Minister’s Oath is Wrong

Posted by Des Menz in My State - South Australia on 26 March 2018

One week before the South Australian state election on 17 March 2018, I wrote a letter to one of my regional newspapers, The Plains Producer. It was about how we the voter have been failed by those who we elect, and are awarded a minsterial portfolio.

The SA Oaths Act 1936 is as anachronistic as it is irrelevant when it comes to Ministers swearing allegiance. The oath they take is not to you, but to the Queen. 

Here lies the reason why lies, deceit, and incompetence are deeply embedded in ourpolitical system.


Broken Oath

What hope has the mug voter got? The incessant theatre in Canberra has revealed how little respect that Ministers place on their oath of office to “well and truly serve the people of Australia”, and their abrogation of the requirement in the Statement of Ministerial Standards that says that public business should be conducted “with the sole objective of advancing the public interest”.

An oath is a quid pro quo contract, a promise. These Ministers swear their oath with a hand on the Bible or the Koran as the case may be, or make an affirmation accordingly. 

But what about South Australia? Members of the Executive Council (Ministers and the Governor) of government, Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries are all required to swear an oath of allegiance under the Oaths Act 1936. These people swear to “well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth” in their respective capacities. The Executive Council, and all those Ministers, also swear an oath of fidelity “for the good management of the public affairs of the state” and shall be “committed to secrecy”.

This would have to be the biggest copout in South Australian governance. We the mug voters do not get a look-in. We are not “well and truly served”, there is no contract with us, there is no accountability to us.

This is appalling and a disgrace, and how it has been allowed to continue is beyond my comprehension. The oath is to a monarch in a far-away country, not to South Australia and its people. There is no allegiance to us, and secrecy abounds everywhere.

And so this brings me to the competence of Ministers. What a worrying spectacle it has been. The cover-ups, the secret deals, throwing money around like confetti, dumb investigations like the nuclear fuel cycle royal commission, selling public assets (e.g. Land Title Office and forestry) without the public having a say, the abandonment of written strategies as soon as they are published (e.g. “No Species Loss 2007-2017”, “Climate Change Adaptation Framework 2012"), ignoring environmental laws, breaking the law, deliberate under-resourcing of natural resources management, poor responses to State of Environment reports (which by themselves are deeply concerning), no comparable 30-year plan for rural SA as there is for greater Adelaide, no strategies about building landscape and biodiversity resilience in the face of encroaching climate change, ignoring calls about strategies for protecting the dozens of small towns against cropland wildfire (this is a huge unacknowledged issue). And the list goes on. Who or which organisation oversights the performance of Ministers, including how taxpayer’s money is handed to businesses that least need it? Haven’t they heard of zero-interest loans? Haven’t they heard about decentralisation?

We have been failed. 

Four years ago, on the eve of the last state election, I wrote a long letter to the Premier and Opposition leader about a new deal for rural SA. I offered solutions for the creation of thousands of jobs, all backed by CSIRO research. They must have thought I was a lunatic. 

What have we got today? Look at all the policies from the five main parties contesting the election. The word “environment” is scarcely mentioned, except by the Greens, and even then it is narrowly focused.  

So, what’s the immediate solution? Dump the Oaths Act. It’s meaningless to Ministers, except for all  their secrets. It allows incompetence to flourish. All politicians need to sign a contract with us, make an oath to us the people who put them into parliament, swear to uphold the law and the health and well-being of the people and the environment. Here’s a thought - establish a Commission of government integrity and fair dealing. Then we might get some democracy back into government. People might get back their voice.

Who to vote for in the upcoming election? Popularity contests always bring out pledges and promises, and truckloads of confetti. Beware.

The Oaths Act binds politicians, who are fortunate to be given Ministerials status, to serve the Queen. 

I find this as repugnant as cheats who get found out in sport.

Ministers and the Premier must swear to well and truly serve us, the environment, and uphold the law.

© Des Menz 2014-18
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