Macklin / Is no politician truly responsible anymore?

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I THINK we’re supposed to be grateful to the Morrison government for initiating the Royal Commission into the aged-care system. The trouble is, if they were actually governing competently, we wouldn’t need a long, expensive inquiry into the horror stories that are now surfacing.

They’ve occupied the Treasury benches – with carte blanche to investigate and reform the system – for more than five years. In fact, I well recall Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop being taken to task in the case of a terminally-ill patient being given a kerosene bath. That happened in March, 2000!

Robert Macklin
Robert Macklin.

Looking back over the recent Royal Commissions, it almost seems as though our political leaders have withdrawn from the business of government and passed the buck to the judiciary. When commissioners deliver their reports, the government invariably promises “action” on their many recommendations. This sounds great at the time, but once the spotlight moves to the next scandal, somehow it’s back to business as usual.

The jury is still out on the banking commission; a few multi-million-dollar bankers and insurance company executives might have been forced into early, luxurious retirement. But one can’t help but feel that both banks and insurance companies will recoup their massive fines by raising charges on their customers… us!

However, it must be said that even if government responses leave much to be desired, Royal Commissions can raise community awareness of hidden wrongdoing. While the institutions that housed the paedophiles remain laughingly tax free, the revelations of the worldwide paedophile collusion among priests of the Catholic Church has put every parent on guard, and empowered potential young victims who might otherwise have remained silent and shamed.

The same benefits should flow to those seeking care for their ageing relatives. We can but hope that the new government – from whatever side of politics – remodels that industry with the same sense of urgency and commitment the Turnbull government brought to the new $90 billion naval ship building industry. It’s an investment that might well bring even better returns to the community than the submarines and surface ships defending our shores.

Of course, it’s not just the conservative governments who have adopted the take-no-responsibility philosophy. It’s been spreading its net for decades. These days, whenever a policy throws up an issue that looks controversial, the public service has a tried-and-true formula: they call in outside consultants. And not just any old consultants, but preferably the most expensive money can buy from that magical place we call “Overseas”.

Often their local reps are retired, high-ranking military men or former departmental mandarins. And freed from the quest for promotion, they just might give frank and fearless advice. But like the ubiquitous ministerial adviser, they become a shield to deflect the blame from the politician when things go pear-shaped.

Is no politician truly responsible anymore? And spare me the orotund “apology” from the miscreant who says: “I take full responsibility” and carries on as usual. When we say ours is a system of “responsible democracy”, we used to be fair dinkum. Ministers actually resigned when their departments – or even their offices – stuffed up.

Today that feels like a distant memory.

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