The age of no responsibility. I suppose we have got used to the end of ministerial responsibility – that quaint relic of an ancient Westminster system that ministers took responsibility for what happened in their departments. These days we see nothing wrong in Oppositions grilling public servants appearing before Senate committees when in those years long ago when I started reporting in Canberra it would have been a Treasurer not a Treasury Secretary answering questions about who gave what advice to Cabinet when. Not even in parliamentary question time do ministers assume responsibility. Half the questions they answer have been written by their own staff who helpfully provide them with the answers and the other half are not seeking information at all but directed at scoring a cheap point of two that might appear on the evening television news.

And now the age of no political responsibility ever about anything has reached a new low with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop disowning a chapter in a soon to be published book as nothing to do with here. What silly person would think that a politician actually stood behind words appearing under her name? Don’t blame me. Blame the author! But while here her chief of staff, Murray Hansen, might be prepared to do the mea culpa on this occasion, don’t expect him to ever front up to a Senate committee to answer a question about just what proportion of Ms Bishop’s words and supposed thoughts are actually his. Responsibility is limited to getting the boss off the hook.

A Cup Day half a point. The market clearly thinks that people lending money to a bank will be earning less interest after Melbourne Cup Day. The odds on Betfair for a reduction in the official Reserve Bank rate are being changed:

Parliament to sit for far too long. Every year when the government announces its plan for parliamentary sittings during the next you can be certain that some pundit or other will write and condemn MPs as lazy good for nothings who hardly go to work at all. So it came to pass that Alan Ramsey outlined on Saturday the Parliament planned to resume on 3 February 2009, after an eight-week Christmas break from December 5, would have MPs then sit for 18 of the following 43 weeks before Parliament adjourns for 2009 on November 26. In all, a fairly thin 68 sitting days. The scheduled program includes extended recesses of seven weeks (April/May), six weeks (July/August) and four weeks (September/October). To my mind criticism of there being such a short period of actual sitting is misplaced. Parliament is a classic example of C. Northcote Parkinson’s law of work expanding to fit the time available. And an expansion of the work of MPs invariably leads to more ways of restricting and restraining we citizens. My criticism of the planned sitting days for next year is that there will be far too many of them.

A Japanese example of the second law. I notice that the Japanese Board of Audit has come up with yet more proof of another of Parkinson’s laws — that government offices’ spending continues to increase until it reaches the volume of their funding. The Board of Audit examined the use of national government subsidies by 12 prefectural governments, and found accounting irregularities in all of them. The amount of money involved was particularly large in Aichi and Iwate prefectures. In these prefectures, it was common practice for many divisions to place fictitious orders with suppliers in order to make it look as if they had used up funds allocated to them by the end of each fiscal year.

Specifically, they placed fictitious orders with the suppliers at prices equal to their surplus money and asked the firms to keep the surplus money in a practice they called “depositing.” If they use the money deposited with the suppliers to pay for goods they actually buy, they can preserve their surplus money beyond the fiscal year. Civil servants devoted a lot of time for such “work”, reported the front-page Yoroku column in the big selling Mainichi Shimbun.

Perhaps a new law suggested by Peeping Tom scanners. The introduction of full body scanners at Australian airports perhaps is the result of some government department or other looking for a way of spending funds left in the budget basket. These legalised Peeping Tom machines, which are on trial in Adelaide, do not come cheaply with a cost of up to $US200,000 each.

More likely their introduction here and in many other airports around the world is an example of what should be another law — if it can be done it will be done. What surprises me most is how little outrage has been expressed by Australians at this latest invasion of privacy.

Worrying about the credit ratings. You need a sense of humour with this financial crisis business. I mean, think about the number of times recently that politicians and bankers have extrolled the virtues of the major Australian banks having the best credit ratings in the world from those very same credit rating firms that gave their triple A stamp to those dodgy US housing loans that precipitated the whole affair. These ratings agencies are clearly among the primary villains in the financial chicanery as was made clear in this piece recently in the Washington Post yesterday:

 An international flavour. You can get the flavour of just how international this financial crisis is from these papers from around the world. 

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW