Accountability

The body of Jake Kovco has finally returned to Australia. It’s hard to imagine what his family must be going through, starting with the news that they had lost a husband, a father and a son, and then compounded with the series of dreadful bungles (or worse) that we’ve seen.

It would be good to think that somewhere in the chain of command, someone will step forward to say “This happened on my watch, and whether or not I personally did anything wrong, I’m responsible. I offer my resignation”. So far, there hasn’t been any sign that anything like this will happen, but there’s still time.

38 thoughts on “Accountability

  1. Rog and JQ

    1. A burglar is a person who is trying to commit a crime.

    2. A person who fails to perform a legal duty is someone who makes an error.

    a. Perhaps the error was caused by individual incompetence.

    b. Perhaps the procedures she was required to follow were inadequate or inappropriate.

    c. Or perhaps that person was prevented from performing that duty by illegal obstruction.

    d. Or perhaps that person was herself part of a conspiracy.

    Only the last possibility is analogous to JQ’s burglar.

    The last two possibilities (c and d) refer to different kinds of conspiracy. Any proper inquiry would have to rule out the possibility of conspiracy.

  2. John, if saying that waiting for the BOI to assign responsibility is taking a partisan line, and defending the government, then so be it. Those who actually work in the real world, though, have more regard for due process than you seem to. Of course, BOI have only worked properly for a couple of centuries in the militaries of the Commonwealth, and so obviously cannot possibly meet your standards of ‘blame Howard now and to hell with due process’.

    And I am partisan? Sheesh. Perhaps Yobbo is correct, and you are responsible for and should resign because of any incident whatsoever at Ivory Tower U! That seems to be your standard, here.

    MarkL
    anberra

  3. JQ,

    I am not sure what responsibilities you have in your job but I wonder what sort of stuff up during your dayshift would cause you to fall on your sword. If you advocate a public policy are you accountable for the damage (possibly remote, delayed and diffuse) that may occur?

    Anybody doing technical or logistical work makes mistakes that are of consequence, although often it just means time gets wasted in rework. Generally there are systems to try and stop mistakes compounding until they have serious consequences. And I suspect that expecting a resignation for big mistakes might be part of such a system.

    An obsession with always attributing blame when something bad happens will drive us towards the society of litigation that some say the USA has become.

    Having said that I am glad that the unfair dismissal laws are gone because there are times when a sacking is healthy for corporate culture even though it may technically fail a test of procedural fairness or a multiple warning criteria.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. Sh!t happens.

  4. Terje, since my jobs have mostly been fixed-term fellowships, there’s a more or less automatic penalty for failing to deliver the goods.

  5. John, in the accidents that I described, someone did bungle- and the system was defective in a couple of cases (the grenade accident lead to changes in how they are stored and carried; the Land Rover fatality was one of several that lead to changes in driver qualifications and training).

    You seem to be ignoring my point that this incident is being treated very differently because it happened in Iraq. A few years ago a soldier died in East Timor under very similar circumstances. His rifle became entangled with web equipment in the back of the armoured carrier he was travelling in. The rifle discharged and killed him instantly.

    Media attention following that incident was minimal. I guess they thought that East Timor was a more ideologically correct conflict and therefore the government didn’t deserve a flogging?

  6. Warren,

    “You seem to be ignoring my point that this incident is being treated very differently because it happened in Iraq. A few years ago a soldier died in East Timor under very similar circumstances. His rifle became entangled with web equipment in the back of the armoured carrier he was travelling in. The rifle discharged and killed him instantly.”

    How do you know that the circumstances of Kovco’s death were “very similar circumstances” to these?

    Has Brendan Nelson issued a third explanation of which only you are aware?

    Or is your BS meter completely malfunctioning?

    If you want to be an apologist for spin and lies, feel free.

  7. The last one I can think of who did offer his resignation was Rumsfeld after Abu Ghraib. Pity that Bush did not accept.

    Thanks for that. I did not realise (or maybe I just didn’t remember) that he offered his head.

  8. Terje said:

    If you advocate a public policy are you accountable for the damage (possibly remote, delayed and diffuse) that may occur?

    to which JQ replied:

    since my jobs have mostly been fixed-term fellowships, there’s a more or less automatic penalty for failing to deliver the goods.

    If “the goods” is lots of academic papers, then you’re right. Although as you well know JQ, someone of your track record would have little trouble obtaining a full-time regular academic position even if you failed to obtain a fellowship renewal.

    But Terje didn’t ask if you are accountable for not producing lots of papers. He asked whether you’re accountable for your policy recommendations. The answer to Terje’s question is surely *no*: Australian academics are not even held accountable for the performance of the institutions within which they work, let alone for the consequences of their own advocacy.

    I worked in the Australian university sector for sometime. While I certainly had plenty of very able colleagues, there were also large numbers of incompetent “lifers”. But the only person I ever saw fired (as he should have been) was someone who slept with a student and was caught.

    I’d be more willing to listen to lectures on accountability from Australian academics if they did a little more to clean up their own houses.

  9. Hmm, first I’d have to get some of my policy recommendations adopted!

    Seriously, the responsibility for policy lies (correctly) with politicians and in the absence of any objective criteria for success or failure the appropriate accountability mechanism is the ballot box.

    I agree with you that universities have, in the past, not set a good example, and in my brief period as a department head, I pushed this pretty hard (before falling afoul of the system myself). It’s my impression that the last decade of cuts has pushed out all but the most determined lifers, unfortunately along with a much larger number of dedicated and able people who were unwilling to take the crap that is handed out these days.

  10. The rolling of heads may provide some short term relief but does little to ensure that the process needs to be reviewed and corrective action applied, if found to be necessary.

    The days of public executions are over, if there is a problem then fix it.

  11. If Brendan Nelson can show how he was perhaps innocently misled into making false statements about the circumstances surrounding Kovco’s death, then a review of the stream of information should proceed. And perhaps there should follow some mild-to-moderate disciplinary action against the functionaries responsible for (twice!) misleading the Minister.

    If Brendan Nelson cannot show that the above were the circumstances surrounding his (two!) false statements, then the falsehoods weren’t innocent. They were malicious. He deliberately (twice!) misled the public.

    If the second possibility is the case, then these may be the lies that stick in the minds and the craws of Australians.

    It may well be thought that it is one thing to lie about dusky foreigners sunk to the bottom of the Timor Sea or dodging bombs in Baghdad. Lying about Australian soldiers may well be thought to represent a different and altogether more heinous category of lies.

    But then again, lies are lies.

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