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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Would we know good governance if we see it?

Miss Eagle finds herself focussing more and more on the topic of governance. So it seems about time to discuss what governance means. Miss E's ancient Concise Oxford Dictionary (Sixth impression 1978) gives the following definition:
n. Act, manner, fact, or function, of governing; sway, control

The phrase "corporate governance" has entered the language in recent years following spectacular failures in governance and oversight across the globe.

Miss Eagle has been discussing governance in the public sphere; in particular, in the state and federal governments of the Commonwealth of Australia. In Australia, there are quite a few runs for poor performance getting up on the scoreboard.

Governance is a simple word. It differs from the word Government which relates more to(definition thank s to the old COD):

1. System of governing, form of organization of State.
2. Body or successive bodies of persons governing a State; the State as an agent; and administration or ministry.

Another term for governance in the public sphere (as opposed to the corporate or business sphere) is Public Administration.
Australia has produced some fine servants of the public who have exhibited a high level of administrative expertise in the public interest. Miss Eagle thinks of her hero, Nugget Coombs;

Sir John Crawford; Sir Lenox Hewitt OBE (father of British politician, Patricia Hewitt); and John Menadue. Perhaps there are, as this is written, distinguished men and women beavering away within bureaucracies of state and federal government.
However, life has moved on in public administration. Most heads of department are on timed contracts. They are dependent on their political masters to renew their contract. Prior to the introduction of timed contracts, public servants were tenured. The contract system has allowed a thorough-going politicisation of the public sector. (Yes Miss E knows that politicisation did precede the introduction of contracts but it is Miss E's view that politicisation was not on the same scale as that which prevails now.) Time and again public administration in Australia seems to demonstrate master-pleasing advice and action rather than the old "without fear or favour" culture.

The servants of the public are not acquitting themselves well. Instance the equivocation, cover up, inaction, avoidance and blurring by DFAT bureaucrats before the AWB inquiry.

Miss Eagle is not the only with a point of view about governance in Australia. Over at Casting a short shadow, Miss Eagle discovered a reference to a speech by Lieutenant General John Sanderson, AC given as the Annual Oration 2007 to the Order of Australia Association entitled Federal Renewal and Unity in Reconciliation: a return to government by the people.

Miss Eagle is happy to forward a copy of this speech to readers if they email their requests to Miss Eagle's email address which is accessible if you look under the AusFlag logo on the sidebar.