 17 UN resolutions) to come clean – we know what steps should have been taken, as evidenced by the examples of South Africa and the Ukraine. The plain truth is that even to the end Iraq’s government did none of the things required of it to be in compliance with the resolutions.

Alan
Alan
2021 years ago

I’ve read a lot of transcripts in the last few months. I’d argue quite seriously that Australian Senate estimates committees do a much better job than anything happening in Washington. Rumsfeld’s brief appearances before large committees where senators get 6 minutes each just does not compare with Hill sitting for 4 days in the Senate estimates committee.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Good point Alan. But, as I understand it, there are still too many limitations on the senate’s terms of reference cw the US, and we don’t have a parliamentary role in approving/reviewing appointments. While it is regularly argued that the latter rarely knocks off an appointment, the process itself has many accountability benefits – capturing testimony on record, and winnowing out those who are proposed in the first place (I doubt for instance, that Flint would have made it to the ABA through such a public hearing of his oddness).

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Chris is just upset that Tony Blair gave a good account of himself, and the actions of his government, which the public will more than likely accept. Howard and Bush may yet do the same–who knows?

In the case of the last two, the public will very shortly get to decide whether there was enough “ministerial responsibility”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris/Alan

I remain to be convinced overall that we need a US Senate-like approval process for appointment of senior bureaucrats. With the notable exception of Flint, I don’t think any of the recent cock-ups/failures of accountability can be attributed to poor quality appointments. They’re the result (if anything) of creeping politicisation of the whole public sector, including the defence forces and the military. Having a Senate-vetted appointment system wouldn’t do anything to remedy that.

Moreover, I doubt that Flint’s “oddness” would necessarily have been apparent in a Senate approval process, although the fact that he was being appointed to regulate the electronic media despite having an avowed philosophy that was opposed to such regulation might well have become evident, and could properly have caused Senators to refuse to approve his appointment. They might also have gleaned his political partisanship.

As I argued earlier, I think a far more effective and important accountability measure would be for Labor to legislate to give the Senate power to call ALL public servants and military and intelligence personnel (but not ministerial staffers) before any relevant Senate committee and a power to compel them to answer questions (but perhaps with provisions allowing the Minister to require that some questioning be in camera where there are national security or similar factors). Those sorts of powers would have made the children overboard enquiry and attempts to analyse intelligence failings on Iraq much more effective. Moreover, the unavoidable prospect of having to explain oneself before the Senate would also be a powerful factor in moving public servants etc back towards the old fearless and impartial ethic.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

I think you underestimate the value of public hearings Ken. Think back to the pressure that they place on people on the inside – close to force 10 in my experience.

Re Stan:

Chris is just upset that Tony Blair gave a good account of himself, and the actions of his government, which the public will more than likely accept.

On the contrary, I’m upset because he didn’t given a good account of himself (imo).The public has had an early say in two byelections last night, billed as likely to be the last test of opinion before the general election. UK Labour has lost one formerly safe seat to the anti-war Lib Dems, who rose from third to first place, with the Tories slipping to third, and only narrowly held onto the other. The BBC describes both seats as “predominantly working class suburbs with large ethnic minority populations”. Clearly, as of yesterday at least, far from accepting the account, the public is pretty downright cranky over the supposed “good account”.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2021 years ago

Ken, you’re right that there is an existing convention still for veracity in Parliament. And that it is harder to hold the same standards to other administration eg submarine purchase, parliament house construction overruns, etc.

The voters expect some reckoning sometime, however. The fall of the two state banks cost the two current premiers their jobs and eventually both labor govts were chucked out, as they should’ve been. Somebody had to be accountable even if the pollies weren’t directly involved in the banks speculations.

That will probably happen eventually on Iraq.

I worry about the ‘acted in good faith’ explanation. Tell that to David Kelly’s family. If it was good faith, why was it necessary to expose and smear those insiders with a different view? It happened to Kelly in the UK (after he’d been given assurances that his name would NOT be given out); it happened to Wilkie in Australia with smear information; and it happened to Wilson and Plame in the US.

If it was good faith, it would not have been necessary to use plagiarised and fake material merely to boost your case.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Don,

Of course, Kelly, Wilkie, Wilson and Plame were all (in differing ways) whistleblowers. In part that’s why I suggested beefed up whistleblower protection legislation as one of the suite of measures that would in toto provide better accountability than futile calls for reversion to a more rigorous version of ministerial responsibility.

However, a good part of the problem for Kelly (and his family) was caused not by government but by the journo citing him as a source for things he simply didn’t say or imply. And in Wilkie’s case, he seems to have decided fairly early in the piece to use his new public profile to launch a political career. In that sense you can understand the government treating him as a political opponent rather than a public servant. When does a whistleblower cross the line from disinterested, public-spirited whistleblower enetitled to protection from retribution, to partisan opponent agains whom the government is entitled to takes the gloves off? It’s not a simple question, but my gut feeling is that Wilkie made himself fair game.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Ken, I think the point of a Senate approval process for significant appointments in Australia would precisely be that the bureaucracy has been politicised. Above a certain level, in the US, appointments are not “civil service” but “political” and change with the change of party in power in the Executive. If we are going to adopt the same system by stealth, and Howard’s purge of secretaries on coming to office certainly indicates we are getting very close to it, then we might think about taking a leaf out of the American book and ensuring some accountability/quality control. There would also be some benefit in delimiting which levels/areas of the public service should not be politicised. How all this would mesh with the Westminster system in terms of parliamentary oversight and ministerial responsibility, I’m not sure!

Peter Ransen
Peter Ransen
2021 years ago

It may be that journos go to this extent, and worse, when the system is not adequately checking itself.

How do we codify a person’s conscience?

Given we can’t, how far back do we retreat from that ideal until we have a sufficient check and balance system?

Ken, I wonder if strengthening protection against a whistleblower is lost in practice; that he or she’s effectively shot anyway?

Why is the current system failing? Or is it?

Contrary to Ken’s belief, mine is that Howard and others in power lied. They misled the public, knowingly. That is my belief, from my observation of it all. Let me extrapolate along that line…

That sort of person can rort the current system, but for how long? In other words, it’s being tested now, but who’s to know the system is not working well enough? Who’s to know that Howard is in fact not in the slow process of getting the boot, as the system spots a rotten egg and rids it?

Let’s say Howard is not the person I observe and describe.

What of the system then?

If the system is broken, who’s to know to what extent?

Do we really know the extent of poor quality or ‘leaned upon’ or otherwise compromised appointments?

What’s really happening with that, and where?

And what of the very principles of life? Honesty, faith, discipline, diligence, etc.. These we all know and agree our the foundations of any successful, peaceful, society. Our MR history has been effective in no small part because of these very principles, hasn’t it? To discard these sorts of principles in argument, by attesting that the system has been gradually moving away from having quality MR and therefore and for any other reason we cannot revert to it, must surely send off alarm bells?

Surely, we either have a system that is working, or it’s not working, or it’s not working well enough. To agree or to argue that the system is not working, is to admit that those in it are themselves failing, given it had worked satisfactorily before.

Alan
Alan
2021 years ago

The changes that should be made are subjecting all ministers, not just ministers in the Senate to estimates hearings. There’s a plan afoot to set up Hose estimates committees but the House has never shown the same pugnacity as the Senate.

In the US Senate confirmations are almost never rejected. They would work better in Australia with the local tradition of ferocious debate. There’s no good reason why confirmations should not go to the House as well.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Not so Alan. The US Senate has rejected fully a fifth of all nominees to Supreme Court positions since the founding of the republic. It certainly hasn’t been as rejectionist with cabinet nominees – around 9 in total thus far – but lots of nominees never get to the Senate floor vote stage. They’re pulled by the Executive branch when difficulties are sensed or they withdraw themselves.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Whoops! I forgot to add that my encyclopedic knowledge in this area owes entirely to the Brookings Institution: http://www.appointee.brookings.org/sg/c4-1.htm

Stan
Stan
2021 years ago

Chris, it’s pretty weak to use a by-election as support for your argument when you know that almost every incumbent government comes in for strife in such elections.

No the real test will be at the general election where the wicked irony will be that either Tony Blair or the Conservatives will win — must drive you and the loony left crazy.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Don’t get too loony Stan. Neville Wran never lost a byelection in 10 years, and there are countless other examples. You can generally factor in a couple of points for a protest vote, but that’s it under normal circumstances. But stick your head in the sand, by all means.

As for the other, don’t count your chickens here either bubba. The Tories came third, raising the prospect of a possible Labour/Lib-Dem coalition come the general… and that thought must drive you even crazier.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Alan,

I don’t have a problem with the idea of a Reps Estimates Committee. As you say, at least it would give an opportunity to question most actual Ministers, rather than being confined to their Senate substitute/rep. But a House estimates Committee wouldn’t work as well as the Senate one, for the simple reason that the government wold have the numbers and could therefore control proceedings much more effectively than it manages in the Senate.

As for appointment confirmation processes, I don’t oppose them, I just don’t think they would tackle the real problem. It’s not that poor quality or partisan senior public servants are being appointed (in the vast majority of cases). It’s what happens AFTER appointment. By a whole series of measures, including SES contracts, bureaucrats are subjected to pressure to effectively toe the government line. The most important is making object lessons of those who follow the unwritten rules and those who don’t. The ones who play the game of telling the Minister what he wants to hear, and more importantly not telling him what he doesn’t want to hear so he retains the invaluable gift of plausible deniability, will be rewarded and promoted. The ones who don’t play the Minister’s game will have rocky career paths thereafter. I don’t see how Senate approval of senior bureaucrats’ appointments will interfere with that politicisation process in any significant way, whereas making all bureaucrats subject to detailed Senate committee oversight on an ongoing basis WOULD have such an effect.

Alan
Alan
2021 years ago

Ken

Agreed. It would be best to do both. The admissions extracted from Hill about Abu Ghraib had to be pulled like teeth because of his refusal to make O’Kane and others available. Even now, Hill continues to withhold one document on the grounds that it’s too embarrassing to the US.

The Commons public administration committee published a great report in March on parliamentary scrutiny.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

I don’t see how Senate approval of senior bureaucrats’ appointments will interfere with that politicisation process in any significant way.

It won’t, but that’s the point Ken. The measure recognises that senior public positions are now political appointments, and therefore the quid pro quo is to make them publicly account for themselves, both at appointment stage and in estimates etc (actually, wouldn’t it be best to make them accountable to the appropriate parliamentary policy committee?). The idea thus directly addresses the point at which westminster has broken down, whereby ministers are being allowed to escape accountability by passing responsibility off to public servants, who are themselves political appointments. It’s no panacea, but an elegant counter development.

At the appointment stage, the main benefit is as Geoff says. Anyone who can’t be safely brought out into the light of day is winnowed from the field (on personal reflection, certainly not all but most of the appalling senior appointments I know of wouldn’t get through this process, and so they would never have been proposed). The subsidiary benefit is putting them on the public record. Unlike me, you appear to have scant faith in the value that liberalism traditionally places on the capacity for the truth to out through public discussion (which is another way back to blogging, as we recently discussed re voting). In the days of transitory department heads, adverse public reputation effects are real.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Chris

You don’t seem prepared to engage at all with my proposal that ALL Senate committees be given statutory power to subpoena ALL public servants, defence and intelligence personnel and that they can be required to answer questions. Do you support this or not? If not why not?

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2021 years ago

Ken, re Andrew Wilkie, I think you’re repeating the Downer line re politicalisation.

The chronology as I remember it is:
1. Wilkie resigned and made a public statement on why the Govt position was unreliable. Actually, it should be acknowledged that the resignation before commenting was consistent with propriety and what we have been talking about in accountability. If you are unhappy with a position of your employer, the principled option is to resign. I suggest he did this at considerable cost to his career propects.

2. The original Downer-Govt line was that he was too junior a person to be privy to all the information. That was later contradicted by others with knowledge of ONA.

3. Then came media leaks from the Prime Minister’s Office that his marriage had failed (true) that he had become unhinged because of this and stress (untrue) and was thus unreliable, which were just mischievous.

4. Dept of Foreign Affairs (staff? ministerial advisers? the minister?) obtained classified information in June 2003 and this was passed on to Andrew Bolt in an effort to discredit Wilkie.
Wilkie, of course, could not even respond to the selective material used by Bolt because he would have breached the Crimes Act. Fair game?

5. As far as I know, Wilkie did not join the Greens until some time after these events. In any case, gaining Green nomination for a House of Representatives seat (Bennelong) hardly qualifies as ‘using his position to launch a political career’.

Remember Janine Haynes? She was arguably the highest profile minor party candidate to contest a House seat (Kingston?) and she was rolled. It seems inconceivable that Wilkie would have higher expectations than she did.

Standing in the PM’s seat is specifically to make the point on public accountability. It is certainly not done from thoughts of career advancement.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Yes I do agree with that Ken – I’m sorry, I took that as read.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Ken,

Let me do a late back-up here. We’re travelling down different tracks. My sense is you’re working on a complexity model, whereas I’m on an accountabilty path. You’re interested in investigative powers – truth seekers; along with truthtellers – whistleblowers. I’m interested in who’s responsible for the joint, not who did what. Not who scientifically did what, but who officially has their head on the line for the place. So while I have no necessary objections to what you, and I think Alan, are talking about, I’m focused elsewhere, and we’re moving in parallel.

When I come to reflect on it. On committtees, you have to be careful, for at some point they shade into shadow management. Can drive you mad if you’re trying to get stuff done. Can be damned expensive too. Whistleblowers is also an odd concept, when you think about it. Institutionalised dobbing. Doesn’t turn me on a lot. There’s always the Maurice Newman, Andrew Wilkie, traditional gentleman’s stand. People can also go to the press if they have clear-cut stuff, and lots of leaking goes down. Remember also that whisteblowing runs riot ‘inside’ the service – everyone has their story to tell. We’d probably do better if we subsidised the press to hire investigative reporters to listen to the backlog of whistleblowers already on offer.

Me, I just want to know who’s the person who puts his or her resignation on the table as the first presumption, when something big goes wrong. Who cares about the person who was “advised”, or the person who “did it”. I want the person who is responsible for the overall quality of executive advice and action to answer. With explanation, the envelope might not be picked up, but that’s the point where parliamentary accountabilty kicks in to join the democratic loop.

Alan
Alan
2021 years ago

There are middle positions about appointments short of going the route of full confirmation. The Irish seanad (big pdf) , admittedly a lot less political than our senate, has a recommendation that:

The legislation should require the Seanad to review the appointment file or meet with the nominee, and then prepare a short factual report for the appointing authority, setting out the requirements of the post and the nominee’s credentials for the public appointment in question.

I’m not completely sure David Flint would have survived a Senate interview without holding forth on the Liberal party’s role as embodiment of all that Western civilisation holds dear or the like.

Niall
2021 years ago

My, my, such a waste of bandwidth and for what? No-one is likely to change anyone elses opinions on the matters at hand, that much is certain. I do believe it’s rather disingenuous of Mr Parish to instigate such an attack on CS knowing full well he’ll bite, while he, Mr Parish, has no intention of seriously considering CS’s points. Back to your blogs, one and all, and stop filling Mr Parish’s bandwidth quota as well as his ego.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Oh Niall, I was enjoying this so much…

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Niall sadly is one of the nasty, ill-tempered little wastes of space of the blogosphere. He’s one of the few blogosphere participants I would tempted to ban from comment box participation, because his contributions are invariably so ill-tempered and destructive of thoughtful discourse.

Fortunately there are lots of others of goodwill and intelligence, who are capable of respecting each others’ viewpoints even while disagreeing strongly (and sometimes even doing a bit of good-natured intellectual sparring where they DON’T actually disagree with each other terribly strongly). In fact I agree with most of the points Chris, Alan and Don Wigan have made, and they seem mostly to have agreed with mine. Hopefully all of us have expanded our perspectives of the issues in the process. I certainly agree that Senate vetting of senior public service appointments would be worthwhile, but my point is that I think the other initiatives I suggested should have a higher priority. I even think it would be nice if we could return to the old-fashioned notion of ministerial responsibility. But I know it isn’t going to happen (and so does Chris, one suspects), and so I’m more interested in using the blog as a “brain gym” to explore what other measures might be implemented to restore accountability to a system sorely in need of it.

Chris, unlike Niall, is smart enough to understand that I was just engaging in a bit of good-natured provocation to get people’s attention, and that my underlying motives were benevolent and constructive, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered to enter into the discussion in the first place. In fact, you don’t have to be all that smart to work it out. I signalled at the very beginning of the post that I was partly out to be provocative and have a bit of fun. Sadly, Niall seems to lack basic reading skills as well as intelligence.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Perhaps one of the reasons why Chris Sheil (unlike Niall) understands where I’m coming from when I write provocatively-worded posts like this one is that I explained the philosophy in some depth in an article about blogging that Chris himself commissioned and published on the Evatt Foundation website. Maybe even Niall could benefit from reading it (and Tim Dunlop’s article to which it was partly a response). Here’s the money section as far as the point I’m discussing here:

“In any event, Schudson’s monitorial citizen concept suggests that we shouldn’t be too precious or dismissive about employing tabloid circulation-boosting tactics from time to time. They may be unavoidable for anyone who aspires to a meaningful monitorial role. A monitorial blog is likely sometimes to have more in common with a Collingwood versus Carlton grudge match than a genteel academic debate, at least if we want to attract and hold a broad general audience. Not that many academic debates are all that genteel anyway; the current Windschuttle versus Reynolds and Ryan stand-off being a prime example. The most prominent current embodiments of Schudson’s monitorial citizen are radio talkback shock-jocks. Large numbers of politically disengaged Australians rely on personalities like Alan Jones as fire alarms, signalling issues their audience should regard as worthy of attention. However, talkback hosts are generally quite right-wing in political orientation, and the radio medium itself imposes inherent constraints on the depth with which topics can be explored. Superficiality is unavoidable. Political blogs may have more potential as vehicles for monitorial citizenry. Bloggers span the entire political spectrum, so that disengaged citizens have a much wider available range in choosing the pundit whose political attention filter they’re most willing to trust. The blogging format also permits in-depth exploration of topics, while also allowing readers to absorb information to whatever extent they choose.

If occasional outbreaks of tabloid sensationalism are the price that must be paid for bloggers to attract a large enough general audience to fulfil a meaningful monitorial citizen role, perhaps it’s a price worth paying. As long as the bread and circuses stunts are interspersed with more meaty analytical posts, intellectual depth and rigour need not be sacrificed. There are quite a few blogs where excellent analytical political journalistic work is posted at least as frequently as some of our more prominent broadsheet op-ed pundits. However, don’t take my word for it. Click on some of the numerous blog links in this article and read for yourself. You’re sure to find ideas that delight, challenge and stimulate, as well as some that provoke disgust, depression or despair. At least in that sense, blogging closely resembles mainstream journalism or, for that matter, human existence in general.”

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2021 years ago

I’ve got to confess that I haven’t read every post in this thread (least of all the Niall Creature’s).

However, the high-brow discussion over measures for ensuring accountability worries me.

(1) beefed up protection for public sector whistle blowers;
(2) beefed up FOI legislation; and
(3) legislative enhancement of the powers of Senate committees, to allow them to require attendance and answers from all public servants and military and intelligence officers.

The whistle-blowers issue raises two questions.

Firstly, just what persecution is it that people like Plame, Wilkie and Kelly are actually alleged to have suffered from? Not one of them has been charged with anything so far as I know. Where is the demonstrable need for better protection?

The fact is that Lord Butler’s report and the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee are showing that Plame and Wilson made a number of misleading statements. (Or here, if you don’t want to register.) There’s a strong suggestion that Wilson in particular was a political stooge.

As for Wilkie, I seem to recall that one of his major concerns was that the war would cause Saddam to unleash his WMD on his own people. It’s hard to encapsulate the sheer wrongness of his guesswork in mere written text. Then to go off and become a Greens candidate?!?? I’d say the man has been fighting some personal demons for a long time, probably relating to being passed over for selection as a senior officer in the military. Incidentally, I believe he was an Executive Level 1 at the ONA working in transnational crime, which is far from senior in the Canberra Bureaucracy.

This segues me into the second question about greater protection for whistle-blowers.

Who decides what is ‘good’ whistle-blowing, what is politically motivated, what is misguided and what is downright treasonous?

It might well be that a whistle-blower is pure of heart. But to assume that he fully understands every implication that will result from the release of his information is highly dubious. Short of having direct and incontrovertible evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of a government, the only consequence of running to the press is likely to be embarrassment to the government. Good if you happen to be the Opposition, but not necessarily good for the country.

Same thing applies to FOI searches. Governments own a mammoth quantity of close hold and sensitive material. The sensitivity of the material may relate to commercial, security, confidentiality, law enforcement or many other issues. There is this catastophically misguided belief that the sole reason governments keep their data confidential is to hide their own dirty deeds. FOI searches are often initiated by ‘public interest’ groups, which is really nothing more than double-speak for politically motivated agitators.

Often a bunch of ratbags will be searching for some ‘smoking gun’ that a government was actively involved in some egregious breach of law. What they actually turn up is reams of information about the way police or Defence conduct operations. Great for the bad guys who can study that information to improve their modus operadis. Not so good for the country.

As for beefing up the powers of Senate Committees, Oh Puh Leeze. If you’ve ever watched Senate Estimates live, or seen a Senate Committee torturously try to spin every word, every statement and every puff of breath to partisan political advantage, the last thing you’d want to be doing is handing more legal powers to these people.

One of the reasons that Senate Committees are so reluctant to ever go in camera is because the whole thing is just a stage show to land some political punches for the benefit of the attendant press gallery.

One of the great ironies in this sort of discussion is that the people who are always calling for ‘more accountability’ are usually the first to criticise this Government’s decision to put senior public servants on performance contracts. Uh, why do you s’pose the government did that? Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s all about keeping department heads in fear for their jobs unless they do what the government says. Lower the blinkers for a second, and you’ll see that the Government is merely putting into place accountability measures for the Bureaucracy’s fat cats. Isn’t that the sort of thing you’re calling for?

David Tiley
2021 years ago

I talked to a friend of mine living in Sweden just today on the phone.

He told me that Swedes could find out anyone’s taxable income and how much tax they paid. There is a public list of all car license numbers and the owners of them, with their addresses. Politicians publish their expenses. And they all carry identity cards.

We would say in our society that the sky would explode if we allowed any of this to happen. We operate in a public culture which valorises privacy and encourages governmental secrecy. In the arts and film world, which I have experience of, a huge amount of material is kept secret that could easily be public. Much of this material is kept secret from the client who supplied the information. Why do both parties to a contract assume they should not reveal it?

If you do business with the government you should do it in public. If you spend public money, it should be transparent. In that case, whistleblowers and FOI are unnecessary.

Australians immediately assume this kind of proposition is silly. But it works in Sweden.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

David has a point. But so does Al. There clearly ARE some types of government information that need to be kept confidential e.g. national security, criminal intelligence. And although I agree with David about commercial dealings, there may be some very limited types of commercial information that should remain confidential e.g. information about intellectual property that isn’t yet fully patented. And obviously all tender bids need to be confidential at least until tenders have closed.

But certainly the exemptions need to be much narrower than they currently are under FOI. A lot has been written about this, and it isn’t practical to summarise it here. I’ll try to find some publicly available journal articles on FOI reform and link them from this thread.

Would broader FOI obviate the need for whistleblower protection? It would certainly reduce it, but I’m sure there are many types of government misbehaviour that wouldn’t necessarily be revealed in documents. And even if it was, you need to know where to look in the mountain of documents government produces. I agree that the cases of Wilson, Plame, Kelly and Wilkie are perhaps dubious in some respects. Although to what extent we have negative perceptions of them because they’ve been successfully but unfairly smeared by governments who have much to hide and everything to gain by discrediting them is another matter. Wilson has attempted a defence of the claims against him on MSN Slate (linked from Tim Dunlop’s blog, but you’ll need to watch an ad to get a “daypass”), and an accompanying Slate article summarises the situation and suggests that some aspects of the Wapo article to which Al Bundy referred were clearly erroneous. On the other hand, Christopher Hitchens debunks Wilson in a more recent Slate article (Tuesday July 13).

I agree protection of whistleblowers is a difficult area for all the reasons Al Bundy canvasses. However, I was thinking more of whistleblowers who are still employed within the public sector (which doesn’t apply to Wilson or Wilkie, although it does to Plame). They are seriously exposed to paybacks of all sorts. Moreover, whatever a whistleblower’s motivation (partisan or otherwise), he/she performs a valuable function if they reveal serious wrongdoing that may otherwise have gone undetected. Obviously whistleblowers are less likely to come forward if governments get away unscathed with smearing, scapegoating and punishing them. I think the bloke who revealed widespread drug-taking in the defence forces is probably a much better example of a “well-motivated” whistleblower than Wilson, Plame or Wilkie, and what he revealed was far less equivocally accurate and serious (the accuracy and credibility of Wilson’s, although less so Wilkie’s, revelations is part of the problem with using them as examples).

Maybe what we need is an independent Public Integrity Commission that has power to restrain government departments from (a) taking any punitive action against a whistleblower; and (b) publicly impugning the motives or character of a whistleblower; subject to its being satisfied that the whistleblower HAS actually revealed significant wrongdoing. The protective power would need to be discretionary, and protective orders could be vacated if the whistleblower abused the protection by engaging in ongoing blatantly partisan political activity (which arguably both Wilson and Wilkie have done). In other words, legal protection would be conditional on the whistleblower acting in a reasonably measured, proportionate way with their disclosures and subsequent conduct.

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Agreed, and yes, yes to the fact that some bits of government clearly need to be secret.

I can’t help thinking there are two big areas that should make the whistleblower thing much less important.

1. Clear rules about the behaviour and function of a public service, with a complaints function for the general public. This would include service charters for ethical behaviour with the public.

I was fascinated to see the Australian Film Commission, for instance, going some distance down this path – pushed by Federal governance rules. Film Victoria has not and the rules are mushier as a result, and less client oriented. (And I must emphasise that I absolutely respect the integrity of the people; we are talking about organisational structure.)

Such rules would include the nature of the advice given to Ministers and the engagement with the political process.

2. Accountability from Parliament. The apparatus of question time, ministerial accountability and confidence motions is supposed to explore the integrity and probity of the system on a day to day basis. The need to protect whistleblowers and extensive FOI provisions is increased by failure at the parliamentary level.

As they say, over and over, the fish stinks from the head.

trackback
2021 years ago

Accountability 101

Prime Minister Tony Blair Statement on the Butler Report 14 July 2004 Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. Oh, well, that’s all right then. You went to war…

trackback
2021 years ago

A rumour of war

I have to come back to Tony Blair and his speech yesterday in response to the Butler report (pdf). The prime minister’s speech is a dishonest and shifty parsing of the arguments that should break the heart of anyone who…

trackback
2021 years ago

a quick trip around the blogosphere

John Howard Lies is up again, with a small authorisation notice. The AEC was used to harrass a website. What about the issues they raised? Are we all party political broadcasters? Vulnerable to their vicious fine? Nothing now stands between…

trackback
2021 years ago

cleanskins?

This post is a bit out of date. The Butler Report came out around Thursday last week and Australian bloggers,