Ministers who make a virtue of their ignorance leave us all more than $300 million poorer.
Imagine the fate of the poor chief executive who strolled into a shareholders’ meeting and casually announced he had lost $300 million – and then hastened to add it was all OK, “I just didn’t know what was going on”.
“I’ve been incompetent; I didn’t read my emails; I wasn’t briefed by the staff; I’ve totally neglected the issue. And, by the way, the company has been in direct contravention of a United Nations directive.
“But it’s OK. I’ve been honest. I didn’t know what was happening. No one stood on my head and drilled it into my brain.
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“So what’s the next order of business?”
Well, we all know what the next order of business would be: his resignation. A media outcry. Then would come the ASIC inquiry, a court hearing, jail … it would not be out of the question.
It seems amazing at a time when Canberra increasingly puts the business community under the microscope in terms of corporate governance, tax, accounting regulations – you name it, the politicians will think of it – that a scandal of the magnitude of AWB’s illegal wheat sales to Iraq can come and go, the Cole Royal Commission notwithstanding, and not one minister of the Crown deems it necessary to resign.
Indeed, Trade Minister Mark Vaile and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer have made a virtue of being ignorant. Downer takes it a step further by saying there are no grounds for an inquiry into how his department works; to him, the fact a $300 million scandal slipped past their collective noses seems to be on a par with a missing paper clip.
Quite clearly the days of public servants giving frank and fearless advice has gone the way of politicians taking responsibility for their department’s failings. We are a poorer community for it.