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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Another nail in the coffin « Previous | |Next »
July 27, 2003

Here is another plank in the case against war with Iraq falling apart. This time it is the non-existence of the key link between Iraq and Al Qaeda that turned the possession of WMD by Iraq into an imminent threat against the US, the UK and Australia.

The Full Congressional September 11 report is here The summary of the findings and conclusions can be found here. Se this report from the New York Times the deletions about the involvement in Saudi Arabia in 9/11.

George Paine over at has a good coverage on this for the US.

The public policy implication is the need to curb the power of political advisors, such as Tony Blair's Alastair Campbell. In Australia the power of ministerial advisors also need to be curbed. There is a Senate inquiry into Members of Parliament Staff going on at the moment.

In reporting on the submissions Tony Harris, in The Australian Financial Review (subscription required, July 22, p. 54), argues that curbing the power of Ministerial staff by setting limits to their power, making them accountable to Parliament and citizens, setting out expectations of their behavour through a legislated code of conduct, and mechanisms of reinforcement.

It is the Ministerial staff who distorted the intelligence to justify Australia's involvement in the Iraq war. And they continue to avoid accountability. As Harry Evans, the Clerk of the Senate observes in his submisison to the above inquiry:

"The role of ministerial personal staff in theory, if there is a theory, is that of advisers, assistants and agents of their employing minister. This theory has long been belied by the reality. Their role has long gone beyond advice and personal assistance. As active participants in the political process, they can:

control access to ministers;

determine the information which reaches ministers, particularly from departments and agencies;

control contact between ministers and other ministers, other members of the Parliament and departments and agencies;

make decisions on behalf of ministers;

give directions about government activities, including directions to departments and agencies;

manage media perceptions and reporting."

As Harry Evans points out, the politically partisan Ministerial staff can interpret the above functions along the following lines:

'ensure that those who would tell ministers what they do not want to know do not have access;

provide “deniability” by ensuring that ministers can profess ignorance of information which becomes politically inconvenient to know;

ensure that persons out of favour for political reasons are denied contact, and those in favour are provided with contact;

provide “deniability” for decisions which ministers may claim not to have made themselves;

browbeat and intimidate public servants to ensure that public service performance accords with political objectives;

put out misinformation and partial and selected information to ensure that the “right story” is reported, and ensure that journalists who recount the “right story” are favoured with further information, while those who do not are punished with lack of information.'

Neither Liberal nor Labor are willing to change the situation by making Ministerial advisors more accountable to Parliament. They both like this weapon of executive dominance. They have no intention of curbing the power that is currently played by the highly partisan and politically active "junk-yard attack dogs" on the Minister's staff. They are to useful since they are able and willing to do anything to assist the political cause of their minister and the government.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)