Friday, October 30, 2009

Governments should explain

The issues involved with Refugees and a contempt for the ordinary person really side-tracked me from my normal posting. They niggle and niggle.

Speaking at a purely personal level, I know that Governments have sometimes to make hard choices. I also know that working at policy level involves, to use KVD's colour, shades of gray. Often, you have to try to find what can only be described as the least worst outcome.

My problem is that I actually expect Governments to explain, to say what they are doing and why, to engage in a dialogue with the Australian or state or local population.

For a number of reasons, Governments (and the media) give opinion, give opinion, give opinion, when I want them to give information, give information, give information.

I am capable of making up my own mind. I may not agree with an action, but if I at least understand the rationale I can respond in a sensible fashion.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for the thoughtful comments in response to my words on your preceding post. I found myself nodding in agreement with most of what you had to say except for two things.

1) The need for government to inform the governed of its reasoning behind decisions taken – and failure to do so is “contempt”.

2) The disillusionment you express about the Public Service process

Governments are elected to govern. You, as observer, have every right to ask for information to enable you to comment upon that process.

But I just don’t believe there is any corresponding obligation imposed upon the government to provide such information.

They may well do so - if it suits politically – but that is not the same thing as an obligation. So I don’t think failure to explain should be termed “contempt”.

If you had somehow used “frustration” in your earlier heading, I would have simply nodded, and enjoyed (as always) your comments without feeling the need to comment.

I defer to you on 2) above; you are far more qualified. Except I do think we are remarkably well served.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi KVD. Just to clarify my own views.

The issue of whether and when Governments should explain things is one issue. The second is the public service process.

To begin with a point that may seem at variance with my argument. I am not always a supporter of transparency, nor of freedom of information. Governments are entitled a variety of information sources in making decisions. I believe that these, and especially public service advice, should generally be kept confidential.

Once a decision is made, however, then I believe that Governments do have an obligation to explain that decision unless there is a very strong reason for doing otherwise.

The fact that Governments are elected to govern is neither here nor there in the sense that it is not a blank cheque. We live in a democacy. I as a citzen have a right to be infomed.

I used the term contempt in part because the way spin (and the media) works is not designed to explain but to sell or justify. This is the world that gives us the term punter for voter. Everything has to be simplified so that we dummies can understand.

I grew up in the country where people have very particular expectations of their members. I also grew up in a political environment where issues such as the role of parliament and the relations between member, people and parliament were discussed.

Peter Andren held Calare by a huge margin even though some of the liberal views he espoused were almost anathema to his elctorate. He did so because he explained why he held certain views. His voters might not agree, but they respected him. They knew he was straight.

In 1961 when the Menzies Government had a majority of just one, my grandfather as member for New England got to his feet in the house and accused the Minister of Civil Aviation of lying about East West Airlines. He did so because this was an issue important to New England on which the Government's word (PM and Minister) could not be accepted.

Turning to the second issue, I do think that we are well served by our public services. My argument here centres not on the public service as such, but the way that we have created a system that makes delivery (and real change)very difficult.