Fiona McLeod SC, a leading Australian barrister and the chairwoman of the Accountability Round Table, says in her important new book, Easy Lies and Influence, that accountability is “strengthened by knowledge” and “hinges upon truth”. How are we to know why and how public money is spent? Our parliaments have lost the will to hold executives to account and are now little more than theatres for indulgent braggadocio. Politicians have become adept at diverting journalists’ questions into platforms for obfuscating talking points.
The Ministerial Code of Conduct in NSW requires ministers “to be seen to exhibit the highest standards of probity in the exercise of their offices”. But if we must depend on politicians to know whether they have applied those standards, then how are we to know whether what they show us is true – and how, then, are they truly accountable?
That is why the ICAC’s work is so crucial to our democracy and it is also why we need an effective federal integrity commission. As last week’s public inquiry showed, the ICAC gives us the opportunity to see, hear, and eventually know the truth. It has a powerful arsenal independently to seek and reveal the truth.
“Don’t make speeches”, Berejiklian was repeatedly admonished, and eventually she stopped doing so, and began to answer questions. And so, in last week’s public inquiry, we began to be shown the truth about how our money is spent. As McLeod writes, the pillars of democracy are “trust, truth, integrity and accountability” and “when we give up on truth, when we abandon all pretence of accountability, we concede power to those who serve their own interests.”
Ian Neil SC is a leading Australian barrister.