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

ministerial tall tales « Previous | |Next »
April 13, 2006

Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times makes some interesting comments that bear on the Cole Inquiry's disclosing the incompetence of the federal bureaucracy in preventing the kickbacks by AWB. Mark Vaile says he didn't know. Alexander Downer says the cables weren't read but DFAT did a good job. The effect was to allow an Australian company to pay nearly $300 million in bribes over several years to the Iraqi regime that we sent our troops to fight.

Waterford addresses the ministerial staffers who sit between the minister and the bureaucracy and are a reason why no evidence has emerged that he or other ministers were told definitively that AWB was paying kickbacks. Waterford says:

...there has been a major shift of power from the bureaucracy to the ministerial office over recent decades. It may have partly insulated the public service from politicisation pressures - given that staffers can be as political as they like. But it does not produce more transparent administration, and certainly not more accountable administration, as evidenced by the way in which ministers, from the Prime Minister down, have refused to accept responsibility for what these staff do in their name.

Rightly said. The ministerial office has become a significant but non-transparent part of government administration. It is the minders who are in a position to shed light on what a minister really knows, they know the political considerations that inform the decision-making process and the wheeling and dealing going on between ministers, and their minders before important decisions are made.

Allan Moir

The tall tale being told is that key documents weren't brought to the attention of the ministers, Australia had no responsibility for vetting contracts, and all those warnings slipped past the radar screen because AWB deceived the government. The strategy is to avoid all ministerial responsibility and collective accountability and to dump all the blame on AWB or, where that was not possible, on the UN. Gee they've forgotten to blame Saddam Hussein for the accountability deficit.

What seems to be forgotten in all of this is that it was the pressure from the UN that opened up the AWB can of worms and that it was the Howard Government who prevented public servants from supplying any information to the Senate estimates committees. The political judgement is that the energies of Vaile, Downer and Howard have been directed at minimizing or evading any responsibility for failing to ensure that AWB complied with UN sanctions against Iraq. There has been a whole of government effort to hollow-out the concept of a collective responsibility and individual ministerial responsibility.MInisters accept no responsibility for the conduct and administration of their departments.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:47 AM | | Comments (2)


Unfortunately it started with Whitlam and really gained momentum with Frase, then Hawke and Keating. If you get some good advisers you can actually do a very good job, giving them the facts and the options and letting them get on with it. If they're arseholes - as occurs more often than is comfortable - you're in a no-win situation. But the lack of accountability is the key issue.

I do not have a problem with the advisor's position--I was one. They do a good job linking public policy to politics and doing negotiations for the minister.

But I agree with you. They do need to be made accountible as they wield a lot of power. The minister refuses to do this or allow them to appear in front of Senate inquiries.

To its discredit the ALP does not push for this reform.