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.