Revelations that Joe Hockey can’t see the problem in him raising money for the Liberal Party by using his status as the Federal Treasurer speaks to a genuine cultural problem in Australian politics.
The cultural problem is across the political spectrum (including the minor parties).
Too many politicians believe that their actions as politicians are “private” dealings, rather than recognising that as public figures – they must act in the public interest.
They are confused about the difference between their public role and their private roles. At any time all of us hold both public roles (like a job, a political office or a role in a community organisation), and private roles (like a mum, child or friend).
But it is vitally important that we distinguish between our public roles and private roles, because these roles embody very different standards of behaviour.
In private life, key values include confidentiality, love and forgiveness. For instance, if a child or friend does something wrong, the misgiving is solved through saying sorry and being forgiven. It’s good to keep secrets (rather than gossip). You express loyalty and love. Blood is thicker than water.
But in public life, the standards of behavior are dramatically different. Effective public life is governed by accountability, respect and transparency.
In public life, when someone does something wrong they need to be held to account – to face up to those to whom they are publicly responsible, and to make amends. If decisions are being made, the facts and the forces of influence on those decisions need to be public. There needs to be transparency in decision making. The goal of public life is not to be “liked” but to be “respected”.
ICAC has shown us that too many politicians want the standards of behaviour that govern our “private” lives as the rules for their “public” role. The emails, the phone calls and the “gift exchange” between corporate lobbyists and the Liberal Party (and previously between mining interests and the Labor Party), reveal that it is seen as okay to try to be “liked” by handing out lavish gifts and to embrace a culture of secrecy.
Its not news to hear that politicians want to be held to the standards more common in private life. In Queensland, Peter Beattie was famous for saying sorry as a way of wiggling out of accountability. Kissing babies and excessive friendliness often tries to create a culture of “being liked” rather than “being respected.”
But its painfully clear than this confusion has lead to a culture of alleged extreme corruption.
As the ranks clear out and the still standing political leaders start to evaluate what they need to do to clean up politics in NSW, and in Australia – they need to look to solutions that re-create a public culture of accountability, transparency and respect.
Public standards must be the core benchmarks of a more effective system of government, and these standards must inform the kinds of relationships we expect between government, corporate and civil society institutions.