Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Lazy Million

It's no secret that the Coalition takes leaking pretty damn seriously.

As in, Commonwealth Public servants leaking Coalition policy, notes, background information or smart arse internal emails to the media. John Howard, a nortoriously ill humoured bloke who would never have earned the nickname 'Smiles and Sunshine,' was especially ill humoured about leaking. In fact, he tried his absolute best to get the people responsible for leaking that stuff about the 'Children Overboard' scandal floated out into the Timor Sea in a leaky boat.

Leakers in a leaky boat? Ha ha ha!

Thanks Bruno Kirby!

And JWH's mini Me, Tony Abbott, is very much of the same mind. It was only a few months ago, immediately prior to the election, that Abbott refused to submit his election promises to Treasury for costing, citing fears that rogue public servants would leak all of the unfunded and half baked... sorry, carefully thought out Coalition proposals and how the figures behind them were calculated. At the time Abott wanted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate an earlier leak of Coalition policy from within Treasury, and demanded severe penalities for anyone caught disseminating classified information, much as his mentor had done during his reign of terror.

The Coalition, as I said, take leaking pretty damn seriously, and have no hesititation in setting the Feds on any public servants who try it on in an attempt to make them look bad. And everyone with an interest in politics knows it.

So it may come as some surprise then, that the Rudd/Gillard government, during it's 3 and a bit years in power, have made more referrals to the AFP for investiagtions of leaking than Howard did during his last three and a bit years in power. Twice as many, in fact, according to a story in yesterday's 'Age'.

The picture painted of this process is far from an inspiring story of modern crimefighting.

The AFP runs a unit based in Canberra called 'Special References', which exists largely to investigate public service leaking. Special References is staffed by 17 full time officers and budgeted at a cost of $1 million dollars per annum. Since 2005, the unit has had 48 'leaky' cases referred to it by Governments of both stripes, and has managed to bring 4 successful convictions from those (at a pitiful success rate of 4%). The sentences for the four people convicted ranged from good behaviour bonds to community service.

'Serpico' it ain't.

Commenting on this lame, pointless bit of Government activity, an anonymous AFP source quoted by 'The Age' described the 'Special References' unit as doing 'menial' work, whose staff would 'rather be doing drug busts' and who felt that they were referred cases only when the the Goivernment of the day had the 'shits' about something.

Obviously a million bucks well spent then.

When questioned about this, the Prime Minister, or rather, the Prime Minsiter's spokesperson, offered up a mouthful of gibberish that would have made Don Watson or anyone else reach for their gun. To save you from reading a direct quote and losing all hope for humanity, I'll summarise it for you thus: 'The Government can get the AFP to investigate anything we like and we don't give a fuck how much it costs or what anyone thinks about it.'

Now looked at in one way, this is only a minor story. Governments have always used the AFP to try and persecute their enemies and this is unlikely to change. And Governments have always wasted pots of dough on whatever lunatic projects take their fancy. And a million bucks is small beer and potatoes in comparison to the vast sums of tax payer money that are wasted every day on much larger schemes (think Green Loans and Home Insulation schemes as examples for the current Government).

But it's precisely the everyday, mundane, commonness of this occurrence that makes it important. The AFP has far better things to do than trying to track down who sent Laurie Oakes an email that gives the Government the shits. And our tax payer dollars could and should be employed far better than indulging the Prime Minister's petty vendettas against whomever they decide has crossed them.

This is nothing less than a blatant waste of Government time, money and paper. Which is to say, it's a waste of our time, money and paper. Well, money anyway, which is important. Every year, every month, every day, bucketloads of public money are flushed away in an endless series of Government activities like this one, and this at a time when the we're told, time and again, that the Government has to tighten it's belt and there's no money for building new train lines or buying computers for schools. The real belt tightening should be in relation to reiging in Government self indulgence, paid for with our cash.

When it comes to tax payer money, there should be no such thing as a lazy million.

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