Brown Study

Brown study

30 July 2022

9:00 AM

30 July 2022

9:00 AM

Unfortunately, we live in times of rampant corruption in civil society and a complete lack of integrity and morals in politics, government, and public life. That is why I am such a fervent supporter of a commonwealth crimes commission, in the hope that it might help to stem the smelly tide of nepotism, bribery, secrecy and favouritism that threatens to engulf the body politic.

But we are very lucky to have in Victoria a government that stands for integrity and, in particular, for unbiased decision-making, where the only guiding principle is the welfare of the people. True, Daniel Andrews and his government had some local difficulties regarding the Red Shirts who were employed as public servants but spent months on creative political activities for the Labor party before the last State election. Yet in virtually every case it has apologised and promised to return most of the money. And those issues were largely the result of the vagueness of regulations drawn up by the previous government. Not being a narcissistic and populist government like some I could mention, it has responsibly rejected suggestions, like the one from the eccentric who wrote to the Age the other day that the salaries of the Red Shirts should be repaid by the Labor party to the people. It is also true that Daniel Andrews and his government had to sue the Ombudsperson for a momentary lapse of judgment which I am confident she will not repeat. In any case, such trifling departures from otherwise consistently high standards of probity must be kept in perspective. For example, in Myanmar, a group of political reformers has just been executed, and nothing even remotely like that has happened in Victoria.

Thus, we are very fortunate to have in Victoria a government that subscribes to the highest standards of propriety. And, because our good fortune is so rarely acknowledged, I want to highlight the most recent example of how it is put into practice, daily, for which Daniel and his team have been given so little acknowledgement or praise. It comes from the vexed field of rezonings and town planning approvals, a minefield for governments and the graveyard of well-meaning politicians who thought they were only acting in the public interest by rezoning their cousins’ farms so they could be turned into buoyant and creative suburbs.

Due to the grossly exaggerated, if not hysterical, publicity given to the Red Shirts issue, the government has been particularly sensitive to any suggestion, no matter how baseless, that subdivision and development approvals, particularly those that are subject to ministerial approval, might be helped along by political intervention. That concern has been thrown into sharp relief by the recent clean out and re-arrangement of the ministry to prepare for the next election, which has resulted in the elevation of the very able and reputable Lizzie Blandthorn as Minister for Planning.

By itself, that single change might not be so momentous were it not for the fact that the new minister has a brother. The brother is the equally able and reputable John-Paul Blandthorn, the head of the Labor party‘s favourite firm of lobbyists, Hawker Britton. As everyone knows, it is wise to retain that distinguished firm if you want a good result from any representation you might be making to the ALP.

How then to resolve this dilemma? To have one of these siblings involved in your project might be understandable and merely the confluence of two branches of an obviously redoubtable family, but to have both of them on the job might look like carelessness. The whole process, therefore, must be above reproach, like Caesar’s Palace, and I can fortunately report that the highest standards of propriety have definitely been applied to resolve what otherwise might turn out to be a tricky situation open to misinterpretation. And it is here that the real brilliance of the Andrews government has come to the fore. A lesser government would have taken one of the many easier options that were open to it. It could have put an embargo on all planning and zoning applications by clients of any firm of lobbyists or so-called government relations consultants. The developers must surely be able to read and write and they should be able to handle their own applications for permits and zoning. Or, when this completely coincidental family link to planning emerged, the minister could have been moved to a different portfolio less associated with planning and more with vastly more important causes like transgender rights and smoking ceremonies.

But the government hit on a brilliant solution. All planning applications and the like for clients of Hawker Britton will henceforth be diverted to a temporary or substitute minister appointed just for that case. That minister would have the case presented to him or her as one under this new regime for clients of Hawker Britton and would thus be able to tackle his task with the chastity of a Vestal Virgin.

It did not take long before ignorant outsiders like Donald Trump worshippers, subscribers to The Spectator Australia and Sky News, members the Institute of Public Affairs or one of the mad rightwing political parties started to complain in their unique mean-spirited way, that this was an obvious device to let the decision-making minister know that an application had been made by a friend of the government and that it was to be dealt with en famille. But that is a mean-spirited and suspicious interpretation to place on the actions of a government that should not be subjected to such shallow criticism and whom I hold in the highest regard. In reality, this is a new paradigm, a master stroke of reform that continues the proud history of the Andrews government and the high standards of probity and integrity for which it is justly renowned.

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