Except of course, when one of the parties in a deal has all the power. To coin a Puzoism, to make offers that they know can't be refused.
Which brings us to the Howard government. Howard was forced to compromise a bit. To get his 'Never Ever' GST up he had to cut a deal with the Dems that saw fresh food excised, leading potentially to the nightmare of the Hewson can't explain cake. They compromised with Harradine for whatever Harradine wanted – Telstra one I think. Hell they compromised with that miner that ended up in the Senate for Pauline Hanson's One Nation – Len Harris? I think so. And the ALP compromised to push through the recent hideous rights stripping legislation so they would not be seen as weak on the exaggerated threat of Suburban terror.
But now the Liberals don't have to compromise do they? Because they have the Senate. Hence Work Choices, which no other party backed. Hence the final sale of Telstra. And soon changes to electoral law.
Sure there will be conservatives who carp with glee about how 'well that's what Australian's wanted' and smugly grin that we got the government we deserved. Well, I disagree. The senate voting is a labyrinth of a system. With proportional voting, with shares of a total percentage pool, and with a system of alliances and preference exchanges that would do a Calabrian family proud, it was but by the grace of luck the Coalition scored the Senate – and boy are they using it to their advantage.
But, this aside, and in politics it is about the deal. And deals do require compromise. What of the role of principles? Principles are just one element in the deal. But to me they are very important.
Because with out principles what are we? How do you trust a government, or a person, that seems to lack principles? I'm not talking about Liberal party principles. Which are great I'm sure. I'm talking about common principles that most of us hold dear. Moral behaviour.
Here's just three.
· Being honest in your dealings ("never, ever"; children overboard; core Vs non core promises; tax code less than with a GST than with; AWB; etc, etc)
· Looking out for your fellow man (work choices, removal of dental benefit; targeting unions as a political revenge exercise)
· Being accountable (children overboard; throwing citizens out of the country; AWB; interest rates)
The above of course are my opinion, and I am happy to hear yours on the matter.
All of us lie and cheat in degrees. I think I read somewhere that people tell something like 200 white lies a day. You lie about how you feel about people, you make excuses to avoid hurting people's feelings or getting in trouble. Husbands lie to wives, wives to husbands, kids to dad, dad to kids (Santa, Easter Bunny etc). By and large I think most of us, when we lie or cheat do it not as a personal triumph but to avoid a hurt for either us or someone else.
But when you're in government, and the stakes are so very, very high, lying through your teeth, and failing to take accountability isn't poor governance, it seems it's great politics. As Maggie Thatcher once said, Never say Sorry, Never explain. Because if someone refuses to apologise and make amends, and does so until they are blue in the face, a normal person – someone like you and me – either thinks they are a lying psycho in need of help – or they start to question their thinking. Am I right to think they are a lying unprincipled sack of shit? They haven't said sorry and they denied it even happened, or that they knew about what happened. Maybe I'm the one at fault? Maybe my expectations are too high.
Compromise in politics is part and parcel of politics. But where it gets iffy is where principles like the ones listed above get compromised. Hell, all political parties do it (except it seems the Greens as they've yet to be in that position to have to do so). The ALP said they would not sell Qantas or the Commo bank and they did. The Dems said they wouldn't budge on books and the GST and they did.
They compromised themselves and I believe they paid the penalty in the end. The ALP got voted out because they were seen as shifty and not responding to the needs of the people. The Dems took a caning for dealing with the devil (as a lot of Dems are more left wing than the ALP).
The Liberals however, by a lucky roll of the senatorial dice, got the Senate. And why was that?
Deny, deny, deny. Didn't happen and if it did, didn't know about it.
Unless of course you consider these principles of success rather than principles of doing the right thing.
I suppose a counter argument is principles don't put food on the table. Sure, that's true. But at night, when the lights are out, at the end of the day you're alone with yourself.
So can you go to sleep at night, footloose and fancy free, confident you did the right thing even if you had to fuck over a large amount of people? Are you comfortable with the choices you made that day, and that you worked to the benefit of those that needed it and not those that don't and did so in a morally clean way where you could hold your head up high and say I did good and I can do better?
Or are you unprincipled duded up egg sucking gutter trash?
Left: Are you duded up egg sucking gutter tash?
By the way, check the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. You can find them here. My favourite one is the first one.
The Code of Conduct requires that an employee must:
- behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment;
- act with care and diligence in the course of APS employment;
- when acting in the course of APS employment, treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment;
- when acting in the course of APS employment, comply with all applicable Australian laws;
- comply with any lawful and reasonable direction given by someone in the employee's Agency who has authority to give the direction;
- maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings that the employee has with any Minister or Minister's member of staff;
- disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment;
- use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner;
- not provide false or misleading information in response to a request for information that is made for official purposes in connection with the employee's APS employment;
- not make improper use of:
(a) inside information, or
(b) the employee's duties, status, power or authority,
in order to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or for any other person;
- at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS;
- while on duty overseas, at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia; and
- comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by the regulations (regulations available here)