News & Commentary

PM Scott Morrison and his Merry Men of the Oversight

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Alas and alack to be these three syllables: oversight. It’d be exhausting. The work never stops. You get hauled out of bed, away from family and friends such as overshot and overside, at the drop of a hat. You’re on constant call, any time of the day or night. You’re thrown into situations not of your own making and then you have to grin and bear it and take the blame.

You hear the accusations thrown to the world, and the world tut tuts back at you. It looks at you pityingly as if to say, Doesn’t know any better, the poor thing. 

You know well the phrases: “It was all oversight’s fault.” “It had nothing to do with me/him/her.” “Oversight, now there’s the culprit.” “It was an oversight.”

The last one hurts the most. A contagion upon the earth, you are, no more a useful member of the lexicon of humankind, but now stained with the mud of politics.

You cannot defend yourself, after all you are defined by what you are, but so many people want a piece of you these days. Where’s the personal responsibility? Now, it’s no one’s fault but that damn oversight. And the beauty of dragging you into the public domain is it absolves almost everything to do with whom the incident/scandal is attached.

A person can walk away, as if on sunbeams, guilt-free, and is there a better way to walk away from outrage? Its beauty is also that it is universal, it circles the globe.

In the past few days oversight has surfaced in the nation’s capital. It was in the form of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and his holiday to Singapore, which he thought he had paid for on credit card, but hadn’t until it was brought to public attention and clamour. Prime Minister Scott Morrison came to his defence:  “There was an oversight which has been identified and he’s fixed it up. What more can he do?”

As The Age reported, Cormann’s flights for a family holiday to Singapore “were paid for by a travel company controlled by Liberal Party Treasurer Andrew Burnes within weeks of that company winning a $1billion contract from Senator Cormann’s department.

Where’s the personal responsibility? Now, it’s no one’s fault but that damn oversight.

“Helloworld, a listed company of which Mr Burnes is the chief executive, booked tickets for Senator Cormann, his wife and two children on the company’s ‘staff and family travel’ account.”

Burnes has blamed an “internal administrative oversight”.

Then Joe Hockey, former treasurer and now US ambassador, was drawn into the Helloworld story over the awarding of travel contracts and the fact that he owned shares in the company. Hockey, declared the PM, in his actions had acted without fault. It seems oversight was not needed for either leaning or lifting.

Of course, oversight, knowing no boundaries, can pop up anywhere – in academic circles, the corporate world, or even in well-meaning Christmas Cards. Late last year the Dorchester Historical Society in the US thought it was just having harmless fun. When it was dreaming of a white Christmas for an open day, it didn’t really consider the flow-on effect. It was pounded for being racist. There was an apology:  

“We are very truly sorry about our graphic used for this event. This was an unfortunate oversight on our part and the event photograph has been removed from our social media,” the historical society wrote. “We were simply changing the words to the classic Christmas carol and did not think it through properly.”

More than 250 years ago, Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of the English Language marked the role of oversight. In its use as an error, he used this quote from Alexander Pope: “Not so his son, he mark’d this oversight, and then mistook reverie of wrong for right.”

Poor, poor word, torn between innocence and expediency, and fated in these times to always being on call.

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