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New government, old tricks

December 27th, 2007

Coming back from a very lazy Christmas, I find the comments threads full of hyperventilation about “jackboots” and “communist roots”. While this was a bit OTT, this SMH story about a message from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research requiring that all press releases from CSIRO and other organizations be vetted at ministerial (or maybe Prime Ministerial) level certainly suggested that the new government was already up to the tricks of old governments.

I had hoped we would have had a bit more of the reformist phase before this kind of thing started and indeed it appears that there has been at least a partial backdown. With any luck, this misbegotten idea will be buried as a product of the silly season.

But the central point is clear. If we are going to get any moves towards open government and transparent processes out of the Rudd government, we need to demand them now, while the criticisms they made of the last government are still fresh. All longstanding governments seek to centralise power, which is one of the reasons why changing government every now and then is a good idea.

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  1. December 27th, 2007 at 22:15 | #1

    All longstanding governments seek to centralise power, which is one of the reasons why changing government every now and then is a good idea.

    Shrinking central government is also a good idea for much the same reason. We should be promoting competitive federalism. However all the talk at the moment from the Rudd camp is about cooperative federalism.

  2. December 28th, 2007 at 06:41 | #2

    Dear John

    Yes, yes and yes! We had better open our copies of ‘Scorcher’ and ‘Silencing Dissent’ both by Clive Hamilton to remind ourselves how the Howard government abused their power over CSIRO scientists. Could we forget so soon the twelve squandered years of sabotage and inaction on climate change. Let us not let the new Rudd government miss our indignation for a moment – Christmas silly season or not.

    Kevin Rudd must not even think of muzzling our scientists or controlling the message we need to hear. If they don’t understand why we changed the government by now they should wake up quickly.

    Willy Bach

  3. December 28th, 2007 at 06:48 | #3

    John, I think Big Government is going to morph into even Bigger Government in Australia.

    Principal Rudd will likely find out however that it is a lot more difficult controlling everything that the Federal Government does compared to the Queensland Government in the nineties.

    I cannot see the logic of Rudd supporters getting all upset however given that this is Rudd’s style after all. Power to the PM’s office not the people…

  4. observa
    December 28th, 2007 at 06:59 | #4

    “this SMH story about a message from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research requiring that all press releases from CSIRO and other organizations be vetted at ministerial (or maybe Prime Ministerial) level certainly suggested that the new government was already up to the tricks of old governments.”

    Well we certainly have it on good authority now, from none other than the CSIRO, that certainly wasn’t the tricks of the Howard Govt. Who does that leave? Keating, Hawke, Fraser, Whitlam? Fancy that? No Howardian jackboot as we were led to believe so often. Not even a fluffy slipper. Just some of the usual suspects getting over-emotional or dare we say it, bending the truth. Nice to clear that up. Perhaps they’ll come out and say sorry one day so we can all move on.

  5. observa
    December 28th, 2007 at 07:06 | #5

    Full page sorrys with all their names at their own expense should do just fine.

  6. jquiggin
    December 28th, 2007 at 08:24 | #6

    Enough with the jackboots, observa. Godwin’s law applies, after all.

  7. kriss
    December 28th, 2007 at 08:43 | #7

    Maybe just maybe this decision (as stupid as it is) was an attempt to ensure that the political appointments and coal industry advocates dominating the various organisations who under Howard denied there was ever a problem with global warming dont sabtoage the new policy. Not the way to do it but probably more acceptable than the wholesale sackings that are needed and deserved.

  8. December 28th, 2007 at 08:56 | #8

    Huh, JQ? Jackboots as a metaphor for dictatorial rule have a long history going back to the government of the Major-Generals. Citing Godwin’s law at their mere mention… is a case of referring to you-know-who, and thus is itself the earliest point at which Godwin’s law might begin to apply!

  9. Ikonoclast
    December 28th, 2007 at 09:15 | #9

    Silencing science, opinions and dissent is always a problem. Our governments of the far right (Howard) and middle right (Rudd) always seem to have this knee-jerk reaction to stiffle debate and dissent. Of course the left and extreme left do it too.

    In Australia, I think a government (like Rudd’s) could be pleasantly surprised if they were more open. People would be so relieved and appreciative that, while being stridently critical when the govt really stuffs up, they might overall tend to cut the govt a bit of slack by saying “at least this mob are being fairly open and honest.”

    But then maybe I’m dreaming. Even iconoclasts dream sometimes.

    “Word History: An iconoclast can be unpleasant company, but at least the modern iconoclast only attacks such things as ideas and institutions. The original iconoclasts destroyed countless works of art. ” – Dictionary.com

  10. December 28th, 2007 at 09:39 | #10

    JQ said:-

    … I find the comments threads full of hyperventilation about “jackbootsâ€? and “communist rootsâ€?.

    Observa said:-

    No Howardian jackboot as we were led to believe so often. Not even a fluffy slipper. Just some of the usual suspects getting over-emotional or dare we say it, bending the truth.

    It seems to me that both were complaining about the emotive use of the term “jackboots”. If Goodwins law applies then JQ loses by virtue of the opening article where he was the first one to regard the term “jackboots” as being somewhat over the top.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  11. jquiggin
    December 28th, 2007 at 09:44 | #11

    Terje, it ought to be obvious that my post was referring to something earlier than observa’s comment on it, namely this (and also this).

  12. Barbara
    December 28th, 2007 at 10:12 | #12

    One has to remember we are dealing with departments well entrenched with the Howardism way of doing business. It takes perhaps years to change public sector heads way of thinking to the new way of doing business. I don’t mind brief control of information if it ensures the Rudd governments views are fairly and squarly delivered without sabotage. Do I believe in conspiracies-YES.

  13. Jill Rush
    December 28th, 2007 at 10:34 | #13

    The Rudd government needs to be encouraged to move in a new direction as far as information is concerned. Every government is keen to minimise criticism – it is the nature of the beast.

    The people’s job in a democracy is to stop governments suppressing important information. We need to ensure that institutions are strong enough and have secure funding to resist any government wishing to silence dissent.

    One of the main mechanisms used by the Howard government was threaten funding. The threat was ever present that organisations that didn’t play the game would lose out on the next funding round or tender. A decision about the release of any information that might be uncomfortable was often avoided by simply not collecting the information in the first place. The other protection was the government outsourcing so many functions that information gathering became impossible.

    The problem about gathering and releasing information is compounded by a press which loves strident headlines and finds that selective outrage sells papers/news services. This doesn’t lead to considered responses by journalists or a well informed public.

    The conclusion is as Prof Q has pointed out – a change of government at the point where the incumbents are so experienced that no uncomfortable facts can ever emerge, except by individuals sacrificing themselves for the good of Democracy.

    (Just noting the jackboot comment – I think we can all feel grateful that democracy in Australia has never been at the point where opposition leaders are assassinated. Vale Benazir Bhutto.)

  14. observa
    December 28th, 2007 at 10:40 | #14

    Clearly this whole episode needs to go down in the annals of history as the brave charge of the fluffy slipper brigade in overthrowing the tyrant Howard. However, now that the CSIRO has brought down its findings on the tyrant’s lack of weapons of mass intellectual destruction, we will all need to move on quickly and focus our energies on the overall beacon of light project. There’s not much point in dwelling too much on past intelligence shortcomings in that regard.

  15. December 28th, 2007 at 10:44 | #15

    Barbara said:

    “I don’t mind brief control of information if it ensures the Rudd governments views are fairly and squarly delivered without sabotage.”

    With comments such as this, I suggest you read a copy of Animal Farm over summer.

  16. December 28th, 2007 at 11:03 | #16

    Terje, it ought to be obvious that my post was referring to something earlier than observa’s comment on it

    Sorry John. I did not have the context that you have now supplied. Perhaps it ought to have been obvious that you were referring to earlier comments by Observa but for me it wasn’t. I withdraw my contention.

  17. December 28th, 2007 at 11:13 | #17

    But I don’t withdraw mine. Jackboots alone are not enough to trigger invoking Godwin’s [Goodwin’s?] law, and it took invoking it to supply the missing elements; very circular.

  18. December 28th, 2007 at 11:21 | #18

    Er… do people around here know what jackboots are? Civil War cavalry equipment included sabres, saddles less restricting than the traditional ones, lobster helmets, heavy leather torso coverings (jacks – jacket is the diminutive, as helmet is for helm) and matching heavy leather boots (jackboots) that could hold pistols while riding. This was all taken from Turkish practice, probably by way of Poland and with modifications. Naturally jackboots became associated with the idea of trampling people underfoot when the government of the Major-Generals came in.

  19. jquiggin
    December 28th, 2007 at 11:39 | #19

    Barbara, while I share your concern about Howard government holdovers, I agree with Matt that controlling information is the wrong way to deal with them. Given that the government is unwilling to sack them forthwith (for good and bad reasons) the only thing left to do is ensure that they do their jobs properly. Open access to information is crucial for that.

  20. observa
    December 28th, 2007 at 12:55 | #20

    “Er… do people around here know what jackboots are?”
    Er..sometimes they’re ironic pisstakes of past invokings of Godwin’s Law!

  21. Spiros
    December 28th, 2007 at 13:34 | #21

    “while I share your concern about Howard government holdovers,”

    The departmental head who issued the dieective, Mark Patterson, should have been the first one sacked after the election. Patterson’s not even a career public servant. He was head of the ACCI and got his gig after the 2001 election. He had been a very enthusiastic supporter of the GST.

    Patterson and the Socialist Left industry minister, Kim Carr, are the oddest of odd couples.

  22. J Green
    December 28th, 2007 at 19:50 | #22

    Seems to me that J Quiggin et al have no understanding (or at best a limited understanding) of how government works.

    Governments/Ministers need to know what is happening in their areas of responsibility. They demand such knowledge and so they should.

    The idea that a Minister doesn’t know or hasn’t been informed is beyond belief in the real world of public administration. Only Downer et al were able to get away with that nonsense.

    Talk about being off with the fairies.

  23. SJ
    December 28th, 2007 at 21:17 | #23

    J Green Says:

    a)

    Governments/Ministers need to know what is happening in their areas of responsibility. They demand such knowledge and so they should.

    The idea that a Minister doesn’t know or hasn’t been informed is beyond belief in the real world of public administration.

    and b)

    Only Downer et al were able to get away with that nonsense.

    Seems to me that you have some sort of model of how government should work, or perhaps did work at some time in the past, but absolutely no idea what government actually is, or how it how it works at present.

  24. SJ
    December 28th, 2007 at 21:32 | #24

    Obby Says:

    Er..sometimes they’re ironic pisstakes of past invokings of Godwin’s Law!

    Dude, even if Achelous the god of trolls came up and took a wizz in your face, I still don’t think you’d even begin to understand what the word irony means.

  25. J Green
    December 28th, 2007 at 21:37 | #25

    SJ

    Please inform. I am all ears.

    Care to nominate any relevant experience?

  26. SJ
    December 28th, 2007 at 21:45 | #26

    No, we’re not going to play that game. I’ve responded to the logical disconnect in your “off with the fairies” comment. If you want to come up with something more substantial, go right ahead. Otherwise go away.

  27. Ian Gould
    December 29th, 2007 at 18:23 | #27

    Can I remind people of Kevin Rudd’s role in introducing Freedom of Information legislation and the first effective Parliamentary committee system in Queensland.

    Yes, his role is different now and yes people change but I know Kev Rudd both from having worked for him and as my local MP. He doesn’t deserve the sort of personal slander Observa, amongst others, are throwing at him.

  28. observa
    December 29th, 2007 at 18:55 | #28

    Ah come off it Ian. We’re just having a good old chuckle at how quickly the sanctimonious have fallen. Howard, as CEO copped plenty over this issue and it was just a lot of over-emotional claptrap, as the CSIRO have now confirmed. Now Rudd may well have argued against this kind of policy in cabinet and been overruled, but like Howard has to cop it sweet for overall govt policy now. He could of course chop this off at the knees, like he did with Garrett on the GW issue. That’s his prerogative, but until he does, he cops it sweet too. The clever timing of the announcement says he won’t of course, but the meeja will be on notice now as to where the new govt’s coming from.

  29. mugwump
    December 30th, 2007 at 07:21 | #29

    He doesn’t deserve the sort of personal slander Observa, amongst others, are throwing at him.

    Of course he does. Why on earth does he think it is good policy to filter the messages of supposedly independent scientific institutions?

    It’s lousy policy. Always was; always will be.

  30. December 30th, 2007 at 09:28 | #30

    It’s a despicable policy and rightly deserves to be roundly condemned with both reasoned logic and frothing at the mouth hatred. That said, the electorate chose mini-Howard, so we really should be expecting a continuation of the old tricks.

    (Although, if KR wants to censor the next edition of the Total Wellbeing Diet book on the ground that it has nothing to do with CSIRO’s mandate, he’d have my full support.)

  31. observa
    December 31st, 2007 at 15:01 | #31
  32. observa
    December 31st, 2007 at 15:12 | #32

    I think I’ll nick off quick and get stuck into some salty, transfatty food and sugary drink before the new year.

  33. December 31st, 2007 at 15:16 | #33

    Observa, won’t you PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?

  34. observa
    January 1st, 2008 at 07:05 | #34

    Mmmm… perhaps some free post traumatic shock counsellors after Conroy breaks it to the kiddies that there’ll be no more Myspace or Youtube in the new year. Some freebies wouldn’t go astray around here this morning by the looks of things. At least they could make themselves useful with the empties.

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