In addition to studying ethics as part of my law degree, I have also served on two university ethics committees, the second one as the required legal member.
The material detailing the requirements of those serving on these committees, which has to be read and responsibly applied, should be required study for anyone aspiring to a political career – most particularly on social science policy issues.
A university, depending on the range of disciplines on offer, would have at least one ethics committee.
If research is in the context of social science, there will be a Human Research Ethics committee, which is required, among other issues, to ensure avoidance of harm, protection of privacy and protection from disclosure which might adversely affect the participant. The committee would have a much wider brief if medical research is involved, to ensure that participants are fully aware of any risks to health which might be involved in participating.
In the veterinary side of research, there would again be important safeguards on the animals’ well-being.
If you think deeply about it, every policy developed by any government has implications for, mostly, the health and well-being of the people affected by the policy and, occasionally, the animals involved in – as seen recently – areas like horse or dog racing.
So politicians engaged in approving policy ought to be aware of the ethical issues raised by proposed legislation and take care to avoid causing unintended harm.
The significant problem with a political system which has two major parties, is that, belonging to a party requires the individual to accept the party policy. There might be an opportunity to voice individual views at party meetings, but, once policy guidelines have been determined, the individual mist toe the line – or resign.
If we had at least three parties of similar size, opportunities for compromise and consensus might occur, but the permanent Coalition between the Liberal Party and the plethora of other, smaller conservative parties, has totally thwarted this possibility.
So any attempt to reach consensus when discussing policy is unlikely to succeed when ideology trumps any desire to best serve the nation – rather than wealthy donors.
In years gone by there used to be reference to ‘small l’ liberals and the more conservative ‘hard L’ liberals – but now we seem to be driven by a blind ideology based on power at all costs.
We NEED legislation to control donations.
We NEED ethical behaviour and transparency in policy making.
We NEED Ministers to resign when they are found guilty of wrong-doing.
And – in the absence of leaders with integrity, who will enforce ethical behaviour standards – WE NEED AN ICAC WITH TEETH!
Integrity within the Public Service is also in doubt, and no public servant or elected parliamentarian deserves to be exempted from public scrutiny when there is clear evidence of possible corruption.
Before she married at age 35, my mother was in the UK Civil Service.
Her position, prior to mandatory resignation on marriage, (thank goodness times have changed!) was as Personal Private Secretary to the Controller of the Stationery Office. A quasi-government organisation, responsible for printing and storing all manner of government issued materials, my mother worked for William Codling and Norman Scorgie, 2 of the senior people mentioned in this article.
With her boss out of the office most of most days, she had the task of having to deal with requests for papers of varying degrees of confidentiality from variously important people, and to deny a request without offending.
Had she ever been guilty of accepting a gift, she would have been out on her ear, quick smart!
That ruling applied to all members of the Civil Service. They had permanent positions, with the possibility of promotion, so that provided a strong level of motivation to not break the rules.
Politicising the Public Service here, so that permanence and promotion no longer have any certainty, has potentially two adverse effects – it reduces the motivation to behave ethically and it destroys the accumulated knowledge and wisdom. “Yes, Minister” and “Yes. Prime Minister” might have been based on a measure of truth, but, when you think about it – no Minister, appointed for a few years, often to handle several portfolios, has the depth of knowledge required to make complex decisions, and to engage external bodies for policy advice runs the risk of accepting suggestions which are biassed by the advisors external interests.
Why are we not surprised that we have a Prime Minister who is developing energy policy which ignores all scientific evidence of the need for greater use of renewable energy, when he is relying on advice touted by a gas and oil magnate?
If you want reliable advice from the Public Service, you must give them the certainty that disagreeing with the Minister will not end in their dismissal!
And they, in turn, need to be people of integrity – which is not guaranteed if the advice is coming from political staffers!
The recent continuum of disasters – a failing economy, high un/under-employment, wages flat-lining, unprecedented bush fires, followed by COVID-19 – has shown, in all its glory, the ineptitude of the Coalition government and its failure to use appropriate advice.
No major country has handled the pandemic well, except, possibly, China – and of that we cannot have any certainty, because so much secrecy surrounds their actions.
Part of the confusion in Australia has arisen from history – the separation of powers between Commonwealth and States or Territories but – much more importantly – further muddied by political differences.
Just as the ALP’s handling of the GFC earned praise from other OECD countries, while being rubbished by the Coalition, so, now, Daniel Andrews’ hard lock-down in Victoria is being praised and copied by many European governments, where the resurgence of the virus is causing chaos, yet the Morrison government is throwing mud at him at every opportunity.
I am sure Morrison was reluctant to follow advice for a spending campaign which echoed the GFC actions – maybe that is why it started so late – but his plan was so ill-designed that there are hundreds of people in despair because they are at risk of becoming totally destitute.
And those numbers include non-Australian citizens, with no means of leaving Australia, and no government help to keep body and soul together.
The ONLY way we are going to get a decent corruption policy will be through people power and, possibly, civil disobedience.
I will update my regular sign off!
What do we want?
How do we want it!
With real teeth!
When do we want it?
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