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Ethanol

August 13th, 2003

Margo Kingston has collected all the facts on the snap decision to impose excise on ethanol imports to the benefit of Australian ethanol producer Manildra.

Howard will undoubtedly get away with this, but until a few years ago, misleading Parliament over a decision involving more than a hundred million dollars, to the benefit of a party crony, would have been exceptionally politically damaging. As late as the 1980s, ministerial careers were ruined over far smaller sins.

Many factors have contributed to this, and standards declined markedly in the later part of the Hawke-Keating government, but undoubtedly public acquiescence in the ‘children overboard’ lies has been a big factor. Once it’s clear that you can lie about a policy issue, be caught, and still get away with it, the temptation to lie about money becomes overwhelming. It’s a safe bet that at least some of those involved in this process will end up with cushy post-political jobs as a result (see Reith, Wooldridge etc).

Update I am obviously hopelessly behind the times. Manildra has already hired Howard’s former chief of staff.

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  1. Me No No
    August 13th, 2003 at 08:18 | #1

    The difference today is not that the populace at large cares less about such stuff, but the “elites”, such as editorial movers and shakers at The Australian, do.

    Back then they would kind of get the ball rolling about how this was unacceptable. Today their love of the Howard government and, perhaps more importantly, awareness of its moral degeneracy, the flimsiness of its public legitimacy and the ease with which it could be damaged politically, keep them from pushing it on anything. They don’t want a politically damaged government that doesn’t do the things it wants them to do.

    Watergate could never happen in Australia because the key players wouldn’t have the will to push it.

  2. Jim
    August 13th, 2003 at 09:33 | #2

    The most noticeable incident was the goings on in Qld state Labor prior to the last state election. The electoral rorts perpetrated by senior members of the Beattie government and Labor officials should have led to a serious backlash at the polls – instead a landslide win. It appears that the public value what they perceive as strength and decisiveness way ahead of honesty and principles.
    I seem to remember that misleading parliament used to be considered one of the most serious misdemeanours in politics.

  3. August 13th, 2003 at 09:59 | #3

    Just to continue the welcome trend of agreeing with Pr Q, it is clear that, going by the ethanol rort, and Ruddock’s immigration baxkhander, that the Libs are as deceitful and corrupt on class as Labs are on race. Both parties need to be ashamed of the decline on ministerial standards.
    (How some of us used to laught at old-fashioned “British” standards of propriety and professionalism.)
    I still maintain, pace Machiavelli, that lying and deceiving the public and the enemy in matters of National Security is in a different ethical category and does not necessarily have a corrupting effect.
    The proof of that is that Menzies lied about Vietnam, but not in return for corrupting pay-offs. His supporters had to pass around the hat to get him some superannuation.
    Menzies was not punished by the electorate or parliament, despite the fact that public and ministerial standards were higher then.
    Of course this does not address the issue that lying avoids transparency, accountability and responsibility which are required to make Westminster style cabinet government work in both domestic and foreign policy.

  4. Observa
    August 13th, 2003 at 10:32 | #4

    What really makes you giggle is that it would normally be the preserve of a Labor Govt. to want to put nice green bio-fuels in our tanks and protect Aussie Companies from cheap imports. It’s a mixed up world. La la la ley Lola!

  5. Homer Paxton
    August 13th, 2003 at 10:34 | #5

    Surely even the ALP could make a damaging Ad next election on Howard’s credibility.

    If it was a double dissolution where the bills would be central it may prove highly damaging.
    For example would you trust John Howard with a Joint -house seating?

  6. August 13th, 2003 at 13:35 | #6

    The seating is probably one of the very few things I would trust the bugger with Homer.

  7. Greg
    August 13th, 2003 at 13:35 | #7

    The hope or promise of post-career sinecures may well be a major driver in the quality of the decisions, or lack thereof, made not only by our politicians but by our regulators as a group. Allan Fels stands head and shoulders above all of the current crop in the unquestioned integrity of his dedication to protecting the freedom of our markets, such as it is, from the determined and ongoing, seemingly increasing, depredations of the neofeudalists. In this light it will be interesting to follow the post-ASIC career of David Knott.

    Whither goest the much-vaunted Economic Management Credentials of the coalition following the use of the Embassy, apparently in a most vindictive manner, to scuttle the competititve shipment of ethanol dockside in Brazil? In your chapter, John, hopefully you’ve addressed the government’s broader microeconomic management record?

  8. August 13th, 2003 at 23:57 | #8

    A post script to this: It is clear that there is a tenedency in some parts of the Political Right to distrust scientific analyses and dismiss popular preferences.
    Scientific analysts are suspect because they are secular and excessively high-minded Cultural Elitists/statists who want to overrule technological capitalism. (cf Stauss)
    Popular opinion is dismissed as being short-term and greedy because the masses are Economic Populist/statists who want to loot technological capitalism. (cf Hayek)
    Thus only those who have been initiated into the sacred truths of Straussian religious revelation or Hayekian free market economics are to be trusted to make decisions.
    This kind of thinking goes back to Plato who thought only an elect group of Philosopher Guardians had the nous to rule.
    This explains Howards eccentric distinction beteween core promises and peripheral committments and the Bush admins rather lax attitude towards truth in fiscal and military matters.
    The cause of deceitful verbal behaviour is usually some misappropriation action.
    Thus these intellectual positions are constructed to rationalise what it in ordinary language would be called crime.
    These critical remarks are not intended in any way impugn the reputation of machiavellians who are secular scientists and who mean well.

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