Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Newmania: Secret Squirrel Business

Thinking back 12 months, there was one LNP policy that I agreed with: the one about ensuring that the business of government was conducted openly, with transparency and accountability. Yes, it’s all of the big governance buzzwords crammed in together, but it means something, particularly in a state like Queensland which has no upper house to provide balance or oversight.

With the CMC in turmoil, it seems like time to revisit that pre-election promise and see just how King Campbell and his band of not-so merry ministers is doing in terms of being accountable to the people who elected them.

The page is gone...whooosh...although I did find the policy points below. It's unclear what they relate to, although it could be the detailed dot-points of the Accountability policy. I don't recall the detail.

In fact, the entire LNP website has been transformed from the website that included all of the Can Do policies for Queensland to a site featuring Tony Abbott and placing the Queensland LNP in a federal context. That makes sense – there’s a federal election in less than six months. Unfortunately that doesn’t help those of us who wanted to keep an eye on those pesky election promises. They’re not there.

Perhaps you remember the LNP’s five point Can Do Action Plan, and if not, the headlines are conveniently preserved on the new-look website. The five points were

o Grow a Four Pillar Economy

o Lower the cost of living for families by cutting waste

o Deliver Better Infrastructure and better planning

o Revitalise Front Line Services

o Restore Accountability in Government
  So what does this ‘accountability in Government’ policy mean? According to the website, it includes such flimsy concepts as

o CanDo LNP’s First 100 Days Plan

o A Public Service to Serve Queensland

o Empowering Queensland Communities

o Giving communities a choice on de-amalgamation

o Planning and reinstating the role of the Coordinator-General

I’m hard-pressed to see what any of those items have to do with the literal meaning of accountability as it applies to a democratically elected government. They could have called that policy grouping “F*cking Around with Queensland’s Government Structure” and it would have been as accurate and as enlightening.

Mercifully, the current website includes links that take you to the detail that was included in the original policy document…or so I had hoped. Instead, when I clicked the link, I was confronted absolutely nothing. The page has I was looking for, with details of the Accountability policy has not been loaded into the new-look LNP website. 

In fact, of the five major policy areas that the LNP themselves promoted in 2012, only one now links to anything more substantial than a slogan. Don’t be surprised that it’s the Queensland Economy page that has been preserved.

In the absence – deliberate or otherwise – of the LNP’s definition of an accountable government, I’ll try to define it: An accountable government is one which is transparent, responsive and ultimately answerable to the electorate.

That’s the kind of definition I envisaged when I first heard that "restoring accountability" was not just part of the LNP vocabulary, it was a key LNP policy. But where are we now, fifty-three weeks down a pretty unpleasant path? Do we have that accountable government I hoped for?

Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), seems like a place to start and after today's shenanigans, I’d say not. The results of an in-depth enquiry into the CMC were released today, and part of the recommendations included these secret-squirrel suggestions:

 Abolish ethical standards units in Queensland government departments, replacing them with ‘responsible management’

 Give the state government the legal right to refuse access to documents, without having to supply a reason
 Prohibit the CMC from investigating any matters without the permission of the attorney- general

 Make it illegal for anyone, including people who have made a complaint, to talk about their complaint
That looks to me like a whole lot less transparency around the government, and if the electorate can't see what the government is doing, can't request enquiries without being silenced, can't access documents with certainty, and have no independent oversight within their government departments, how can they hold the government accountable for anything?
Perhaps they'll do better with accountability should they win the federal election in September. At least they'll have an upper house to keep the egos in check.

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