10 February 2015

“Good government starts today” the Australian Prime Minister announced after defeating the “spill” motion in his caucus. Which of course prompts questions about the willingness of his Cabinet to function at standards below those of good government over the last 18 months , despite the oft repeated refrain about “the Government’s whole mission being  to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.”  His election campaign was about trust but a “trust deficit” soon caught up with him.

The underwhelming levels  of confidence of  Australians, not only in Federal politics but to an even greater degree in States’ legislatures,  is typified in the New South Wales parliamentary research unit’s publication Integrity in Government – Issues and Development 2011-2015. That briefing paper explores recent legislative measures initiated with varying success to the strengthening of government integrity in New South Wales.  It paints a sad picture of political ethics.  There seems to be a continuing taint of Ministerial corruption regardless of the party in power, which no doubt will be a focus of the electorate in the lead up to the NSW election on 26 March.  The January success of the Labor Party campaign in Queensland suggests that electorate wanted dramatic change. The situation may not be much better in other States.

The ethics challenge that New Zealanders see in Australia is measurable according to Legatum and accounts for the prosperity difference between the countries.  In the 6th annual Prosperity Index published in November last year New Zealand climbed two places to 3rd overall on the eight measurements. Australia is 7th.

What won’t help is the retirement on Waitangi Day from the Federal Parliament of Senator John Faulkner.  In a sea apparently awash with self-interest, he is recognised by the media as that aberration – a politician of integrity. He has been described as a man of “principle” and “integrity” who has “fought corruption and the abuse of power wherever he has found it”.

Over the 25 years he has been in Parliament he has become the conscience of the Labor Party – but appears to have gone too far at the ALP conference last year, upsetting union leaders  by promoting  different candidate selection procedures for the Senate.  He criticised the ALP for its continuing support of corrupt politicians.  He didn’t get support for change and shortly after announced his intention of retiring.  The confidences of his time as the Senate opposition leader, and as a Minister in three administrations are apparently secure.  Unlike many retiring politicians he has said that “there will be no autobiography or memoir, no career in lobbying or in the media”.