Can you successfully sue a politician? Maybe.

p2321-NT-cabinetLETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – This story started with my joining the local Bendigo Bank as a volunteer board member five years ago.

 

Directors are meant to ensure the bank operates legally as well as effectively.

 

We are also meant to link the community and the bank while being personally accountable for the bank’s legal operation (Corporations Act 2001).

 

Well, this started me wondering, if I as a volunteer am meant to be accountable, what about our elected officials and their senior advisors?

 

Are they equally accountable? Sure, we can throw them out if we are unhappy with their performance at the next election, but what about in the meantime?

 

In the current political, social and economic climate our society has seen the erosion of social equity and fair play. Biased decision making has favoured vested interests, time and time again.

 

So my question was formed: “Are elected officials and their senior advisors personally culpable if they make decisions contrary to ethical practice, negligently or against the common law principle of natural justice?”

 

The answer is maybe. There is a thing called Crown immunity (Legal Aid , Alice Springs 2016).

 

In Belgium “The King / Queen is inviolable. The ministers are accountable”.

 

In Australia it appears to be similar but not fully explored – see the case of the Hindmarsh Bridge and ministerial responsible. There is no constitutional provision for Crown immunity in Australia.

 

Public servants (including politicians) are meant to make decisions on the basis of the most good for the most number and leave no one behind.

 

There is also an implication that our decision makers will be impartial by following similar rules as the court system: There is evidence, there is procedural fairness and there is full disclosure.

 

So if I am to have a conscience and be accountable for my decisions  as a volunteer director, I expect my elected officials and their advisors to be equally accountable for their decisions. And it seems that is the case.

 

And if it is not the case we need to change the law so that our representatives (the public service) are accountable throughout their terms for their decisions.

 

Personally, I am not interested in litigation, but I would like our government decisions to favour all of us and not just the “big end of town”.

 

Dalton Dupuy
Alice Springs

 

Photo: The NT Cabinet in June last year.

 

 

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6 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. R Henry
    Posted April 19, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I should think in a lot of cases there would be fair grounds for breach of contract?

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  2. Hal Duell
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Also fraud. If a candidate wins an election on the back of membership of one political party and then changes his/her stripes, isn’t that fraud?
    Case in point are those who were elected in the last Federal election as members of the Palmer United Party. Are any still members? While I have no affection for the PUP, if I voted for any candidate on the strength of their being a member of a political party, and were he/she to then announce a change of heart, I would feel defrauded if they didn’t resign and bring about a by-election.
    The question of repaying the money spent by that political party is another question.

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  3. Hal Duell
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Love the thinking behind this most audacious idea, while doubting that it will ever see the light of day.
    But just in case, here’s another string to add to your bow. Isn’t “truth in advertising” an accepted principle? And aren’t candidates on the campaign trail advertising themselves through their promises?

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  4. Dalton Dupuy
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I prefer a face to face on the subtleties of elected officials accountability. In the past it has been as Phil described but only based on common law findings.
    However, if a minister signs something into law or regulation or contractually without observing the ethics as stated that minister and advisors become exposed to litigation.
    If the Parliament passes a law and it is contrary to ethical practice, conflicts with Commonwealth legislation or the constitution, then those voting for it may become collectively responsible.
    It is now in several countries in Europe that members of Parliament must be ethical in their decision making or face consequences personally.

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  5. Peter
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    @ Phil: Resprehensible isn’t the half of it. Corrupt, morally bankrupt or simple plain idiocy may be closer to the mark.
    The question is, do we sue them, jail them, stocks, public floggings or lead them quietly behind the garden shed and dispose of them as inhumanely as possible?
    I know which one I favour. Let’s not forget they opened the gate on this with the Delia stuff.
    We had better stop meeting like this or Elferink will think we are putting an album out.

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  6. Phil Walcott
    Posted April 8, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Great question, Dalton.
    My understanding is that once a particular piece of legislation is adopted by the NT Parliament, it becomes a decision of the Parliament as a whole so no one member is held accountable.
    I like your thinking though. There have been some reprehensible decisions taken by particular members of this current Parliament that I believe they should be held personally accountable for.
    Phil Walcott
    Independent candidate for Braitling

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