A timely editorial in The Age on Saturday 24th October, “Politicians must be seen to honour public trust” argued that “Tourism Minister Andrew Robb’s investments in restaurants and the promotion of one of them by a government agency is a reminder of the paramount importance of public trust.”

The issue at stake was that, “The Tourism Minister’s integrity should not be in question here. But his judgment does appear flawed. This episode comes as a timely reminder that Victorians have a right to expect that those standing for positions of public trust in the November state election must not only assiduously avoid inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money, they must be seen to do that. This means, for instance, public money must not be used by the government to finance political advertising masquerading as public awareness campaigns.”

The argument of Andrew Robb was that disclosure of an interest, in this case in his family’s restaurant, should be sufficient to meet transparency requirements.
However this is debunked in the letter written by Ken Coghill and published in the Age on  Monday 26th of October.

Perception and reality

Australians should be alarmed that Tourism Minister Andrew Robb thinks that public disclosure satisfies “all requirements” of an MP’s responsibilities to the public trust (“Politicians must be seen to honour public trust”, Editorial, 25/10).  The essence of public trust is that MPs must put the public interest ahead of personal, political party or any other special interests. Public trust extends beyond disclosing personal conflicts of interest to a positive responsibility on MPs to act in the public interest.  Public confidence in the democratic system demands  the reality and the perception that the public interest has not been compromised.

Tragically, citizens are justified in feeling  that the public interest is severely compromised on issues as profound as climate change. In that case, populist campaigns and policies brazenly subordinate the public trust to  party political interests.  Leaders wantonly ignore or even repudiate expert information.  Not only are the policies inconsistent with the public trust, the deliberate shutting down of expert resources, such as the Climate Commission, is itself a betrayal of the responsibility of MPs to seek and act on the best available information  and advice.

MPs must accept an obligation to advance the public interest – articulate a vision reflecting it, seek and use relevant facts and figures, and  lead action accordingly.

Ken Coghill, former Victorian Labor MLA and speaker, Caulfield East
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-letters/private-subsidies-are-a-windfall-for-the-welloff-20141026-3ixc3.html#ixzz3HKa4HSyy

Update. 28th October 2014 – Another letter to the Age on the same subject of public trust.

Abusing our trust

It is something of a miracle that the world over, people agree to give up many decision-making powers and allow democratically elected governments to decide on their behalf. In non-democratic systems, rulers rely on subjugation by force or implied threat as well as selective silence to prevent overthrow. However, underpinning the democratic contract is a trust that one citizen will not be advantaged over another in input into government decisions and actions, and that in the outcome, the public interest will be served. There is also an expectation of equal public consultation that is more than lip service. This is what is meant when we say politicians hold a “public trust”.

Your editorial (“Politicians must be seen to honour public trust”, 25/10) rightly argues that mere disclosure of conflict of interest is therefore insufficient. Where a politician may stand to benefit, the interested must stand aside. Where differences of money or power pervert equal treatment in favour of self-interested groups, such as in urban planning, energy policy and political campaigning, it requires the exposure of exact relationships and funds transacted, and the proactive demonstration of fairness and equality of citizen input into decision-making.

Julia Thornton, Surrey Hills

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-letters/use-of-lobbyists-began-privatisation-of-politics-20141027-3izzd.html#ixzz3HOjX8h9k

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