We are all much more likely to do the right thing when we know we are being watched. Our elected representatives are no different. And when they continue to not just get away with deceitful behaviour, but are rewarded for it, our democracy suffers. Transparency is the only solution.
Plato’s older brother and fellow philosopher, Glaucon, first stated what we now know to be ingrained in the human psyche: people are more likely to be virtuous (or ethical) when they know the consequences of being caught. And even more so if the consequences are severe and lasting.
QED – Quod Erat Demonstratum – in our political arena there are no, or limited, consequence for the rorts, blatant conflicts of interest and deceptive conduct that we have catalogued, thus bad behaviour has become the norm.
For instance, so far we have published 23 examples of dubious travel claims made by politicians secure in the knowledge that at best they may get a stern talking to or, at worst, have to refund the amounts claimed. These transgressions range from claiming for trips to a footie final and a $5,000 helicopter ride to a $12,000 family holiday.
Travel claims may be at the lower end of the scale of transgressions, but it is hard not to conclude that what we list is the tip of an iceberg of such claims for travel unrelated to their work as the people’s representatives. The chances of being caught are slim, and the consequences negligible.
On the other end of the scale of deceptive conduct are the well documented election rorts in the lead-up to the last federal election. Of a $150 million program targeting female changing rooms and pools, $120 million (80%) went to Coalition seats in a scheme that was not open for applications.
Scott Morrison denied any culpability in the affair as McKenzie took the blame and lost her ministerial position. Not much punishment for misappropriating over $100 million of taxpayers’ money.
Stuart Robert got away with just paying back $36,000 in home Internet expenses, and we will never know why there was such a high bill, except guessing it wasn’t for a proper purpose. Angus Taylor got away with using a doctored document and to this day still refuses to give the full story. Just one of his many transgressions we cover in the QED database.
Our politicians have enormous responsibility. They are our representatives, they spend our money and look after our collective interests. Too often they conduct themselves in ways that are against those interests, yet they are rarely taken to task. In an ideal world such behaviour would lead to losing elections, but either the voters are not in full possession of the facts or they have become so inured to the bad behaviour that they no longer care.
It is a slippery slope and the way our democracy works is in urgent need of repair to regain trust in the system. In an ideal world an independent body to oversee and censure politicians may not be needed. But as Glaucon told us 2,400 years ago, in the real world ethical behaviour can only be guaranteed if it is observed and exposed.
Bring on a Federal ICAC now.
Kim Wingerei is a businessman turned writer and commentator. He is passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, Kim has lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’.