Opinion/Comment, Politics

“Here’s six ways to start fixing our broken politics”

Voters are sick of the lack of transparency in politics. Here’s my prescription for better, more honest government.

By John Hewson.

First published at The Sydney Morning Herald – Thursday 13 February 2020. See; https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/how-to-clean-up-politics-six-rules-of-engagement-20200212-p5402w.html

Trump lite? Scott Morrison was less than transparent with the Australian people.
Credit:Alex Ellinghausen – SMH

Scott Morrison had his Trump Lite moment when he stared blankly at the Australian people and told them that an internal report – which they were not allowed to see – had found $100 million in sports grants were legitimate. It said much about the lack of transparency that is at the heart Australian politics and its parlous state.

Today I am proposing a six-point clean-up of politics and government in Australia. But first, a detour to Donald Trump.

“Read the transcript,” the US President said, ad nauseam, in his defence against impeachment, concerning his telephone call with the Ukrainian President and the revelation that he withheld military assistance until the Ukrainians launched an inquiry into his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. Too bad the transcript he urged all to read wasn’t actually a verbatim transcript but a self-serving, obfuscating summary.

Scott Morrison read selectively from the report by Phil Gaetjens, his former fixer and now secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, on the sports grants affair. Gaetjens found – no surprise – that the then sports minister, Bridget McKenzie, had a clear conflict of interest in failing to declare her membership of a clay-shooting club to which she made a grant.

McKenzie went down like a clay pigeon but when it came to the rest of the grants, the Gaetjens report simply “disagreed” with the Auditor-General that the whole business was crook – that these grants were being distributed to buy votes in marginal seats.  No, it said, the grants were “eligible”. Nothing to see here.

NSW Premier Mike Baird at Penrith Panthers announcing $12 Million for the western Sydney community and sports centre at Penrith Panthers in March 2015.
Pollies need to quit their addiction to pork

We’ll see about that. There will still be a parliamentary inquiry into this and other grants schemes.

Voters, certainly, are sick to death of it. The National Party carries on, seeing such programs as slush funds for the Nationals’ interest, not the national interest, blithely disregarding the erosion of their standing in regional Australia. On they go, pushing for the government to fund a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland in defiance of all logic: there is no net demand for electricity in North Queensland; banks won’t fund it; insurers won’t insure it; renewables are cheaper and have significant export potential.

This all goes to how political parties are funded and are able to be lobbied. It goes to the type of people who are attracted as MPs and senators. It goes to the standards set and enforced for their behaviour. All political parties know these systemic weaknesses but, rather than fix them, they seek to exploit them.

So, to my six-point plan.

Australia has improved its standing on a global assessment of least-corrupt countries by one notch to 12th place.
Australia improves corruption ranking but gets ‘no gold star for effort’

First, clean up campaign and party funding. While I would prefer to confine donations to individuals, to say $1000, and ban all corporate, union, foreign and institutional donations, I recognise some Constitutional questions. Hence, I recommend, with regret, that all campaigns be publicly funded, with tightened eligibility, and any administrative donations to parties and their affiliates be fully declared, on line, as they are made, and banning all foreign donations.

Second, make lobbying more transparent. Ministers and key bureaucrats should be subject to full and real-time disclosure of who they meet and when, and to what end.

Third, introduce truth-in-advertising legislation to politics. It would be independently monitored and enforced, with a limit on campaign advertising spending.

Fourth, introduce legislation to identify and penalise false, deceptive, and misleading conduct, as is done in business. Politicians need to be held accountable for what they say, promise and do.

Fifth, set independent standards for those who stand for election. The parties would still vet and verify their candidates – their CVs and their citizenship – but they would also be accountable for lapses and subject to penalties.

Finally, a fully funded Independent Commission Against Corruption to oversee all activities of our politicians, bureaucrats and federal government, with the capacity to receive anonymous references, and with defined links to the Australian Federal Police for prosecution.

Being elected to politics is not a ticket to put your snout in the funding trough.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.


First published at The Sydney Morning Herald – Thursday 13 February 2020. See; https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/how-to-clean-up-politics-six-rules-of-engagement-20200212-p5402w.html

Editors note: Our contributor Julian May wrote along similar, but slightly diverging lines, on December 19 last year here at Outlook. See; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/australias-politics-suffers-from-the-4p-syndrome-we-need-to-do-better/

And at a local level this comment just appeared today on the Coffs Harbour City Council Ratepayers Residents & Business Owners Facebook page today. It is written by former Coffs Coast resident who has studied Local Government in action extensively in Australia;

“John Boom We’ve been gone from Coffs for nearly 5 years and find from your posts nothing has changed in the town much which is indicative of the council system Australia wide. The council system in itself is a corrupt system just like that of its big brother’s state government and federal government. It’s designed to fail the people because it’s all about money and where that money trail goes. Your Mayor is playing you all for fools but don’t feel alone as many towns suffer the same injustice. But you still voted her back?

John Boom

Like many areas, people are “bought” or voted into the council system for many reasons. A small percentage are genuine, those that represent the interests of others, and for their own personal agendas. The system of creating “seat numbers” for voting purposes is probably the most corrupt system of all and that’s the basis of the whole council system. I exposed this to the NSW government years ago but they’re part of the same system.

The voting system and real benefit back to each town are very debatable as the system itself is a failure for most areas. I’m sure there may be some successful towns around Australia that may have struck lucky with their mix of appointed councillors but I haven’t seen many to date after filming most towns Australia wide. Australia needs a better council system that can’t be manipulated so much for the benefit of the wrong people. I provided such a system but naturally too many people would stand to lose then that will no longer be able to manipulate and corrupt the system. There are always better more honest ways to provide for the people of each town.

They intend making some council changes in Victoria over the next 2 years after I and others exposed the vast amount of corruption and inequality that was taking place but I doubt if that will ever be enough as the system is too controlled by each state government which in itself has major ingrained corruption issues as it controls all the authorities and councils. I’m still doing it here in Geelong Victoria and you just wouldn’t believe the level of corruption I’ve already exposed right up to state government. They all try and protect themselves by self-regulation and controlling the corrupt regulatory bodies. Good luck trying to fight a very broken system.”

See; https://www.facebook.com/groups/326166850803871/

And here is what Senator Jacqui Lambie had to say in the Senate about the Sports Rorts affair and the Government’s response to it;

This REEKS of a cover-up!

SPORTS RORTS FIASCO CONTINUESWe're expected to believe a report from the PM's buddy over the auditor-general on the sports rort – seriously? This REEKS of a cover-up! It's bloody shameful.

Posted by Senator Jacqui Lambie on Monday, 10 February 2020


  1. You can almost feel Jaqui Lambie’s rage, frustration and sense of shame. Surely she must be right in suggesting that millions of Australians are disgusted by the McKenzie affair, but what do we do about it?

  2. When I trusted politicians, many, many years ago, I voted Labor because their social equity policies most closely gelled with my beliefs.
    My trust was irreparably shattered by the actions of Malcolm Fraser and his scurrilous mates, in bringing about the downfall of a democratically elected government. I despised Fraser, and everything he stood for.
    Whilst Federal Opposition Leader, John Hewson toed the Liberal Party line, and behaved in much the same manner as his cronies. I didn’t have much to say for him, either.
    However, times, and people, change. In the recent past, Malcolm Fraser has revealed himself as an individual with a social conscience, and one who is prepared to stand up for his principles. John Hewson’s latest writings have shown him to be a person with some sense of morality, a quality that he may not have been allowed to show, as a politician.
    I now have some respect for both men, unlike my regard for Howard, Hawke, Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison, Albanese . . . . .
    John Hewson’s “Six Rules” have struck a chord with me, as our Editor has noted. The “Outlook” item referenced above, is a much condensed version of a piece which I have published on my website.
    Whilst I may be accused of being ego-driven (I am), I offer the following excerpts from my Rant 8, “There Has To Be A Better Way”, which, I feel, correspond to some of John Hewson’s points:
    HEWSON: First, clean up campaign and party funding.
    ME: Although it claims to provide equal representation to all citizens, the system is open to abuse and corruption, both from within and without, and, as is usually the case, it is the flow of money which carries corruption with it.
    It costs a lot to get elected.
    Few politically unaligned or ordinary people can afford to campaign with any serious hope of election.
    Political parties are often beneficiaries of donations, which they can then use to fund election campaigns. . . . . These donors will certainly be people or companies who have vested interests in ensuring the election of their preferred candidate. If you receive political donations you will almost certainly be expected, by the donors, to do something as “payback”.
    HEWSON: Second, make lobbying more transparent. Ministers and key bureaucrats should be subject to full and real-time disclosure of who they meet and when, and to what end.
    ME: An entire industry has developed around “lobbying” – the task of getting pollies to vote in a way that is favourable to specific sections of society, most notably business and industry, who pay the lobbyists for favourable outcomes. Pollies may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, many survive on native cunning, but they’re not stupid enough to bite the hand that gets them elected, so donors are rewarded by getting laws made that are consistent with their particular interests.
    In some cases, these manipulations of the system may be legal, but rarely are they in the best interests of the whole community. Technically this may not constitute corruption in the legal sense, but morally they stink.
    HEWSON: Finally, a fully funded Independent Commission Against Corruption to oversee all activities of our politicians, bureaucrats and federal government, with the capacity to receive anonymous references, and with defined links to the Australian Federal Police for prosecution.
    ME: In order to make the dream come true, to make any significant improvement to the current system a reality, two key steps need to be taken.
    First, and most crucial, is the creation of an independent anti-corruption commission with extensive powers to investigate the political behaviour of candidates and members of parliament, and to identify interference in the political process by individuals or organisations outside the parliament.
    Evidence of wrong-doing having been obtained, the offender’s behaviour is referred to the High Court where an appropriate consequence may be applied.
    Penalties may range from published censure, to dismissal from parliament, to incarceration when behaviours are found to be criminal.
    Second is the elimination of “money and its attendant corruption” from the process. It will cost the taxpayer a lot if this is to happen, but it might well be worth it in the long run.
    • The entire election process must be funded by government.
    • No person or organisation will be permitted to contribute funds to assist in the election of politicians.
    • Every candidate will be given the same amount of public money, known as an “election grant”, to spend on her or his campaign.
    • Predetermined amounts only may be spent on television and radio advertising. Other media, including social media, may be utilised.
    • No additional money may be spent.
    • Comprehensive and transparent records of election grant spending must be kept and made readily available to the public, and in order to facilitate any Senate audit.
    • No member of parliament may benefit financially from any “post-political career” associations with any private enterprise with which she or he has had “political dealings”, for a period of at least ten years after ending his or her political career.
    • All members of both houses will receive identical remuneration, the amounts to be decided by an independent commission. Those elected to leadership roles will receive an additional salary, the Prime Minister being the highest paid.
    • Superannuation entitlements and pension eligibility will be identical to those of the rest of the workforce.
    • The financial status of each politician and of the members of his or her immediate family will be open to scrutiny in any Senate audit at any time during or after her or his political career.
    I’m tempted to slide in a comment here, to the effect that “great minds think alike”, but I won’t, firstly because even my elevated ego won’t let me, and secondly because I’m sure that some smart arse will add “fools never differ”.

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