It’s not the mistakes that disappoint me: I’m a very forgiving guy and acknowledge that I too, make plenty of my own. My beef lies with the politicians who play small target, hardly ever commit to anything genuinely bold and spend most of their day trying to avoid personal responsibility at the expense of others.
For the record, I concede that being a politician these days is often the opposite of fun. Frankly, given what they have to tolerate, I’m surprised we have any good people in Parliament – and let me say loud and clear that we do have plenty of good ones.
But there are a few who simply don’t deserve their tax-payer’s salary.
Hang on! Before you get all faux-incensed and curse your iPad (or chunky old computer screen if you’re a Western Australian MP), I’m not one of those tedious talkback callers who say “somebody needs to do something”. I’ve put my money where my mouth is plenty of times, and I’ve definitely paid the price for doing so.
I really don’t want much from my elected leaders – courage, conviction and a sense of personal responsibility is all it takes to keep me happy. And I’m really happy to say some of them tick all these boxes but others, as the young people say, are an epic fail.
A case in point is Western Australian Minister for Energy, Peter Collier.
QBF readers know that I used to work for Minister Collier and some might assume that this is just an unsophisticated “get-back”. There could be some deep dark psychology to it, but I’ll leave that judgement to people who are appropriately qualified. From my perspective, I’ve chosen him simply because I can’t think of a clearer recent example of someone who overwhelmingly fails to embody the qualities of a good leader.
Take a look at these parts of answers the Minister contributed to last Wednesday’s Hansard:
Part of the answer to question 7536:
“…I have expressed my disappointment with Synergy‘s billing system, which was approved for implementation by the previous government.”Part of the answer to question 7537:
“…In March 2009, I was briefed by the Managing Director and Chairman of Synergy about their business transformation program I expressed concern about aspects of the program and Synergy presented alternative options it could pursue, which foreshadowed savings of $75 million per annum.”Part of the answer to question 7538:
“…I have repeatedly stated my dissatisfaction with Synergy‘s billing system, which was approved by the previous government.”Part of the answer to question 7659:
“…I have repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with Synergy‘s billing system, and will not take any responsibility for decisions made by the previous government.”Part of the answer to question 7661
“…I have repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with Synergy‘s billing system, and will not take any responsibility for decisions made by the previous government.”Part of the answer to question 7662
“…I have repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with Synergy‘s billing system, and will not take any responsibility for decisions made by the previous government.”Part of the answer to question 7663
“…I did not direct Western Power on this matter. However, I spoke directly with the Chair and Managing Director in relation to this matter, and subsequently wrote to the Chair regarding financial restraint.”Just as some background, when a Minister’s staff draft answers to Parliamentary questions like these, a number of factors are considered. Among them is the need to ensure the Minister looks strong without giving too much away or locking him into a course of action that is either beyond his capacity or willingness to achieve.
While many people are involved in that process, the Minister always signs off on the final draft, sometimes personally editing or even redrafting them from scratch before giving final approval for submission. Irrespective of whether the Minister even sees them, once the answers are published in Hansard, they are considered to be his personal utterances and as such, he has to defend them.
It’s my guess that Minister Collier will be defending these answers right up until he loses the portfolio.
On this occasion, the attempt to balance shifting the blame with the need to look like he was actually doing something has left Minister Collier wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place. By putting on the record that he was dissatisfied, as early as March 2009, with the performance of so many things within his portfolio, the Minister has opened the door VERY widely for a new round of even more difficult questions.
Here’s an example of something I reckon we can expect to see in Hansard soon: “Minister, other than expressing your dissatisfaction in March 2009, what have you actually done to fix these problems over the past 3 years?”
Ouch! Fair question, and really, really difficult to answer!
You can’t constantly bang on about how great things are under your stewardship and cowardly blame everyone else for the things that aren’t perfect.
Constituents (and Minister’s agencies) don’t mind seeing their political leaders cutting ribbons on TV taking credit for the good things on the condition that those leaders are also prepared to cop it on the chin when there’s a problem.
But when they refuse to take responsibility for anything difficult after having stewardship of a portfolio for more than three quarters of a full term of government, questions have to be asked as to their worthiness as an elected leader, let alone Minister of the Crown.
PS. It’s worth noting that way the questions were asked in Parliament was both clever and strategic. From an objective point of view, the new Opposition spokesperson for Energy, Bill Johnston, has played one of his first hands very well, and in doing so landed a significant blow to the Minister’s as-yet unblemished armour.