How to stop MPs lying

Race Mathews, a former federal MP, state MP and minister writes about a subject close to my heart – honest governance.

The Howard regime is the most dis-honest I have ever seen. As a New Zealander I have been shocked at the level of corruption and dishonesty in Austrakian government. If the polies in NZ did what they do here, they would be  kicked out. Here, the people accept that governments and polies  lie to them, and they are OK with that, as long as their mortgage rate and the price of petrol don’t go up.

Here are some excerpts from Mathews article. You can view the full thing here.

It is unsurprising that 71 per cent of Australians believe that ministers told less than the full truth about their knowledge of the AWB scandal in testimony before the Cole inquiry. Loss of faith in the veracity and accountability of ministers and governments has been palpable for some time, as polling consistently attests.

Asked in a 1995 Morgan poll whether federal politicians usually tell the truth, 67 per cent of respondents disagreed, 24 per cent agreed and 9 per cent had no opinion. Seventy per cent of those polled agreed that politicians could not be trusted to keep election promises, 84 per cent that politicians lied at election time to win votes, and 94 per cent that politicians twisted the truth to suit their own arguments.

Public scepticism and cynicism have not been diminished by subsequent events. Think of the distinction drawn by the Howard Government between “core” and “non-core” election promises. Think of Peter Reith and the Dubai conspiracy. Think of “children overboard”. Think of SIEV-X. Think of weapons of mass destruction. Think most of all of AWB. The Cole inquiry has confirmed the community’s worst fears.


What then are the remedies? The need to protect and strengthen the watchdogs on public probity, transparency and accountability and adopt new ones, is blindingly obvious. Let us, for a start, honour and facilitate in every possible way auditors-general, ombudsmen, electoral commissioners, anti-discrimination commissioners and other statutory custodians of public office integrity and the public interest. Let us praise and elevate in status and independence the public accounts committees of our parliaments and the wider parliamentary committee system.

Let us defend and extend freedom of information legislation and more effectively privilege and protect whistleblowers. Let us insist that ministers respect requirements, such as for replying promptly to questions on notice and compliance with the statutory dates for tabling official reports.

Let us devise disincentives for ministerial elevation of deniability and contrived ignorance to art forms, which the Cole inquiry has so comprehensively unmasked. Let us not least revisit and reinforce the code of ministerial conduct, which Prime Minister Howard embraced as leader of the opposition, but now so brazenly refuses to uphold.

Let us by way of innovation create at both the federal and state levels a new statutory office of parliamentary adjudicator-general, with a brief to receive and investigate complaints of public falsehood, including those under protection of parliamentary privilege, and report publicly to parliament. The credibility of adjudicators-general would result directly from a robust exercise of their independence, and the capacity to name and shame offenders.


Let us, having adopted the remedies immediately available to us,
think again about what additional measures may be needed to ensure
that standards of accountability, transparency and veracity in
public life are restored and upheld.

Let us above all not settle for less from governments, ministers
and other elected representatives than that they be guided at all
times by the words used by Vaclav Havel in a New Year’s Day
broadcast after his election as president of Czechoslovakia in
1989. Havel reminded his listeners of the massive deceptions
perpetrated against them by the former Communist Party government
of Czechoslovakia. “I assume,” he said, “that you did not propose
me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.”

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