Proportionality and (Local Government) Politics (2)

DECONSTRUCTING THE INTEGRITY OF … 

This series of posts began last year with analysis of the corrupted local government election in the Borough of Queenscliffe. In the previous post I drew attention to the many sides by which the public trust has been eroded in this – somewhat small and seemingly insignificant – local government matter.

There is a straight-forward political question that arises from this scandal that is now unavoidable, even if it has not reached the over-reach of Twitterdom: why is it that the kinds of questions that Borough citizens can now raise about this election are simply not being taken up by any of the major political parties nor even by the mass media?

But it is a very serious problem. And raising it is no less a serious problem for the writer of this blog. This is my post on what I believe is an emerging Borough of Queenscliffe “calamity” and it may indeed have very serious consequences for the people involved.

But it is not an individual matter.

After due consideration, I am even prepared to indulge the possibility that the person concerned, out of his own political naiveté, may not have even understood that a declaration of political party membership was required of him prior to the Borough of Queenscliffe election. Certainly his statement, repeated during his campaign that, “I am not a politician” is consistent with a policy long associated with the Liberal Party that local government should be “a-political”. So the problem is not exclusively one of whether he was intentionally perpetrating an electoral deceit. However, the fact that he was elected as Liberal Party Chairman of the party’s regional branch a week after assuming his Council seat and the Mayoral office, suggests that the deceit – and deceit there certainly is – is basic to the Liberal Party’s own modus operandi. They have elected as regional Chairman a party member who failed, when asked, to publicly confirm his party membership while standing for public office! They have now thereby endorsed his failure to do so whether he was consciously avoiding doing so or not.

In other words the Liberal Party supports furtive non-disclosure of political commitment at the local government level.

My anticipation is that this is actually an intolerable situation for the incumbent himself, despite his continued brave face. For all I know, he may be competently performing his public duties, even if I have no idea how he can attend to these various responsibilities in the context of one working life. The defenders of the election, in the face of any criticism that might cast doubt on the integrity of the election, might well try to turn political debate into a matter of personal support for him with all his various “hats”. But my point is that this is a political issue about an election, and it needs to be addressed politically, and that means there are institutional or official responsibilities and codes of conduct that need to be upheld. The electors too are thereby co-responsible for this state of affairs and continue to be responsible for the fact that it has thus far not been properly and justly addressed and resolved.

But here, my major focus is political and is with the Liberal Party. Even in relation to this local government matter, they seem to be intent upon accelerating their deconstruction – the rate of knots by which their party vessel is travelling indicates that they know not that they have now entered the rip!

How then are we to address this situation in a principled political manner? I suggest that we should do so by taking seriously the various responsibilities that are implicated in this scandal. It is a scandal that reflects upon the political conduct of us all. My post is not intended as a contribution to the “blame game” even if we do have to take courage in our two hands and face up, squarely and resolutely, to our political weaknesses.

That, in fact, is probably the best advice for how we here in Australia should respond to the Trump Presidency, even if that pending calamity is, of course, an internal US matter for Americans to resolve. We here have our own impending calamities to attend to. In a previous commentary on the recent US Presidential election, I argued that the only way Mr Trump can save his presidency is by confronting the major failings of the US Federal electoral system. Trump’s election is strong proof that the US electoral system is broken in a basic sense; Trump’s Presidency thus far gives ongoing evidence of strong resistance to any suggestion of a failure of American political ingenuity. To admit that would be to bring it all crashing down on his head. But it is the only way of saving his presidency, if not the office itself.

There is a similar problematic at work in Australian politics and, in our particular case, with the recent election of the Queenscliffe Borough council. To admit the erosion of public trust at any one point would seem to bring down the entire artifice of our allegedly democratic system of public governance – not just locally but also at the State and possibly also at the Federal levels.

The refusal to face this scandal implies the following retort: Didn’t the Mayor get the most first preferences in the election? What are his critics complaining about? If he got elected in the manner he did, doesn’t that mean his electors endorsed the deception and therefore we’ll just have to live with it?

Consider the following 7 points that I raised last time concerning questions that need to be addressed politically:

  1. police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party that justifies his chairmanship because they want to unseat the sitting member at the next election. The sitting member is the Police Minister;

  2. police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;

  3. policy development in the police force under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time is understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service in the police force);

  4. the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing not only by raising questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents but also about the standards required for standing for public office as well as their own party’s policy with respect to police serving on local councils;

  5. the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31). Are we to conclude that the Liberal Party endorses the electoral approach by which one of its members does not have the courage to openly admit his/her political affiliation to it?

  6. the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it seems to have failed to act on a matter that has been public knowledge for months;

  7. the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them. Questions, quite rightly, can now be raised about why the Council has not rejected the election of the Mayor. Do other councillors, perhaps, have undisclosed political party memberships?

Everyone who has followed this matter knows that a deceit has been perpetrated. The Council knows that. The VEC should also know that. The State Government should know it. The fact is that the Council as a body, as our elected body to oversee public governance in its jurisdiction, has now allowed itself to be engineered into giving its own political endorsement to this state of affairs. And because of the Council’s failure to address the issue, it gives a distinctly Liberal Party “shape” to the public office of the Queenscliffe Mayor,  if not to the entire Council itself.

How then are we to address this situation in a principled political manner? I suggest that we should do so by taking seriously the various responsibilities that are implicated in this scandal. It is a scandal that reflects upon the political conduct of us all. My post is not intended as a contribution to the “blame game” even if we do have to take courage in our two hands and face up, squarely and resolutely, to our political weaknesses. (That, in fact, is probably the best advice for how we here in Australia should respond to the Trump Presidency, even if that pending calamity is, of course, an internal US matter for Americans to resolve. We here have our own impending calamities to attend to.) Let us begin therefore therefore by considering the “police” dimension of this problem, and note how that too reveals complex political issues.

I suspect that there has been a sustained “communitarian” influence upon the internal workings of Victoria Police for some decades and the result has been that police officers are encouraged by senior management to make themselves available to serve in non-policing capacities in their local communities. And so we see them involved in sporting and service clubs, traders associations, civic groups, school boards and, as well, in local government. That may well be all above board. However, the missing link, is that the community, in this case the electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe (but elsewhere in other LGAs too) have not been properly informed of the provisions in the law governing such involvement nor have they been educated about why anticipated “conflicts of interest” has not prevented such a change.

And again, we confront the failure of the major political parties to adequately educate the electors they so gratuitously claim to represent. They are regular recipients of bucket loads of public funding for their scandalous electoral campaigns come election time. But the political education of the electorate about such matters vital to the public interest has been non-existent.

We have a State Labor Government and we might have expected more from the Minister for Police, who also happens to be the elected member for the electorate that covers the Queenscliffe Borough. With due respect to the legal and political difficulty that confronts her in this scandal – since it also involves a serving senior police officer, the perpetrator of the electoral deceit – we might have at least heard from the local Labor Party giving their understanding of how public rectitude should be upheld in this matter. Or are they simply waiting to use it as election fodder when the time comes for the electors to vote again. Labor Party silence on this matter proves to be very loud indeed.

But as much as the Labor Party confirms its own public reputation as an dodgy electoral machine, rather than a serious party committed to just representation, the conduct of the Liberal Party is simply appalling. The Liberal Party has flagged through an implicit corruption of the political process. By electing the Queenscliffe Mayor as their regional party’s President they endorse a policy of employing deceptive electoral tactics in order to advance their own political agenda. Moreover, by their silence they suggest that the Borough of Queenscliffe Council is now subservient to its own political manipulation. How can members of the Liberal Party, let alone voters, acquiesce in this matter? It not only ignores the fact that any public trust in its organisation as a authentic political party is irrelevant to its future prospects, the silence is nothing less than an implicit endorsement of the corruption of the political process per se.

BCW

23.3.17

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