Rational avoidance of accountability
QUT Law Review
Governments across Australia regularly present the public with new accountability mechanisms. They are often developed reluctantly but, when released, presented as proof of the government's bona fides as an honest and democratic institution. Nonetheless the public does not have a very high level of confidence in their political and executive institutions. 1 The reasons for this apparent inconsistency may be numerous but there is one immediate question that can be asked: Why does the public
... distrust government even though the amount of accountability regimes is increasing? The simple answers may be that either the public is unaware of the good done by these regimes and/or the regimes do not work. This paper will present a logical argument to show that it is advantageous for governments to produce accountability mechanisms but disadvantageous for these mechanisms to function effectively. Anthony Downs' public choice theory proposes that every rational person tries to meet their own desires in preference to those of others, and that such rational persons would attempt to obtain these desires in the most efficient manner possible. This paper will demonstrate that the application of this theory would mean that public servants and politicians would perform acts of corruption and maladministration in order to efficiently meet their desires. As such action is unavoidable, political parties must appear to meet the public demand for accountability systems, but must not make these systems viable lest they expose the corruption and maladministration that would threaten the government's chance or re-election. It is, therefore, logical for governments to display a commitment to accountability whilst simultaneously ensuring these same systems would not expose the government's flaws. 2 This paper will begin by describing the nature of public trust, that is, the relationship between public officials and the voters on whose behalf they administer the government. It will then discuss the components of Downs' theory of public choice. The next section will synthesise the two notions to see how they interact. Finally, the paper * LLB BA(Hons) PhD, Lecturer, School of Justice, QUT.