Passing Bull 277 – The strange death of responsible government

At a lunch the other day, we had a discussion about government and experts.  Some were surprised that no one could be pinned  – found ‘responsible’ for – the original mess with Covid in Victoria.  We should not be. 

We have been steadily dismantling responsible government for at least two generations.  The Westminster system has an independent civil service that is permanent and apolitical, but for which the relevant ministers are responsible to the parliament.  If a departmental error was bad enough, the minister should resign.  That is what ‘responsible’ used to mean. That has gone with the wind.  We do not even get an apology – on a good day you might just hear the word ‘regret.’ 

We have slowly dismantled the independent civil service – and left ourselves with the black holes like My Gov, My Vic Roads, or Centrelink.  ‘My’ – my Health Card took three visits to Bendigo, three to Castlemaine, and all up twenty hours  – to answer one simple question: ‘Does your income exceed X?’

‘Personal advisers’ have not had a real job, are ambitious and intensely political, and are a complete contradiction of the whole idea of civil service.  Instead we spend a fortune on ‘consultants’, who cannot believe the way this gravy train keeps pulling up at their station, and then the ministers say that they are acting  on ‘expert advice’.  We have succeeded in turning the whole exercise of government on its head.  In the argot of our times, we have outsourced government.

And we have  left ourselves with a bunch of drongos in parliament whose mediocrity is positively  indecent, but who are kept where they are because the other lot are just as bad.  People who grew up in Australia in the 50s and 60s  well know that a two party system of government is only as good as the opposition – which is presently  bloody hopeless in both state and federal spheres. 

The political parties stand for nothing except dislike of each other, and a willingness to let faction feuds and drive-by shootings submerge the national interest.

And with Covid, we have upended federation by handing over a definitively national issue to state premiers, who then bask in a glow of populist acclaim – simply because they have done something  – even if it leaves the rest of us up that well-known creek.  We are reminded of the celebrated injunction of the football coach John Kennedy: ‘Don’t think – just DO something.’

And the closest we get to consolation is that no other bastard appears to be doing much better.

Such, as Ned Kelly said, is life.


The G7 meeting was a genuine success for Scott Morrison and for the West…The only leader who spoke with any realism on climate change was Morrison himself.

The Australian, 17 June, 2021, Greg Sheridan.

The quest for perfect madness goes on.

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