The Midday Meal

A repository for the various things i consume in the course of daily existence

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Responsibility

The Westminster System of Parliamentary government is based on the principle of responsible government. That is the members of the executive are held accountable to the people for the actions of the government, this boils down to a fairly simply idea. The minister for a portfolio is responsible to Parliament for everything that occurs in that portfolio, regardless of whether they were aware of it or not.

Its one of the fundamental differences between our system of government and the US system. It is I believe an infinitely better system. The problem is that it is being undermined. John Howard last week is once again hiding behind the faceless beaurocrats and staffers for whose actions he is ultimately responsible.

To claim, as Mr Howard does, that it is not your fault that reports of abuse weren't acted on because the minister was misinformed is unacceptable. Even if it is the truth, and as the public has no means whatsoever of actually testing the truth this is unnecessary to establish, then at best not having the structures in place to ensure such information was handed on is quite a significant dereliction of duty on the part of the minister. If, however, it is not the truth then the minister is directly responsible for misleading the nation.

Either of these outcomes should be sufficient to cost the minister their job. But as yet they haven't, just as they did not in regards to the children overboard. Instead we have the head of defence and the head of the ADF bowing their heads and accepting the blame to protect their political masters.

Its a trend which is noticable in other parts of the world, the notion of the elected being responsible to the public, such as Harry Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" sign, and answerable for their actions is not just something that is being undermined here, but is also evident in the two great democracies of the last two hundred years.

I'm not sure what can be done to end this, this a trend that is wider than the three heads of the coalition of the willing.

It includes to move from a public service to a public sector, a name that is more defining the people who pay your wages rather than identifying your role in society. This changes who the focus is of your actions, you stop thinking about the best outcome for the community your serving and start thinking of the best way to please your boss, the outcomes are completely different. The ideal of a bearucracy providing the government with frank and fearless advice doesn't work in this environment, it can't.