Politicians 'careless' about democracy, accountability, Professor Helen Sullivan says

Professor Helen Sullivan is the new dean of the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific. Picture: Supplied
Professor Helen Sullivan is the new dean of the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific. Picture: Supplied

Australian politicians have shown carelessness towards the ideals of democracy and transparency, proving the need for a federal corruption body, a public policy expert says.

Professor Helen Sullivan, who became dean of the Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific in July, said public accountability was particularly important during a time when governments were making decisions which impacted heavily on the lives of citizens.

"It's also important because without that transparency that goes with accountability, then it becomes all too easy to wander off into the into the wilds of conspiracy theories and misinformation because there's no way of really judging what's accurate and what isn't," Prof Sullivan said.

She said the rolling pork-barrelling scandals had demonstrated a disregard for accountability among the political class.

Meanwhile, the democratic system was celebrated without an acknowledgement it needs an effective regulatory instrument, such as a federal anti-corruption body.

"At the moment we don't really have that [accountability] and it's compounded, I think, by the real carelessness with which some of our political leaders seem to consider questions of integrity and the way in which there doesn't seem to be in some cases a really proper regard for what good political conduct looks like," Prof Sullivan said.


While the public had become used to seeing experts give advice during the pandemic, Prof Sullivan said it was unlikely politicians would continue to rely on expertise when making decisions.

Prof Sullivan has taken on the deanship during a period of harsh budget cuts.

Travel restrictions have hampered research in the College of Asia and the Pacific and also prevented some international students from starting their courses.

"Much of what we do is in the region and it requires a presence in the region, and indeed, globally. Not being able to travel to do field work is a huge problem," she said.

"We're now having to think of other ways of undertaking fieldwork and research that can give us the kind of data and evidence that we need."

Online learning was likely to be around for the long-term for people who needed the flexibility to fit study around other commitments, she said.

Her appointment means four out of seven deans at the ANU are women.

People often tell Prof Sullivan she doesn't look like an academic with her eclectic sense of fashion.

"I see dressing as part of a performance. It's part of an extension of your personality and so I've always been interested in things that reflect different aspects of myself. It's a way of making connection with people as well," she said.

This story Politicians 'careless' about democracy and accountability, expert says first appeared on The Canberra Times.