Tasmanian Times

Nostradamus

You could have fooled me

Nostradamus

“Everywhere I have been, I have heard Tasmanians say to me, `David, we are trusting you to clean up this mess’,” Mr Bartlett declared to Parliament. “And that is what I am going to do. Step by step, piece by piece, this new Government in government will (put) mechanisms in place to ensure that Tasmanians can have absolute faith in their democracy and in all the mechanisms around their democracy.”

It was as Ms Neales pointed out, “a promise akin to a premier nailing his colours — and his political future — to the mast.” In a very real sense, this gives Jed Bartlett a very big advantage. It is a public commitment to cleaning the Augean stables and in a very real context the Premier has acknowledged that there is a mess to be cleaned up. This makes a very strange counterpoint to comments by a Mercury columnist on 25 August to the effect that there is no corruption in Tasmania and hence, no need for an ICAC-style body. Well you could have fooled me! I have watched certain developments over the past 10 years with a growing sense of dismay, knowing that the shadowy figures that hold the real power in the state have increasingly tightened their grip.
THIS PAST fortnight has provided me with considerable insight into our dependency on computers, or at least for those who write and are reasonably literate. The down time with one computer is bad enough, but when a second goes on the blink, I have a tendency to become rather ill-tempered. This is more the case when I want to write for the Tasmanian Times.

While it’s not quite true that I had Ray Charles singing “Hit the Road Jack” when news of the standing down of the Commissioner of Police was announced: “Georgia” – one of my favourites – was playing in the background. I do not want to comment on the case as it is an ongoing enquiry and the Commissioner has the right to a presumption of innocence. I think it matters little that his appointment was very unpopular in the police force and I know more than a few police officers who would be smiling and rather enjoying the discomfiture of their leader. My sympathy goes to the officers who had to make the decision to approach the authorities with the results of their investigation.

Contrary to popular belief, it is entirely proper to have police investigating police. However, it is a bastard of a job for many reasons. It requires the utmost integrity, which places loyalty to the objectives of the service or as I prefer to call it, the police force, ahead of any tribal loyalties or friendships. Those who are involved in internal affairs investigations are referred to in many police forces overseas as well as on the Big Island to the north as “black rats, gum shoes, rubber heels, snakes in the grass” and other epithets far too crude to mention in print. It is a necessary but not popular job – necessary to weed out corruption and ensure that the highest standards are maintained and unpopular because it has to be done. I know of cases where police officers get free coffee, doughnuts, the occasional meal and in one celebrated incident I observed personally, a police car arrived at a market and the driver popped the boot. While he and his companion checked the stalls, they came back to find the boot amply stocked with prime cuts of meat and other comestibles. That did not happen in Tasmania but small abuses beget larger indiscretions and ultimately, corruption.

As I mused my way somewhat idly through last week and the lot of the political tragic, I realized how much I miss working full-time and close to the political action. I’ve never had the good fortune to be involved with our local politicians, except in the most perfunctory manner and around election time and of course, I should mention that I have attended a number of political dinners and the odd Christmas party. In fact I feel like the retired foxhound in the kennels when the hunt goes by – my whiskers twitch, my senses rise to full alert and I miss the thrill of the action, the chase and the kill. However, I’m not a foxhound, merely a former bureaucrat and adviser who has seen better days. And it’s difficult enough to persuade people to believe that there are foxes in Tasmania so perhaps the metaphor is weak.

I was very strongly tempted to make the pilgrimage through the DMZ to the great northern capital. Personally, I don’t hold with Parliament being a road show or traveling circus and I shudder at the thought that while the innards of Parliament House in Hobart are being renovated, Parliament itself will sit in Burnie as well as Launceston. That is all very well but Hobart is the state capital and the seat of government and I yield to no one in that view. If politicians do wish to travel that road, surely one day they will wind up in the Mechanics Supper Room in one of those dirt water towns that are little more than a fly speck on the map. On one hand, having the peanut franchise would probably be quite rewarding but on the other, it demeans the institution. But to matters more serious.

It was an interesting and important day when the thinking man’s sex symbol Cassy O’Connor was sworn in as Peg Putt’s replacement for the electorate of Denison. Apparently, it was an historic event in the sense that it was the first time a member had been sworn in outside of Hobart and to say that it was a Green and a woman was icing on the cake. I wish Cassandra well for she is a feisty woman and she and Lisa Singh provided a lively counterpoint to a rather pedestrian Rene Hidding on Friday morning’s session with Tim Cox. It made for fascinating listening and I think we are indebted to the ABC in this state for intelligent programming, although I bit my tongue while writing this paragraph because I am seriously considering complaining to ABC management about the vocal gymnastics of Peter Newlinds on Saturday morning’s Grandstand. That he loves his sport is beyond dispute but did we really need the growl in the voice, presumably to enhance excitement? Peter, the commercials gave that away years ago: it has a very short shelf life.

The main event of the week undoubtedly was the tacit admission by the Premier that he had a mess to clean up. The Tasmanian Hansard takes ages to reach the website and I am both reliant on and grateful for Sue Neales’ Mercury column of 23 August, which goes as follows: “Everywhere I have been, I have heard Tasmanians say to me, `David, we are trusting you to clean up this mess’,” Mr Bartlett declared to Parliament.

“And that is what I am going to do. Step by step, piece by piece, this new Government in government will (put) mechanisms in place to ensure that Tasmanians can have absolute faith in their democracy and in all the mechanisms around their democracy.”

It was as Ms Neales pointed out, “a promise akin to a premier nailing his colours — and his political future — to the mast.” In a very real sense, this gives Jed Bartlett a very big advantage. It is a public commitment to cleaning the Augean stables and in a very real context the Premier has acknowledged that there is a mess to be cleaned up. This makes a very strange counterpoint to comments by a Mercury columnist on 25 August to the effect that there is no corruption in Tasmania and hence, no need for an ICAC-style body. Well you could have fooled me! I have watched certain developments over the past 10 years with a growing sense of dismay, knowing that the shadowy figures that hold the real power in the state have increasingly tightened their grip.

The greatest problem I have is much the same as that pertaining to police investigating police. The 6° of difference that apparently sets the distance between all the citizens of the world is around 1° in Tasmania. However, this is the 21st century and Tasmania has produced men of strong character, who are incorruptible and it is merely a question of finding them and persuading them to take the job. As I indicated earlier, it is not an easy task to investigate one’s colleagues or irregularities in the political or business community, especially with a high degree of interaction and personal links that come very close to being called unique, in the strictest Oxford English dictionary definition of that word.

Briefly reviewing the events that followed the stepping down of Police Commissioner Jack Johnson and admissions by the former Premier Paul Lennon and Minister Jim Cox that they had been interviewed in connection with certain matters, it is somewhat surprising to find that the rumour mill is running in lower gear and slightly more subdued than usual. It points to one of the truisms of politics and perhaps life as a whole – be careful of what you wish for, you might get it. And some things are best left unsaid.
I have previously stated that I think we are well served by the two young leaders of the opposition parties and unlike some, I count Nick McKim and the Greens as an opposition party. It will take a certain amount of reorientation, a reassessment of objectives and policies if they are to move from being a permanent, persistent minority to becoming an alternative government. What is hidden from the public gaze is the fact that the Greens have more active members than the Laborials and quite possibly, this could one day count in their favour.

In the run-up to the next election (and the clock ticks relentlessly onwards) the young tyros will be able to strut their stuff and we will have more of an idea of whether they have a grasp of what former US president George W. H. Bush, father of the incumbent, once described as “the vision thing.” However, with some sadness I have observed the steady erosion of political power from the state to the federal system. By nature, I am more of a confederate than a unionist, that is to say that when Australia became a federation, certain powers were given to the states but residual powers – often unspecified and in some cases undreamed of – resided with the Commonwealth. This is led to a steady accretion of federal power by virtue of controlling the purse strings and with some state governments wanting the Commonwealth to take over their responsibilities.

I have some sympathy with Clarence Aldermen Tony Mulder’s idea of scrapping local government and giving enhanced power to the state government. However, flawed as the system may be – and flawed it most certainly is – we need local government because the needs of those on the Tasman Peninsula or Liaweenie, Marawah or Zeehan are so different from the urban fringes. The most striking feature of Tasmania is its greatest weakness – a great diversity in many small communities. The two electorates of Braddon and Lyons contain many small villages or even hamlets, if we use the British or French description and it is extremely difficult for state politicians to connect with everyone in the electorate. And while the Hare-Clark system has been derided in some quarters, I believe it to be fundamentally democratic; possibly the most democratic system operating in Australia and it keeps politicians on their toes, which is surely no bad thing.

I have long given up any expectations that politicians take too much noticed of bloggers. I visit many sites on the Internet and it appears that quite a number attract the same people, who proceed to rip into each other rather than discuss issues raised. To Jed Bartlett. I would say you should be aware that there is great community support for the establishment of a body to enquire into certain matters which have been described to you personally as part of the mess. While this strengthens your hand immeasurably, it would be wise to remember the law attributed to the late, lamented ALP federal politician, Mick Young who apparently said: “Never call a Royal commission unless you know what it’s going to find.”

This is not to suggest that any body set up as a result of your initiatives and the findings of Jim Wilkinson’s committee should be emasculated before it commences work. On the contrary I believe it should have wide-ranging powers, so in short, don’t bother to read Monday morning’s Mercury. You have made a good start and the polls give cause for optimism but your self-narrative is only in its embryonic stages as Premier and it is too early to be triumphal; you know the sort of thing – before me, all was chaos and only I had the courage to tackle the problems is the sort of epitaph I have seen for many people who meant well only to succumb to believing only themselves which of course leads to hubris. Their careers were usually short because two of the most damning statements of all time according to a good friend of mine are: “he meant well” and “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

To Nick McKim, you have a small but pretty impressive line-up and it was somewhat alarming and curmudgeonly of you to be demanding to see certain papers concerning claims being made against Paula Wriedt, held by the government in the first instance, rather than after they had been submitted to the appropriate authorities. While it would be very nice to have full, free and open government, it has never worked and human nature dictates that we cannot be very hopeful in that regard. In my sloth, I once read a science fiction novel where every member of the population has a computer chip in their head and they are kept up-to-date with information 24 x 7 x 365. It was a very dark, dystopian work, which not unnaturally resulted in mass suicide and madness. There are procedures to advise the opposition on matters of public interest and the government holds the levers of power and can, therefore, control what is suitable for release. I still have yet to find a good working definition of what constitutes the public’s right to know.

Of necessity, or this is a shorter blog than usual for reasons totally beyond my control. However, I am grateful for those who have commented on previous efforts. As I once said, in a totally different setting, any criticism, obscene or restrained is always welcome.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. R.B

    August 26, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Hey Nosty – Im just trying to figure out what your key message is. I cant figure it out.

  2. Paul de Burgh-Day

    August 26, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Enjoy your writing Nostradamus.
    That you have long experience is clear.
    Your comment show that you are uncommonly well informed and rational.
    Your postings have become mandatory reading for me.

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