Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ethical government

What is fair and reasonable for a government to do? That's one of the big questions underneath the Dirty Poltics scandal.

The group that Nicky Hager exposed unethically nobbling candidates for party selection is certainly not the only one to have done that kind of thing. There are serious ethical questions about this stuff across the political spectrum.

But as Judd Hall's whanua and Simon Pleasants and Tania Billingsley know, it's not just aspiring politicians that get knifed under the current system. It's anyone inconvenient.

So there is a much more general and important issue here, about how our politicians behave, to us mainly but also to each other. In previous waves of reform, "we" (our MPs) have tied the hands of government financially, through measures such as

  • the Fiscal Responsibility Act. which is like an information disclosure regime for the government; and
  • the Reserve Bank Act which delegates monetary policy to technocrats.

I like both of these laws for the transparency and discipline they provide. They seem like part of our constitution. The rules are clear and if someone tries to circumvent or fiddle with them we have a clear standard to which we can appeal.

Why don't we have something similar for political ethics? Some simple and clear principles that constrain the way governments conduct themselves and their interactions with the rest of us.

It could be like the codes of conduct we have in many other professional sectors like medicine and accountancy and law. Politics is at least as important to our overall wellbeing as these professions yet there is no agreed ethical code. Why not?

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