Dick Puddlecote has uncovered yet more evidence of foul play in the plain packaging consultation, including secret meetings between ministers and lobbyists which were hidden from the public record until exposed by journalists (see more here and here).
Almost every aspect of this public consultation to date has been an insult to democracy. To take a few examples off the top of my head...
The DoH invited two zealous supporters of plain packaging to review the evidence, including a far-left fruitcake who sees himself as being at war with marketing in all its forms. It then produced an impact assessment document which the Regulatory Policy Committee rightly considered shoddy.
The DoH gave the pro-plain pack campaigners millions of pounds to put up billboards and set up websites to encourage the public to support the policy (as it did in the previous tobacco consultation). In addition to making demonstrably false claims, these groups have encouraged fraudulent signatures to various petitions.
The DoH extended the consultation period after a foreign government asked it to do so. Throughout the process the DoH has been sharing private information with Australia's premier anti-smoking nut.
Now we find out that the DoH has been doctoring its own website to conceal 'inappropriate' meetings between ASH and the health minister. And the consultation document still hasn't been published. Considering the flagrant bias of the DoH staff who are compiling it, we can expect it to be a masterpiece of whitewashing.
Are all government departments as corrupt as the Department of Health? They can't be, can they? The problem stems, I think, from the fact that so many people working in the field of health today see themselves as campaigners and policy-makers—yesterday's call-to-arms from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges being only the most recent manifestation of this. This undoubtedly extends to bureaucrats working in the Department of Health (what better job could an activist hope to get?). It is telling that the DoH is the only government department to openly admit to funding pressure groups.
This merging of bureaucracy and activism is extremely problematic for democracy. The primary goal of activists is not truth, but action. Once they have set themselves a goal, they will go to any lengths to achieve it. That is tolerable when they are outsider groups competing with others in the battle of ideas, but it is much more troubling when they are inside the system with their hands on the purse-strings and the levers of power at their fingertips.