Laurie Oakes From: Herald Sun March 06, 2010 12:00AM
A HUGE television audience will watch the Academy Awards as Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney and the rest compete for those little golden statuettes.
A new awards contest to be launched in Australia a few days later will not arouse quite the same interest, but it deserves attention just the same.
Instead of the Oscars, we’re about to get the Buttons and the Missens.
They won’t go to movie stars. They’ll go to politicians.
The idea is to reward integrity in federal politics.
Integrity? At this point, of course, most readers will do a double-take.
There will be gasps of disbelief – or perhaps sudden amused guffaws – over breakfast tables across the nation.
But wait. There’s more. According to organisers: “The awards will recognise honesty, civility, independence and/or political courage.”
When I read those criteria to a very senior member of Federal Parliament, he laughed so hard it was a few moments before he could talk.
Then he said: “These awards might have to be held over in their inaugural year.” And he laughed again.
Tony Fitzgerald, the QC whose royal commission put an anti-corruption broom through Queensland two decades ago, will launch the awards in Melbourne on Thursday.
They are named after two late pollies – Labor’s John Button and Liberal Alan Missen – who were renowned for their honesty, independence and courage.
BUTTON, as industry minister, was in many ways the conscience of the Hawke government. At times he drove Bob Hawke and Paul Keating spare with his outspokenness when he thought the government was on the wrong track.
Julia Gillard said when he died: “John Button went into politics with the reputation of being an honest man who spoke his mind, and he came out of politics with the reputation of being an honest man who spoke his mind.”
Senator Alan Missen was a fighter for human rights whose independence of mind repeatedly led him to vote according to his conscience rather than the party line.
Fred Chaney, who as Liberal Whip in the Senate tried in vain to control Missen, said of him: “If Parliament is to be any more than an electoral college for an executive dictatorship, we need stubborn parliamentarians.”
The Button award will go to a minister or Opposition frontbencher. The Missen gong, on the other hand, will honour backbenchers.
The big problem, as I see it, is that people like Button and Missen are just about as rare as hen’s teeth in Canberra these days.
Can you think of any of today’s crop of federal pollies who stand out because of honesty, independence or political courage? Or even civility?
If a name springs to mind, I suggest you whack in a nomination on that person’s behalf, quick smart.
I scratched my head for quite a while before coming up with just two potential nominees.
Petro Georgiou, who unfortunately will retire as the Liberal MP for Kooyong at this year’s election, has shown great courage in defying his party (and the Rudd Government) on the treatment of asylum seekers. Missen would be proud of him.
And Defence Minister John Faulkner, while no Button-style straight shooter, has done important work through Freedom of Information changes
and other reforms, to improve the overall accountability and transparency of government.
After that it’s a pretty thin field. Good luck to the judges.
The group of notables behind the initiative – they call themselves the Accountability Round Table – hope the awards will encourage politicians to conduct themselves with decency and embrace a willingness to be accountable.