The Concept of Blame and our Democracy

by on 5 August, 2011

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Richard Whiteoak discusses the "blame game":

When Kevin Rudd announced his intention to “end the blame game” between the States and Federal Governments, it was only the start of an erosion of ministerial accountability. Now, under the stewardship of Gillard, Greens and the independents, this has now metamorphosed into an outright attack on our adversarial system, which has the very real potential to damage our democracy.

This “blame game” as Rudd had so characteristically sloganized it, occurs when the State & Federal Governments claim that a political issue falls outside the auspices of their constitutional responsibility, and in doing so, seeks to shift the responsibility onto the other. This ”blame game” is only possible due to a general public’s poor understanding of our Constitution, leading to confusion between the responsibilities of State & Federal governments. Whilst this deficit in the public’s comprehension could be addressed through our education system, it presented the Rudd Government with a political opportunity in committing “to end” such confusion, via a non-specific, vague spin slogan of ‘working together’. However what was overlooked during this act of political opportunism, was the fact that inherent with the concept of “blame”, is“accountability”, and obviating such accountability, leads to the inevitable avoidance of responsibility by any and all parties. Much more concerning however, is that the Gillard Labor party, desperate and backed into a corner, has taken the success of the former leader’s slogan one step forward and has unleashed a campaign together with the Greens, independents and some of the more myopic commentators, criticising the Federal opposition for opposing, and the media for criticising.

On the face of it, such a campaign against adversary seems ironic and somewhat whimsical; however the reality is that if such a tactic gains any traction, it could have serious consequences for our democracy.

The concept of Government accountability is only possible because of the adversarial nature of our system, where an intense scrutiny of policy by a strong opposition plays a fundamental part of the process. In the case of a weak and ineffective opposition, the failsafe has been a ferocious media, only too willing to also leap upon inconsistencies and impacts of poor, inconsistent decisions and bad policy. The key benefit of the current process is to generate intense public pressure upon any attempt to implement bad policy, and thus produce a better outcome for all. However despite this, the Labor Party, Greens & independents are attempting to convey the notion that the“opposition opposing”, is somehow irresponsible, and even more irresponsibly, labelling a critical press as “hate media”,whilst opportunistically attempting to quell the most ferocious press under the guise of a media inquiry.

Let us be very careful at this junction, for the consequences could be dire. An opposition’s job by its’ very definition is to oppose, and anything less than this would be a failure of their responsibility. Additionally, when a Government seeks to control a free press, warning bells should ring out as democracy by nature is about public scrutiny. The key message here is that just because so much of the Labor party’s policy and implementation hasn’t held up to scrutiny, should not to be rewarded at their instigation, by punishing those who have competently played their role. Instead, what the current Labor Government should concentrate on is something that they have consistently failed to achieve, and that is developing well considered good policy and implementing such policy and other government responsibilities competently and effectively.

Richard Whiteoak is self-employed, with a postgraduate education in applied finance. He is a fan of animals, music, and the arts, and a strong believer in individual freedoms, which, considering the assault they are taking these days, is probably why he is also described as being "a bit on the grumpy side".

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