3 October 2011

The media is excited about a bottle of champagne from a questionable source that the Director of the Serious Fraud Office shared with staff to mark the filing of a complex prosecution. The likelihood is that after a State Services Commission investigation at substantial cost to the taxpayer, a Prime Ministerial observation will prove accurate; it will be a storm in a champagne flute. The perception that some bloggers have about partisan decision-making in the Erin Leigh case, revisited after the Supreme Court resolved the privilege status of officials’ advice to Ministers, and the hands-off response to colourful allegations of bullying by a chief executive, suggests that the fate of an abandoned bottle of bubbly will not be a priority – particularly as the circumstances seem too befuddled to illustrate any particular integrity principle.

Similar international media excitement last week about a United States agency has now lost its effervescence as facts come to light. “$16 muffin? Justice Dept. audit finds wasteful and extravagant spending” was the Washington Post headline. The paper’s ombudsman subsequently verified costs at $14.74 per head for breakfast and lunch (or 2 cents more than a standard government rate). Other parts of the audit report were worthy of attention. Agencies failed to comply with expectations to operate efficiently and economically. But the ethical lessons were lost in misplaced sensationalism.