Avoiding responsibility (1). Avoiding responsibility for hard decisions is becoming endemic among politicians with Federal Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans the latest to want to transfer power from himself as minister to anonymous public servants. The reason for the good Senator’s cop-out is the realisation since becoming Minister that he actually has to make decisions and that not all of them will please everybody all the time. “I have formed the view that I have too much power,” Senator Evans told a Senate estimates committee yesterday. “I think the Act is unlike any other act I have seen in terms of the power given to the minister to make decisions about individual cases. I am uncomfortable with that, not just because of concern about playing God, but also because of the lack of transparency and accountability for those decisions and the lack in some cases of any appeal rights against those decisions.” Just how decisions miraculously become more transparent and accountable if made by a public servant rather than a politician was not explained.

Avoiding responsibility (2). The redefinition of ministerial responsibility by politicians continues apace with New South Wales Health Minister Reba Meagher saying whoever is to blame for the large number of faults at a new Bathurst Hospital will be held accountable. Ms Meagher is pointing the finger for this new $100 million hospital which cannot be used at public servants, project managers, builders and anyone else she can think of without suggesting that past and present Health Ministers might have anything to do with what successive scandals are showing to be a dysfunctional public health system. If it is not the job of the Health Minister to see that things in the department actually work, then what are Ministers for? Surely it would have nothing to do with Premier Morris Iemma being the NSW Health Minister when planning for the new Bathurst Hospital took place…

Tony Abbott and the long nosed bandicoot. All politics is local and for Tony Abbott that means a small colony of long nosed bandicoots which dig their small, conical holes at Spring Cove on Manly’s North Head so their long, sensitive snouts can reach in and detect insects and other small invertebrate prey by night. Far be it from me to suggest that the local member is campaigning against a new building at the Cove by the Federal Police for training academy accommodation because his constituents enjoy having own noses in this idyllic trough of a national park and don’t want it over-run by visiting Constable Plods. Mr Abbott assured the House of Representatives last night his concern was with the small colony of perameles nasuta now classified as an “endangered population”. Not to mention the only penguin-breeding colony on the mainland of New South Wales that is also under threat from the planned three-storey redevelopment comprising, amongst other things, 55 hotel suites, 47 car spaces and other major works. Tony Abbott as a Cabinet Minister might not have appeared to be a greenie but he now believes that “that this development is a potential public relations disaster to rank with the Haneef case.” Come to think of it I don’t recall Minister Abbott ever criticising the handling of the Haneef case either!

Quote of the Day.”It is important to recognise that it is women who give birth, so it is pleasing to see that the Inquiry will also assess the impact of any scheme on the post-birth health of the mother.” Federal S-x Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick on the federal government’s release of the terms of reference for a Productivity Commission inquiry into the introduction of a paid maternity, paternity and parental leave scheme. Thank you Captain Obvious.

The Queen and Molly Meldrum. One of the great moments in television interviewing is being recalled on the website of Canberra’s National Archives: Molly Meldrum chatting with Prince Charles back in 1977 to mark the launch of a limited edition LP, Silver Jubilee Australian Top 20, which was raising funds for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal for Young Australians. Meldrum, the Archives recall, made continual nervous errors and, when lost for words referred to the Queen as Charles’ “mum”, to which Prince Charles replied “You mean Her Majesty the Queen…” The royal faux pas is being commemorated as the Archive’s February Find of the Month.

The new journalist of influence. Michelle Grattan of The Age is in danger of losing her title as the workaholic of the Canberra Press Gallery. Chris Uhlmann of the ABC is now bobbing up everywhere as the no-nonsense political correspondent on national television news, where he has replaced Jim Middleton, as well as current affairs radio. Chris is one of that rare breed of journalists who conceals his own political convictions as he gets on with reporting what actually happens. I should declare that my own lack of knowledge of what he really believes is despite me once helping him run as an independent candidate for the ACT Legislative Assembly! I guess he is what he showed back then – a truly independent fellow.

A real Labor businessman! A man who has actually run his own small business gives a little variation to the new Labor members. Brett Raguse, Labor, Forde, was an apprentice compositor in the dying days of hot metal printing before part time study and a commerce degree led him to teaching and a company providing education and training programs in multimedia throughout Australia and South-East Asia. Not that differences in his background to most new Labor members should be overstated. He did spend several years as a political adviser to the Queensland State Labor Government before standing for the House of Representatives where he gave his maiden speech yesterday. 5 out of 10 for the speech.

Kerry Rea, Labor, Bonner: Having learned her politics as a Brisbane City Councillor, Ms Rea looks forward to seeing a revitalised relationship between the federal government and local councils “to deliver the infrastructure required to build even better communities—invest federally; think locally.” 6 out of 10.

Craig Thomson, Labor, Dobell: Yet another new Labor member who has made the transition from being a trade union official – this time the Hospital Services Union. His vision is that under Labor, a strong and robust economy will create a humane society that will distribute benefits to those most in need. The two areas in particular that he wants to concentrate on are aged care and dental care. 5 out of 10.

The Daily Reality Check

Yet another politics free day on the Sydney Morning Herald’s most read list unless you think Castro declaring his reign at an end qualifies. Another five of the 10 sites Crikey surveys were in the same position of having no political stories. The ABC site is clearly where internet political junkies congregate. The top three of its five most read yarns were about Australian political events with the fourth, S-x didn’t affect my judgement, former council planner says giving a local government perspective to the coverage.

The Pick of This Morning’s Political Coverage

Libs give up on 12-year IR crusade – Misha Schubert and Ben Schneiders, The Age
RBA’s inflation fears rise – David Uren and Scott Murdoch, The Australian
Murray dying for a drink – Greg Kelton and Cara Jenkin, Adelaide Advertiser
Joe Tripodi job for accused mate – Simon Benson, Sydney Daily Telegraph
Schools put to the test – David Killick, Hobart Mercury
Rural revival feeds boom economy – Sophie Morris, Australian Financial Review
Printing subsidy likely to be cut – Andrew Fraser, Canberra Times

Peter Fray

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