Do As We Say, Not As We Do

The sea of election posters that have adorned our streetscapes in recent times – federally last September, SA and Tasmania in March and WA a week ago got me thinking…there’s an awful lot of posturing and pontificating, there are promises aplenty from many of those seeking to win our vote.

But what happens when these pollies get our vote and go on to walk the corridors of power? What happens to all those pledges – and more to the point, what sanctions are in place when words speak louder than actions?

From a governance perspective, it’s an absolute shemozzle, where one set of rules applies to the mere mortals in the corporate and NGO worlds and a totally different one to those in government.

Allow me to elaborate…

I’m a company director and have been involved in Initial Public Offerings that precede a company listing. I can assure you, the legal requirements around the due diligence process are massively onerous and extraordinarily expensive.

I don’t have a problem with that. After all, we’re going out to the public, making statements and seeking dollars from them, asking them to invest their hard earned by subscribing for shares. It’s only right then, that every statement we make has to be completely correct and justifiable.

These laws also ensure that we can never be accused, either by omission or commission, of having created a misleading impression. And if and when we do and our conduct is deemed deceptive, the penalties can be enormous.

The same is true under the Competition & Consumer Act, where whole sections are devoted to what can happen to you if, in business, you engage in misleading conduct.

Now here’s where my problem lies…

Consider for a moment what political parties and candidates do, particularly at election time…and note the parallels.

That’s right, they’re asking to use our money – yes, as taxpayers, it’s our money – to run the country in a certain manner. And yet they get away with the most outrageous statements, carefully crafted and packaged to create an impression that favours their argument.

So why aren’t our pollies prepared to live by the very rules and laws they themselves have made and which they happily apply to everyone but themselves?

The simple answer is – they don’t have to!

At election time pollies don’t have to worry about the Competition and Consumer Act. That only applies to “trade or commerce’! In government, galling as it is, pollies enjoy Crown Immunity, which basically frees them from being sued even when they engage in all manners of unacceptable behaviour. It’s just not good enough.

It’s high time our pollies took a leaf out of what’s happening in corporate governance and got in step with the rest of us. In short, it’s time they heeded that idiom most of us happily subscribe to.

‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’.

I’ve more to say on pollies and their generally poor governance performance but I’ll keep that for next time, so stay tuned…

Kate Costello

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