A few thoughts on the opening of the campaign

Ken Parish has most graciously allowed me room to opine on politics, without me having to go to the bother of re-establishing a blog of my own. Time pressures mean that posting from this quarter will be erratic at best, but I hope to pop by once in a while to give my own 0.02 cents.

I have actually been writing for an overseas audience over at Samizdata.net. Back in June, I predicted that the ALP would win, and probably handsomely. Nothing I have seen since then has caused me to change my mind.

Not that I think this is a good thing, though….

Ken in the post below highlighted the ALP’s ‘integrity plan’, which he lauds. And, indeed, truth in government is usually a good thing. (There are times when discretion is the better part of valour, of course.) But please, excuse me for being sceptical.

Readers with long memories will recall that John Howard himself came to power promising to restore ‘integrity’ to government, after the scandals and misdeeds of the Keating years. The problem with such ‘codes of conduct’ is that it is the nature of Australian politics that if a minister were ever to resign, it would be spun by the media and the opposition of the day as a ‘defeat’ for the government, rather then a victory for honest government.

We saw this in the Keating government, where Paul Keating defended errant ministers Ros Kelly and Carmen Lawrence long after normal standards (and indeed political prudence) would suggest resignations were due.

Now, fast forwarding to a potential Latham government, the first thing we should note is that Simon Crean is still Shadow Treasurer, and even ALP fans agree that he is hurting the Party by being in that position. It is pretty clear that Latham needs to be tough and replace Simon Crean and bring in Bob McMullan.

The fact that Latham has not done so is revealing. If Latham can not make the tough call when he is not even Prime Minister, can we really expect him to make the much tougher call and sack an errant minister when the heat is on and the press and opposition are baying for blood?

Not on the evidence we have seen so far.

So while the ‘integrity plan’ is laudable by itself, I do not expect it to be taken any more seriously then the ‘code of conduct’ is by the present government.

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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Welcome to Troppo, Scott.

I take your general point on Labor’s “integrity” policy. But several of the proposed initiatives (e.g. FOI reform; independent auditor of parliamentary allowances and entitlements) will involve legislation or appointment of an independent person, so it won’t be anywhere near as easy for a Labor government to ignore those elements as it was for Howard to ignore his Ministerial Code of Conduct. Similarly, as I observed yesterday, Labor’s move to subpoena ministerial staffers to appear before senate committees establishes a precedent that the Coalition will certainly follow in opposition. In that way, a general practice of ministerial accountability to the Senate will almost certainly be established if Labor wins.

I would also assume that re-establishment of public service autonomy/integrity would involve some legislative changes (because otherwise such a promise is meaningless). The problem with the Labor press release, as Chris Sheil points out, is that it’s very light on detail, so it’s impossible to know whether these are substantial measures or just window-dressing. I’ll be looking out for a fleshed-out vrsion of the policy on the ALP website or elsewhere. I’d like to know if any reader becomes aware of any more detailed version of this policy announcement.

Shaun
Shaun
2022 years ago

I don’t think Crean is as bad as people think. We really haven’t seen Gillard or Macklin yet either.

Either way, the choice of treasurer won’t determine the outcome.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

The Labor integrity/machinery of government policy is here. It’s pretty detailed and clearly a serious policy not just window-dressing. Several other initiatives (e.g. registration of lobbyists) will also be legislated, and the proposed FOI reforms include abolishing “conclusive ministerial certificates” as well as any exemption basis for “embarrassment to the government”. I assume that the latter is a grossly simplified reference to one of the most notorious FOI decisions ever made, Re Howard and Treasurer of the Commonwealth. In this case, Paul Keating as Treasurer managed to convince the AAT to accept the following outrageous bases for exemption from FOI disclosure:
(1) the seniority of the person who created, annotated or considered the information;
(2) the possibility that the threat of later disclosure might inhibit the “frankness and candour” of public servants’ deliberations; and
(3) the possibility that the public may not readily understand any ‘tentative’ or ‘optional’ quality of the information.

This decision drastically curtailed the effectiveness of the FOI Act, and was one of numerous lowpoints of Paul Keating’s political career. I assume that Labor’s proposed amendment is aimed at one or other of these exemptions, although on its face the policy document is very vague and unclear on the point. You therefore have to wonder just how serious this proposal is. Nevertheless, abolition of conclusive ministerial certificates is a welcome reform.

Overall, I stick by my initial evaluation that it’s a worthwhile and serious policy announcement that should be welcomed by anyone who values government accountability in a democratic society (which hopefully means all of us).

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

It is pretty clear that Latham needs to be tough and replace Simon Crean and bring in Bob McMullan.

I don’t think it is anywhere near as clear as you suppose.

There is a value Scott that you have completley overlooked. That is loyalty. Latham was a Crean supporter against Beazley when Crean was leader. When Crean stepped down he convinced his support base to go with Latham. Latham has a debt of gratitude to Crean, and it demonstrates both strength of character and good old fashioned manners that he continues to support Crean.

Howard did the same for old Alexander Dewlap don’t forget.

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Greater love hath no man that he should risk losing an election for his friend? As Ken said, Crean should do the decent thing and take a back seat.

I do not actually think that it would cost the election, but it does not look good that Latham keeps Crean under wraps so.

Factory
Factory
2022 years ago

I don’t think that Crean will hurt the ALP’s chances significantly, prolly the biggest problem is the opportunity cost of having him as the shadow treasurer.
That said, I think we should get down to the _real_ issue in this election, who has the better internet related policies?

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

The question does occur to me Scott, why should anyone listen to your opinion about the election? because as you’ve said at Samizdata . You’re not going to vote anyway.

Don’t you think that this sort of makes your opinion redundant?

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Nice to see yer pitching in here Scott as a RWSB (Right Wing Sensible Beast).

Re the Crean thing. I’d venture that a parallel could be drawn with what happened in Vic with Brumby and Bracks. Opposition leader perceived as ineffectual, replaced by mediagenic colleague, goes on to do well in much more focused portfolio.

Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Rex
If Scott’s decision not to vote was based on total ignorance of what’s going on you may have a point. But Scott’s decision is instead based on his being familiar with politics and is a perfectly legitimate one. Many people who make a conscious decision to spoil their ballots are among the most politically conscious of all. Indeed I’d regard the dopiest people in the community as those who are die-hard supporters of one party or the other (particularly if this die-hard support is based on nothing more than how their parents or grandparents voted).

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Jason. I agree that it can be a perfectly legitimate decision not to vote. It depends on the reason.

Perhaps I misread Scott’s post but I sensed a certain lean toward Howard. If one feels more inclined toward one side than the other, and is prepared to express that point of view publicly, then it seems inconsistant to then choose to not vote. Why have an opinion at all, and why express it?

mark
2022 years ago

I think that’s the point, Rex. Scott’s politics are right-wing, so he’d usually be a supporter of Howard, yeah? So the fact that he’s chosen not to vote is pretty significant… and the reasons why he’ll spoil his vote rather than vote Labor are also pretty significant, yeah? Surely that’s worth hearing?

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Good point Mark. I hadn’t looked at it like that, too hidden in the subtext for me I guess.

Gianna
2022 years ago

is Crean that bad? i’d sort of forgotten about him. oh, right…opportunity cost. still, i don’t see why McMullen would be that much of an improvement. and like Nabakov says, maybe Crean would be good at being a Treasurer even if he wasn’t PM material.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

What’s this “prolly” word?

mark
2022 years ago

prolly = prob’ly = probably = I guess so, Jack.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

Ahhh. Thnks, Mark. Mnwhile, who’s Jack?

mark
2022 years ago

I thought you knew.

Tony.T
2022 years ago

I do. But I don’t think Jack does.