How Should Political Parties Conduct Themselves in Relation to Local Government?

Our previous post has concluded with the affirmation that the Liberal Party is a primary cause of the serious crisis that has now befallen the Borough of Queenscliffe. Of course this is a serious accusation. Can I back it up?

Many of my fellow citizens in the Borough will ask: “What crisis?” My answer, along the lines of the previous post, may well bring forth the following rejoinder:

Well what do you expect? They are after all, all politicians!

So, what am I to say when that is said? Am I to walk away, shrug my shoulders and let the matter drop?

Actually, there is something political I can say there and then – it may at least give some cause to pause. I could say:

And our Mayor’s election platform insisted that he wasn’t a politician!

To highlight this fact is not to indulge a “cheap shot”; this is an important clue to the crisis we face. Our contradictory political situation needs analysis and this contradiction should be front and centre as we carefully unravel the various responsibilities that have formed, and are shaping, our political lives – this anomaly is central to political beliefs that are basic to this crisis.

Readers will also notice I have avoided names. The names can easily be found by a diligent search of the web. I have spoken to the person concerned and told him I am willing to discuss the matter with someone else present. But here I prefer to talk in terms of offices, positions of public responsibility. It is a crisis and it is shared; the mistakes that have been made which have deepened this crisis are not solely the errors of one person acting alone, no matter how unencumbered politicians of Liberal persuasion view themselves to be.

_ _ _ _ _

Readers who have followed the discussion on this site since late 2016 will know I have identify various “offices” contributing to this crisis:

1. The Borough of Queenscliffe Council
2. The Returning Officer for the Council Election
3. The State Electoral Commission
4. The Victorian Parliament
5. Victoria Police
6. The Ice Police Task Force in the Geelong Region
7. The State Member for the Bellarine Electorate
8. The Liberal Party (Bellarine Peninsula Branch).

In this post I simply wish to make a point about what I consider to be the deep failure of the Liberal Party, the 8th on my list. And when we have understood their failure in this matter, we might have begun to develop a new idea of what a political party might be and how it should conduct its affairs, and be seen to conduct its affairs, in relation to LGAs in this polity. There is one step that should be taken immediately by the Liberal Party; I leave that till the end of this post.

I narrow the focus to the Liberal Party even though I believe the Borough Council seriously erred when it failed to raise an objection to the suitability of the person who is now Mayor, not only to be Mayor, but to be a Councillor. The failure to disclose party affiliation during the election campaign was bad enough, and I grant that it may have been an oversight. But to then simply do nothing when, one week later, the incumbent of the Mayoral Office is appointed President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, simply confirms the Council’s deeply disrespectful attitude to the Borough’s electors. Everyone in the Borough who has looked into it knows that the successful Candidate’s subsequent appointment as Liberal Party President disclosed an electoral deceit. By failing to address what is still a scandalous state of affairs (that, by the way, has not been redressed by the President’s subsequent resignation from the party post) the Council has undermined public trust in itself. The Council owes a public apology to the electors of the Borough.

The nomination of the Senior Sergeant in the Geelong Police – who is head of the Police Ice Task Force for the region – must have been endorsed by the Borough official who had to verify the eligibility of candidates. The State Electoral Commission must have also given approval and has still not made any public comment about the election of the said candidate and his failure to disclose his political affiliation as part of his election campaign. The Victorian Parliament, it would seem, has legislated or gazetted changes to regulations that allow serving officers of the Victoria Police to stand in local Council elections. At the very least the political parties have not helped electors know why this has been allowed. We have also heard nothing from the State member as to how the Victorian Government views the deceit as perpetrated upon the Borough’s electors. We have not heard from Victoria Police as to why it is that the Police Code of Conduct has not been violated by that failure during the election campaign. There seems here to have been a significant blurring of what constitutional jurisprudence would call “the separation of powers”, the separation between law making and law enforcement. Do not the police have a code of conduct provisions that forbid gaining office by deceit (even if it were an unintended oversight)?

There may be an explanation from these offices that will shed light on what is a complex and messy business. And yes, people in public office can make mistakes. So, can people in their running for public office but we also haven’t heard an apology yet from the elected councillor.

Electors will know that members of the police force, not least members who are front line with respect to the problems of law and order in relation to drug usage and the illicit supply thereof, are subject to peculiar tensions. But this is precisely the point at which I wish to discuss the Liberal Party contribution – what it has done and what it has failed to do. It has acted publicly in a way that simply cannot pass without comment.

A Liberal Party that was sensitive to the seeming intractable problems that pertain to the interface between drug use and law enforcement, would never seek to gain political advantage by an opportunistic blurring of the distinction between law-making and law-enforcement. If a Senior Sergeant has joined its ranks, it should welcome him and forego the temptation of using him for election purposes. Their contribution as a political party would be much better served by encouraging said new member to simply take his place among the party membership and offer his advice about public policy when it is relevant to do so. And given this particular police officer has regional responsibilities for the Victoria Police Ice Task Force, should they not be persuading him to concentrate on that very important police work, without distracting him with managing party political business?

I would also suggest that the Liberal Party, as part of their adherence to appropriate constitutional and jural principles, should positively discourage any police officer, and especially senior police officers, that have become members of their party, from trying to gain election to local councils while still serving – even if as in our case regulations do not prohibit it. It should be part of their party’s overall political philosophy that law enforcement should not be blurred with law-making. And that’s the principle they have seriously violated by their effort to piggy-back on the (compromised) election of one of their members. Instead, they opportunistically tried to add to that important police officer’s load by trying to engineer him into the front-line of an attempt to unseat the sitting member (who is police minister) at the next State election.

Their actions actually show a party unfit for public office. And let’s have no more ambiguous nonsense that LGAs should be apolitical!

Let’s hear the truth from the Liberal Party in an acknowledging its own contribution to the deceit that was perpetrated in the Borough election and that as a party it is committed to truthfulness at all levels of our public governance!

Remarkably this disreputable political party, which has treated one of its own paid-up members in such questionable ways, is proposing next week to hold a “law and order” forum nearby in Drysdale. The advertising invites us to “come and have our say”. “Only the Liberals will make Victoria safe again”.

Of course there is a “law and order” problem facing us. But the Liberal Party’s wheeling and dealing speaks too loudly of a political ethic that borders on wall-to-wall disrespect, and that is not irrelevant to the ethos that spawns law and order concerns – there is the Liberal Party’s disrespect for the separation of powers principle that one might have thought was part of the Liberal’s view of public governance; there is in this sorry saga elements of disrespect for the Victoria Police, disrespect for the integrity and good standing of the Borough of Queenscliff. There is the Liberal Party’s continual ducking and weaving when it comes to speaking truthfully.

The Liberal Party has completely avoided dealing with the flawed LGA election in 2016 that had significant consequences for one of its own members. As I said, that failure may have been the Candidate’s  mistake, but if it were a mistake to fail to mention party membership, why should the party reward him with the regional party presidency and thereby further compromise the Borough Council’s standing?

As long as this Liberal Party fiasco continues (see p.2), such actions as we have recently witnessed in the Bellarine Peninsula from them simply suggest that they are beating the “law and order” drum to distract attention from their party’s lack of political principles, from their party’s persistent pragmatic manoeuvring, a failure as a party to be seen in the inadequate support and advise rendered to a new member, and a total failure to insist upon a measure of political discipline by one of its prominent members who, as a senior police officer, is obviously keen to make a contribution to life across the Bellarine.

The electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe deserve a full and frank apology from the Liberal Party for their unscrupulous destabilising of local government.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area.

BCW 10 June 2017.

 

 

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