Monday, April 10, 2006

Should politicians and “political” public servants be personally liable for their mistakes?

Two quotes from the weekend’s papers, re the failures of privatisation in Victoria/Melbourne:


Privatising the system would reduce the subsidy, provide better services and new trains . . . Mr Z said [c. 1992-93]. It was a "win, win, win" for Victoria. He predicted the changes would be the envy of the world . . .

Mr Z recently expressed dismay at the outcome: "We now pay billions in subsidies to the private operators, which was not the idea of privatisation," he said . . .

Mr Z told The Sunday Age privatisation had turned out "different from what we intended . . . "


“[H]is experience of the involvement of private-sector lawyers in drafting legislation . . . was almost always ‘woefully unhappy’. “There was a series of catastrophes and as a result the policy of engaging lawyers in the drafting process was wound back,’ he says.


Well, derr. I’ve always believed – and said – that privatisation in Australia was simply a slightly more orderly, polite version of the mass pillage that occurred in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the early-mid 90s

But rather than feeling vindicated by the above quotes, I’m livid. The thing is that the two speakers – respectively, former Premier Jeff Kennett* and former Crown Counsel under Kennett, Greg Craven** – were ultimately responsible for both these privatisation failures.

Of the two, I have some misgivings about putting Greg Craven in the same league of responsibility as Jeff Kennett. The former’s appointment as “Crown Counsel” was emphatically both a “political” and senior role, but I really have no way of knowing its autonomy, i.e. where the failure “buck” should be deemed to stop precisely. But as Greg Craven’s (i) a not-very-good former lecturer of mine and (ii) a boomer who AFAICT has had his whole career served to him on a platter, I think I’ll go for a maximalist version of Greg Craven’s responsibility. The other thing that needs noting here is that the privatisation of legislative drafting was eventually ‘wound back’, presumably while Craven was still Crown Counsel.

The failed privatisation of Melbourne’s public transport will cost Victorian taxpayers $2.1bn over the next four years (URL below). Despite this, there does not seem to be the political will to reverse it. I believe that both this financial failure, and the difficulty of its reverse/remedy were eminently foreseeable, and that Jeff Kennett should be held personally liable for these billions of losses.

The failed privatisation of legislative drafting has not cost billions, but it was also eminently foreseeable by Greg Craven. Subject to my above reservations about his autonomy and his late-in-the-day mitigation, Craven should be personally liable for the millions (I’m guessing) his stupid ideological frolic cost taxpayers.

* William Birnbauer “Privatised trains, trams on the wrong track” Age 9 April 2006

** Marcus Priest “News laws do create jobs – for lawyers” AFR 8 April 2006

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?