By Dr Kristine Klugman*, President of Civil Liberties Australia
“Trust matters. Trust is the glue that holds democracies together. Morrison asks for trust every day that he stands up and speaks to the nation.”
So wrote The Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy on 3 March 2020.
(She gave examples: Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s behaviour as part of the $100m sports rorts, and claiming the Hillsong church leader’s rejection by the White House was just ‘gossip’ for months, before being forced to confirm it as fact).
The demise in respect for politicians is directly linked to the fact that they are no longer trusted, CLA’s President, Dr Kristine Klugman, says.
“No-one believes what they say, because it very frequently turns out to be a lie, or a white lie, or a calculated smokescreen.
“Politicians have stolen our right to trust them. One of the most basic fundamentals of governance and leadership used to be that we could trust what our PM and Ministers said.”
But that’s no longer the case, Dr Klugman said. “By stealing our right to trust them, most of today’s federal politicians are dragging down the principles and values of Australia.”
Maintaining the people’s principles
She said two things were needed to start restoring trust in politics. “We need a mechanism to guarantee politicians do not cheat and rort their powers, and a separate way to make sure the people’s principles and values are maintained, not those of politicians.
“An independent corruption body, with teeth even greater than ICAC, is urgently needed to provide the first mechanism.
“And to guarantee the people’s high personal standards and traditional liberties are maintained, we need a human rights act, like the bills of rights that Canadians, the British, the Kiwis and Americans have.
“Only Australia lacks those two mechanisms. They are commonplace, everyday safeguards in the nations we compare ourselves with.
“When we go to the next federal election, in about two years’ time, we the people should demand that the next government gives us an ICAC with teeth, and a rights charter with fundamental safeguards for all Australians, but particularly the powerless on the bottom rung of society,” Dr Klugman said.
In Murphy’s op-ed article she highlighted “the complete absence of contrition” coming from the federal leadership. She also pointed out that Mr Morrison suggests “anyone who dares to call out the fast and loose tendencies is a nit-picker, or a partisan, or a bubble occupant.
“The prime minister asks to be believed. He asks people to listen, to follow advice. Implicit in this pitch is words, advice, pronouncements, from the holder of his high office, carry meaning, and they are consistent with facts and evidence.
“Being believed, being trusted, is an antidote to pervasive disinformation, and cheap jack demagoguery. It is, in fact, the best antidote we have to these things.
“But ‘trust me, I’m the prime minister’ doesn’t work if you then behave in a manner entirely inconsistent with your own request. So here’s the rub, prime minister. Being truthful isn’t a cause of convenience. Voters have eyes and ears, and they aren’t mugs,” Murphy wrote.
Let’s hope so, Dr Klugman said. “Both sides of politics need to promise, with evidence, how they will restore trust to Australia,” she said.
* Dr Klugman’s background is here: https://www.cla.asn.au/News/who-we-are/
You can join or donate to CLA here: https://www.cla.asn.au/News/join-renew-donate/