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Ethics are for people who care about others

Ethics are when you do something, not necessarily because of the rules or fear of punishment, but because it is the right thing to do.

In our personal lives, we must set our own standards. It is easy to lie, cheat and steal – but it isn’t fair. Honesty and integrity, a sense of fairness and equity, are crucial factors in a civilised society.

As neoliberal thinking has promoted the individual, ethics are becoming a forgotten memory practised only by idealistic schmucks.

Who could forget Kerry Packer’s answer to a Senate committee who questioned how little tax he paid.

“I’m not evading tax in any way shape or form. Of course I’m minimising my tax. If anybody in this country doesn’t minimise their tax they want their head read.”

Packer saw no obligation to contribute to the country that was making him a fortune yet he had no compunction about losing $20 million in one evening gambling at a London casino. What he was doing was immoral, not illegal.

The wealthier people are, the more they will pay to accountants to make sure they contribute as little as possible to the national purse.

Malcolm Turnbull, with investments in the Cayman Islands and mentioned in the Panama papers, has recently invested in Wall Street tech funds that hold shares in Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft – companies heavily criticised for their agility in shifting profits to low tax jurisdictions.

Gina Rinehart is continually telling us how much she contributes to the country but when it came to her Roy Hill mine, she agreed to use American steel and mining equipment in return for a loan from an American bank. She then applied for, and was granted, a substantial increase in 457 visa workers who were subsequently found to be being exploited doing long hours for sub-award pay in jobs they hadn’t signed up for.

Rupert Murdoch extracted $882 million from the public coffers purely by doing shonky paper shuffling, lending money to himself at exorbitant rates of interest.

Clive Palmer entered politics for one term, got rid of the carbon and mining taxes, and left. That still didn’t save his nickel refinery but it will be the workers and the creditors who will bear the brunt of that. Clive achieved his self-serving goal.

Even that supposed bastion of ethics, the church (cough), accumulates obscene amounts of money through their profitable business enterprises while tenaciously defending their exemption from contributing anything back in the way of taxes.

After the global financial crisis caused by banks making dodgy loans and then deliberately lying about their financial position, only one second tier banker was prosecuted and sentenced to 30 months in jail.

American financial history has generally unfolded as a series of booms followed by busts followed by crackdowns. After the crash of 1929, the Pecora Hearings seized upon public outrage, and the head of the New York Stock Exchange landed in prison. After the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, 1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the largest failed banks. In the ’90s and early naughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest and Tyco, among others, went to prison.

The credit crisis of 2008 dwarfed those busts, but the expected, even required, crackdown never happened. Governments increasingly focus on reaching settlements rather than seeking prison sentences or engaging in lengthy legal battles where they may well be outgunned.

Our banks, despite the many scandals that have been recently exposed, won’t face a Royal Commission. Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer admitted that, after meeting with Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison in April, the banks had agreed to appear before a parliamentary committee to avoid Labor’s proposed RC.

No-one is ever held accountable for unethical practices.

Look at the fiasco of politicians’ “entitlements”.

After yet another inquiry, they decided to change the name to “work expenses” and to ask people to exercise restraint by not chartering helicopters to travel short distances. Form a committee, hold an inquiry, make recommendations, and then carry on as before.

Hiring limousines to go to the football or the opera because you are obliged to drink is all part of the job apparently. Even though they only sit for a few weeks a year, they miss their families so much they have to have reunions in holiday destinations, paid for by us. And you can always find someone to meet with or some announcement to make in the town where your team is playing an important game. Free tickets, travel and accommodation paid for wherever you go, and any entertaining will be covered by the taxpayer – drink up.

They have a blatant disregard for their obligations as stewards of the nation’s finances, using the Treasury as their own endless source of funds. They grant money to their own think tanks which are really only creches for up-and-coming or ex-politicians. They shamelessly porkbarrel to win votes – “I’ll build you a stadium”, “we’ll instal CCTV cameras” being two that are dragged out every election, not to mention hospital funding if you vote for Sophie. Barnaby Joyce has sunk to new depths in that regard, callously insisting that hundreds of Canberran families move to his New England electorate or be unemployed.

Did Julie Bishop ever think about the cost/benefit of attending a charity dinner in Perth when she had to be in Canberra for work early the next morning? It cost us over $30,000 for a jet to fly empty from Canberra to Perth to pick her and her boyfriend up and take them back.

Tony Abbott’s five-day trip to the Torres Strait as prime minister cost more than $216,000 for him to get his photo taken. That money could have been better spent but our politicians think flying all over the place to make announcements or to turn the first sod is an acceptable use of our money – they don’t bat an eyelid.

At the same time as the government works to undermine workers’ rights and welfare safety nets, they are facilitating business being even less accountable and making even less contribution to the social contract. In a frenzy of deregulation, businesses are getting more rights to dictate rules to protect their profits.

Ethics have no place with individuals who are out to get rich, businesses that are seeking to maximise profit, and politicians whose only aim is to be re-elected.

Ethics are for people who care about others.

28 comments

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  1. Elvis Lives In My Attic

    Ethics have no place with individuals who are out to get rich, businesses that are seeking to maximise profit, and politicians whose only aim is to be re-elected.

    You seem to be saying ethics are not ethical unless they are your ethics. I don’t think ethics work that way.

  2. Kaye Lee

    We all have the capacity to make conscious choices. Some make those choices based on what is best for themselves, others on what is the ‘right’ thing to do for society, though I concede that will mean different things to different people.

    Is it too much to ask that people be honest and that they act with integrity, that they not lie and manipulate for personal gain, and that they recognise their obligation to the social contract which can only work if we all do our bit?

  3. Elvis Lives In My Attic

    I don’t think it’s too much to ask but it may be too much to expect or demand. Ethics is hard. Elvis taught me that.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Are we that far gone?

  5. patriciawa

    Altogether unfair and sweeping allegations of corruption by our politicians without substantiation. How about some instances of politicians in general failing to do the right thing?

    A few may fail, and get caught. We know about them. My own experience of Australian pollies after decades of general observation in the media and personal contact with lobbying on specific issues in the past – abortion, corporal punishment, racism – is one of conscientious concern and attention, whatever their political persuasion.

  6. helvityni

    “Is it too much to ask that people be honest and that they act with integrity, that they not lie and manipulate for personal gain, and that they recognise their obligation to the social contract which can only work if we all do our bit?”

    No, Kaye Lee, it’s not too much to ask, but sadly less an less people are living by that wonderful maxim.

    According to Dreyfus, Brandis is lying about lying… Some changes are badly needed…

    Thank you Kaye for fighting a good fight, trying to keep the bastards honest..

  7. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    The question of ethics and values is a highly interesting one. Another is the brain’s capacity to rationalise “unethical” behaviour – killing people is unethical, unless you are a soldier in a war because you are defending your country/way of life/etc.

    Stealing is a very interesting one. People steal all the time, whether its robbing houses, fiddling expenses or taxes, or taking a few more minutes at lunch, or phoning their partner on the company phone. Yet some stealing will result in jail time, whereas others will be applauded. Given that different cultures have different societal norms re. ownership, this can cause major issues, as many aboriginal Australians will attest where there land is stolen from them with no reprise, but if they but pinch a chocolate bar, or fail to pay a fine (for stealing “parking” or such like), the whole weight of the law thrown at them.

    But I have learned that because we have different values, it is impossible to come to rational conclusions because of these differences. What to us is politicians stealing, to them is (rationalised) compensation for the sacrifices they have made in representing their “community”. (Although I am aware through a colleague of a state Liberal MP who is more than happy to be on the gravy train, and makes no pretence that it is anything but amongst people he knows! – though he is from an eastern European background where such is almost expected).

    If you want to discuss an issue where you have a clear values conflict, don’t frame the conversation around the values as it will go nowhere. It needs to be framed in a currency that they understand – for politicians this would appear to be votes/their jobs. If they feel these are safe, unfortunately you’ll get nowhere, so you need to decide whether its worth expending your energy on it.

  8. Kaye Lee

    patriciawa

    I think it was more an allegation of self-interest than ‘corruption’, and I did specify politicians whose sole aim is to get re-elected.

    Does the “concern and attention” translate into action? I know there are some very good hard working pollies who just get on with the job and leave the grandstanding to others but they tend to be neutered by the party machine who do what they think is popular rather than what is ‘right’.’ My experience with pollies has left me feeling it’s all about the look. If there are no photographers they are less interested. As said, there have been exceptions who I truly respected and admired – not many though.

  9. richard grant

    Have not seen Bishop quizzed about her “flight expenses” or Chinese donations to the Liberal Party of WA.

  10. Zathras

    “Look at the fiasco of politicians’ “entitlements”.”

    Those at the top of the heap have “entitlements” – everyone else has “rorts” and if your “rort” affects the value someone else’s “entitlement”, then beware.

    It’s also like the preacher who argues that “I don’t practice what I preach because I’m not the kind of person I’m preaching to”.

    Funny how Bishop always seemed to be in Sydney or Melbourne on official business whenever her AFL team was playing in that city.

    A pity Joe Hockey has gone. I’d like to know why the taxpayer used to pick up the tab for him taking his family to his Queensland hobby farm.

    The list just goes on and on.

  11. Kaye Lee

    In 2016 there will be 51 sitting days in the House of Representatives. That leaves 315 days when they are not required to be in the chamber.

    Admittedly, this was an election year. In 2015 the HoR sat for 75 days with only 290 days where their presence was not required.

    And they don’t have to go anyway. On November 6 last year, the Courier Mail reported that Clive Palmer had “come to 84 of the 130 sitting days since he was elected in 2013.”

    Even when they are sitting, it’s only ever for two weeks with long weekends every week. I realise they have a lot of other stuff to do too, particularly if they are a Minister, but I find “family reunions” for backbenchers, and most Ministers, very questionable.

    Joe Hockey was with his family in Sydney, waved them off as they flew to Perth, and then joined them a few days later, all business class airfares paid for under “family reunion”. Tony Burke did something similar, flying with his family to Alice Springs for a “reunion”.

  12. babyjewels10

    Nailed it again, Kaye Lee.

  13. diannaart

    @Steve Laing

    You suggest we not speak in terms of values, ethics or morals when critiquing the self-indulgence of our leaders?

    You suggest we use language they will understand?

    You do understand, that talking the talk, maybe even walking the walk as a way to enlighten these people, is kind of joining the club?

    We can point out losing votes/jobs due to the flagrant hypocrisy of using public funds for personal advancement/enjoyment, while preaching to the public we should live within our means, will cost them the next election? When so far it hasn’t?

    The people who need to be convinced are the voters.

    Which is why an RC IS needed into banks – saying sorry after the fact by a, presumably, adult well-privileged male is not good enough.

    Which is why we need to promote AIMN and the 5th estate – the rest of ’em are paid to lie.

  14. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Hi Diannart – not quite, just that you will never convince someone to change their “values” as these are an inherent part of one’s self-identity. We can all agree that their behaviour conflicts with OUR values, but that won’t convince them to change their behaviour if such doesn’t conflict with their own values. Telling them to stop claiming expenses because it is wrong, won’t cut it – it is within the rules after all (as they keep reminding us). Telling them to stop because their electorate won’t vote for them, and they might pay attention. The problem is that so many of the bastards are in safe seats, so they can, and will, continue to behave with absolute impunity. And this is a not insignificant part of the issue.

    And I agree this is exactly why we need a royal commission into the banks. Malcolm and his cronies will not do anything to bring down people who are part of their “club”. Its why we need a Federal ICAC as well, but without Labor pushing for such (I wonder why…), that will never happen. Unfortunately the established parties are both unwilling to push for real change, which is why we end up with Palmer, Trump, Hanson, Farage et al. There is significant disillusionment with the political process, but the establishment aren’t willing to do anything to either understand the issue, nor the actual size of it, or really do anything about it. Instead we are constantly reminded that if we just vote Labor, everything will be fine…. until the bloody Libs get back in again…

    But it is why we need AIMN and the 5th estate 🙂 We are here to try and ensure that there is some degree of truth being told, and that it isn’t paid for by vested interests.

  15. Matters Not

    Ethical systems are often classified under the headings of deontological or teleological . Deontological ethical systems are concerned with ‘intentions’, ‘motivations’ and the like. They employ the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. People have the ‘duty’ to behave in certain ways. For example, it’s always ‘wrong’ to lie, regardless of the consequences. (Does my bum look to big in this? Tell the ‘truth’ at your peril. LOL) The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are ‘deontological’ in character. They tell people how to live their live.

    Teleological ethical systems are more concerned with ‘outcomes’ than ‘intentions’. It’s all about the ‘consequences’. Thus they are more concerned with the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ rather that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. There’s no ‘absolute’ rules or ‘duties’. The concept of ‘happiness’ is to the fore. The ‘greatest good’ for the ‘greatest number’. And so on.

    The legal system moves about a bit when it comes to ‘ethical’ systems. And that keeps some of the legal profession in work. Well remember a case some years ago where a driver was ‘over the limit’ and did some serious damage but escaped penalty because he argued that he didn’t think he was over the limit and therefore his ‘intention’ wasn’t ‘wrong’. He was always concerned to do the ‘right’ thing, never engaged in ‘wrong’ actions. He was found not guilty – after all he was a Priest who swore he lived by the Decalogue. That caused the law to change in Queensland. Now, when it comes to drink driving, it’s now the ‘outcome’ that counts and not the ‘intention’.

    There is of course another way. It’s called existentialist ethics. It’s what I am attracted to.

    https://philosophynow.org/issues/47/Is_an_Existentialist_Ethics_Possible

  16. jimhaz

    [Ethics are for people who care about others]

    That is a quotable quote. I googled it and did not find anyone else who had said the same exact set of words.

    I think the entertainment/media industry (as an outcome of technological advancement) is perhaps the top causal agent of the very, very noticeable decline in ethics. It allows the worst to be made open to everyone and lifts expectation of “easy money” or “I want what they have” and we gradually loose resistance to our own personal struggle with “greed control” – and this lack of discipline over greed is allowing the 1% to take us over as more try and imitate or suck up to them. They are not hated enough as the highly ethical group diminishes as a percentage of the population.

    Technology is always a two edged sword – without the current image distribution technology we were more easily satisfied. Internet technology increases the opportunities for negative, selfish or self interested complaining to the point where it can become habitual (yes, I’m looking in the mirror). Affluence itself adds to these affects – many of us act like the spoilt brats of affluent parents and in a generational sense we are.

    One of the problems is that we lose the bliss of ignorance and are harder to satisfy. One of the things with Trump is that I noticed that middle class people who don’t really need anything still complain as if their lives were hell – and that suggests to me a failure of greed control across the population.

    Evolution, which we experience directly via techonology, cannot work without a complimentary devolution of some aspect of a being. Though it may be two steps forward, it always involves at least one step back as an opportunity cost.

    “Macro Economic growth” really only means a) productivity improvement via technological improvement or b) the more powerful getting more from the less powerful as a contemporary trend or c) population growth. The latter is part of the one step back – for example though we can buy more stuff we don’t actually need, we are also regressing from home ownership to living in more compact housing, our environment is being squashed into more like an ant nest, as is the work environment with centralisation and over specialisation (it’s a 24/7 regression).

  17. jimhaz

    [It’s called existentialist ethics. It’s what I am attracted to]

    Yuk. I’m a fan of philosophy (or once was) – but that link was academic philosophy of which I have anti-interest. To me it is just dudes playing chess like word games. No philosopher of the last 100 years is of any worth to me – they are like artists who ape novel art of the past and call it their own. Wittgenstein and Quine for example shit me.

  18. Ella

    Kay Lee, a very thoughtful piece of writing. Thanks.
    My question to you is ;
    if the voting public’s ethics were better than those of the politicians we elect, would things be thus?
    Don’t we get the politicians we deserve?
    Why do we accept what is ?
    Why don’t we come out in droves and protest when we see unethical behaviour?
    Sartre would tell us we are free therefore we can choose.
    Could it be claimed that the silent majority accept how things are ?
    Perhaps it is time to introduce ethics and morality into school curriculums , economics degrees , and political science degrees.
    I sometimes wonder if the 5th estate and AIMN are preaching to the converted, but we need you all.

  19. helvityni

    Ella, there’s certainly time for something, time for improvements on so many levels…

    Freudenberg is concerned that our renewable energy targets are too high, dear me..

    If the silent majority is happy with things as they are, we are not going to change anyone’s opinion in hurry, no matter how much we rant and rave here.

  20. @RosemaryJ36

    It is harder for an ethical person to also be wealthy than for it is one who disregards ethics.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Ella,

    Sadly I think we have forgotten the benefits of community. We have become accumulators, often way beyond what we need. As jimhaz said, so many of us have our own personal struggle with “greed control” but, as many others could attest, the joys and benefits of helping others offer their own reward. On a selfish level, it’s good to feel good about yourself. It’s good to know you have made a contribution. And from a non-selfish perspective, together we can get through pretty much anything if we all help each other.

  22. Wayne Turner

    Talking of ethics.In this case,lack of.I am unemployed again,as of today.I have found it tough getting stable work,since I was made redundant twice last year,from 2 different full-time jobs – One I was in 9 years,and the other then 6 months – The last 2 decent jobs I have had.

    Because of said difficulty.I have had to,take what I can get.I was working as a casual at Daiso Australia,doing 2 to 3 days a week.Until,recently they underpaid me 2 weeks in a row.I politely pointed this out.Instead of my pay being fixed: I have suddenly been told that their is no more shifts for me anymore.It is clear they are unethical.With dodgy payslips to go with being underpaid. I am going to report them to “Fair Work” for the under paid and for dodgy payslips.Interestingly,I found a link below.Turns out Daiso has a history of ripping off workers ie: Daiso = Another 7 11.

    DODGY DAISO AND I URGE EVERYONE TO BOYCOTT ALL DAISO STORES.AND TELL THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW.

    Since I was made redundant twice last year.I have found many businesses to be dodgy and unethical.

    http://hijacked.com.au/the-week-that-was-ripped-off-workers-assange-is-restless-and-a-despicable-video

  23. diannaart

    Steve

    Wanting very much to chat further, but used up energy quotient with Annie B. Maybe tomorrow?

  24. Matters Not

    Ella:

    Sartre would tell us we are free therefore we can choose.

    Not really. Sartre is arguing that because we are free we ‘must’ and ‘do’ choose on each and every occasion, even though we might not be conscious of that. Choosing is inescapable. It’s a characteristic of the ‘human condition’. So, (for Sartre) the notion of ‘choosing not to ‘choose’ is an impossibility. So when you say:

    Could it be claimed that the silent majority accept how things are ?

    Yes. But when you analyse it, the ‘acceptance of how things are’ is actually a choice, even though people mightn’t be aware of that. Putting your head under the pillow and pretending it isn’t happening is a ‘choice’, even though most don’t seem to appreciate that.

    To go further. When one ‘reads’ anything, they ‘choose’ the meaning they will give to same. Sure that ‘choice’ is heavily influenced by outside forces such as ‘culture’ and the like, but in the final analysis it’s still a choice. It’s why other individuals construct a different ‘reality’. Choice!

  25. my say

    To quote our Australian of the year,[THE STANDARD YOU WALK PAST, IS THE STANDARD YOU ACCEPT],It is way past time to make our voices heard

  26. Zue

    Wayne, I sympathise.

    I believe there is research (can’t find it, unfortunately) that shows a correlation between inequality and corruption; that is, as income inequality grows in a society, so does corruption. Just another reason why our government should be striving to reduce income inequality, not promote it.

  27. townsvilleblog

    Ethics combine with empathy and compassion to make a person whole, the tories are worshipers of money and concern themselves with nothing else.

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