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The Australian Government’s dangerous state of silence

By Steve Davies

  • Introduction
  • Understanding Moral Disengagement
  • Moral Disengagement in Government
  • The Impact on Policy
  • The Human Cost
  • The Challenge
  • Judging Moral Disengagement
  • Resources




Moral disengagement is a huge problem in the Australian Government and its public service. To this day major political parties remain silent on this issue. Labor, Liberal and the Greens are all silent despite the facts and the science.

Moral disengagement is the process by which individuals or groups distance themselves from their own moral standards, allowing them to engage in behaviour that they would otherwise find unacceptable.

The phenomenon of moral disengagement fuels corrupting and abusive behaviours and practices in government. It causes harm to individuals and society as a whole. It is a serious issue that demands attention and action.



Understanding Moral Disengagement

Moral disengagement is a psychological and social mechanism that allows individuals to justify unethical behaviour without feeling guilty or responsible for the consequences of their actions. It is enables people to engage in harmful behaviours without feeling any sense of responsibility.

There are several mechanisms of moral disengagement. For example, using euphemistic language to describe actions, making them seem less harmful than they actually are. Using displacement of responsibility, blaming others for their actions rather than taking responsibility themselves. Minimising the harm caused by actions, arguing that the benefits outweigh the costs.




Moral Disengagement in Government

When moral disengagement becomes the norm, especially among people with power and status, it infects entire institutions.

In Australia media report after media report, enquiry after enquiry showed how morally disengaged the Morrison Government was.

Robodebt, the behaviour towards women within the parliament, conflicts of interest, the abuse of whistleblowers and throwing millions of dollars at consultancy companies. The list goes on and on.

Moral disengagement has been normalised in the Australian Government and its public service. It does not magically go away with the election of a new government.

Open public conversation and government transparency are key steps towards eradicating moral disengagement.




The Impact on Policy

We must act decisively to put a stop to the dangerous practice of normalising moral disengagement in the Australian government. Steps need to be taken to help people to recognise and confront situations where individuals and political factions detach themselves from the moral consequences of their choices and conduct.

By actively screening moral disengagement from all policies and processes, we can ensure that ethical considerations are baked into government.

Imagine the potential of a morally engaged government with a populace of good individuals who do not turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. The key to unlocking this potential lies in breaking the silence and removing harmful practices. It’s time for good people to take a stand and make their voices heard.




The Human Cost

Moral disengagement can have devastating consequences for individuals, their families, public servants and wider society. Australia’s Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme graphically illustrated that in forensic detail.

Robodebt was a scheme that automatically assessed and raised debts against welfare recipients. The data was wrong yet the government proceeded.

This inflicted misery on welfare recipients and resulted in deaths. All inflicted on and industrial scale.

The silence maintained by most public servants and the blind obedience of senior officials are reminiscent of historical atrocities. This behavioural similarity is striking and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The Royal Commission’s findings displayed the truth that moral disengagement was deeply normalised in the Australian Government. Alarming as it is, the current government has not taken any initiative to address this deeply ingrained concern.




The Challenge

Normalised moral disengagement has severe implications for the community’s wellbeing and the health of government and its public service.

The behavioural mechanisms and practices of moral disengagement are learned and normalised. This perpetuates belief that change is impossible.

Australians have seen and experienced the harm caused by moral disengagement in their government’s policies, behaviours and practices.

It is easily costing the Australian community billions of dollars.

It is essential to take action to eliminate moral disengagement and prevent any future normalisation in government and its public service.



Judging Moral Disengagement

The 8 mechanisms of moral disengagement are a powerful lens for judging behaviours and practices of government. The mechanisms are:

      1. Advantageous comparison
      2. Attribution of blame
      3. Dehumanisation
      4. Diffusion of responsibility
      5. Displacement of responsibility
      6. Disregard, distortion, and denial of harm
      7. Euphemistic language
      8. Moral justification

The mechanisms are the behaviours and practices used to stigmatise, distort, deny and mask harmful and abusive behaviours and practices. They are endemic in the Australian Government.


I suggest people view these videos in this order:

Professor Albert Bandura (1925-2021).

Moral disengagement – “an informed public can actually neutralise a lot of this stuff.



Dr. Peter Senge

“… bureaucracy development to the extent it is dehumanised… so in many ways we’ve worked to drive out the empathy, the intuition, the artistry.”



Professor Shoshana Zuboff “Wonderland. Herding people. Behaviour modification. The age of conquest.”



Steve Davies is a retired public servant. His expertise is in the areas of organisational research and people development. He’s always been attracted to forward looking work. He’s a vocal critic of destructive, cruel and backwards looking behaviours and practices.

Over the years he’s spoken in depth with whistleblowers and advocated the use of technology (including social media tech) to empower people to do great things together.

His thinking and work have been heavily influenced by such great thinkers and researchers as Shoshana Zuboff, Albert Bandura and Peter Senge for decades.


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  1. Clakka

    Indeed a scourge. And politics, government and the public service have engaged in it infecting society as a whole, since time immemorial. As too have religions. And those infections become perhaps the prevailing ‘common morality’, although deeper down there could be underlying survival mandates, like cooperation between others for the greater good – a sort of essential ethos. We are, however, encouraged by bling and other accoutrements to adopt insularity and not to dig deep.

    Of course nowadays, greed and corruption is an industry, fully practiced and entrenched via mass media and the internet. What to do when attitudes and decisions are based upon belief or disbelief, faith or no-faith, rather than the epistemology of science? And even science is often misused or corrupted via the attractions and entrapments of corporations.

    It seems that such contortions give rise to resignation or increasing frustration then hostility and conflict. The outcome being depletion or carnage – it seems these are the only lessons heeded, until a rise again, and through arrogance, memories lapse, and so it goes.

    But that’s OK, I’m alright Jack, and she’ll be right.

  2. Andrew Smith

    Interesting phenomenon that has returned from the feudal past to support minority power.

    One observes this in how many people are encouraged to be quiet and avert their gaze from immoral and unethical behaviour or actions, by their masters or elected government.

    More concerning is the strategic approach that has been taken e.g. Anglosphere of US, UK & Oz, but also observed in suboptimal democracies like Turkey, Hungary, Russia, UK etc. (manipulating or controlling policies, media, judiciary, education etc.)

    One can infer from right wing media cartels, think tanks and MPs that they are promoting a form of corrupt nativist authoritarianism that requires passive citizens e.g. ‘quiet Australians’, to avert their gaze and not call power to account, but react with disgust or empathy bypass at any ‘other’ offered; a form of eugenics and we see in Australia on a daily basis in media.

  3. Kathryn

    There can be no doubt that the totally depraved Abbott/Morrison regime was the absolute worst, most undemocratic, totally corrupt and callously inhumane regime on record! What is worse is that we have that megalomaniacal, unspeakably cruel sociopath, Peter Dutton, waiting in the wings like some power-obsessed behemoth eager to rule over us like some pathetic third world dictator! We can never ever allow the LNP to gain twisted power again. This is a party where just about EVERY member – male and female – are criminally corrupt without one single redeeming feature! The ALP and The Greens are not perfect but, my God, they are INFINITELY superior to the depraved monsters that hide in every dark corner of the LNP!

    Make no mistake about it, the unconscionable LNP have been PROVEN to be overflowing with condescending smug elitists, remorseless sociopaths, climate-change-denying environmental vandals, thoroughly entitled self-serving rorting thieves, Hillsong cultists, bible-thumping hypocrites and malignant misogynists who have proven themselves to have not a drop of compassion, foresight nor one iota of insight! It is almost IMPOSSIBLE to believe that any political party can get worse and, as such, Australians should DEMAND that the LNP – as the most depraved group of political psychopaths in our history and right up there with the war criminal, John Howard – is DE-REGISTERED due to the sordid criminality of its members and their total disregard for ANYONE but themselves and their multi-billionaire donors in the Top 1%. The horrendous thugs and annihilators in the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance have systematically infiltrated and corrupted our ABC and continue to defund and destroy just about everything Australians value including Medicare, our State-run public schools, our hospital system and just about every social welfare program one can name!

    The long and escalating list of corruption by the LNP is still being uncovered (refer to an INCOMPLETE list compiled by Chaser shown in the link below). Their diabolical plan to unleash the unspeakably evil ROBODEBT system upon defenceless Australians caused the suicide of countless vulnerable people; their rorting and criminal corruption has resulted in so many members of the Abbott/Morrison regime becoming multi-millionaires in rapid time – targeting the poorest, most vulnerable people in our nation whilst they feathered their own nest further enriching and empowering THEMSELVES and trebling the wealth of their greedy supporters in the Top 1%.

    The smirking, bone idle, non-achieving Sloth Morrison should NEVER be forgiven for his blatant reprehensible support for the paedophile-protecting CULT of Hillsong – his recent attachment to yet another lunatic cult, Horizon, was only undertaken when his vile association with Hillsong put his twisted political ambition at risk which, inevitably, trumped any fake loyalty he had for Brian Houston and Hillsong! It is simply NOT ENOUGH to just deregister the LNP; every single member and misogynistic predator within their depraved regime needs to be prosecuted and JAILED for their unspeakable level of corruption, depravity and predation of women.

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