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The Morrison Government: A textbook case of rampant, moral disengagement

By Steve Davies

2023: What have we all been seeing for a long time? Media report after media report, enquiry after enquiry all showing how inhumane and corrupting the Morrison Government was.

Everything from Robodebt, the behaviour towards women within the parliament, conflicts of interest, the abusive treatment of whistleblowers through to throwing millions of dollars at consultancy companies. The list goes on and on.

People are rightly saying that this is all due to the unhealthy culture of politics and government itself. Some media reports say the same and, again rightly, add that it’s the system.

Australian Public Service ‘experts’ and senior officials say that culture change is needed. Then they say, culture change is hard. This sounds plausible and right.

However, they are wrong. They have been banging on about culture forever. It’s a failed model. One that consultancy firms make a lot of money out of.

As for the public in general and the causalities and victims of this culture? They are rightly demanding real and lasting change. They want answers to the question of what drives all this abuse and disempowerment. They want to know why there is so much silence and denial from government.

It is as clear as day that people need practical tools for understanding, empowerment, and action. The same applies to people within government and Australian Public service agencies. The great explain away of culture has achieved nothing.

A more precise people friendly approach and tool is needed. A tool and approach that connects people and enables them to cohesively call out the inhumane and corrupting behaviours and practices of politicians, public servants, and organisations.

A tool and approach that enables them to call out inhumane and corrupting laws, policies, procedures, and actions in a powerful way.

Such an approach and tool exists, but has been (and is), ignored by the Australian Government (including the Albanese Government), Australian Public Service and law makers. Why?

I can answer that courtesy of deep personal professional experience – decades of research, conversations, and a few battle scars. They ignore it because careers and old bureaucratic empires (sacred cows), will fall and laws and policies will have to be changed when looked at through the lens of the mechanisms of moral disengagement.

Instead, they have displaced responsibility for healthy behaviour and practices within all of our institutions to “the culture industry”.

We are all living through the cruel results of that. And it is no use thinking that the moral disengagement that government is riddled with will disappear simply because we have a newly minted Australian Government.


World renowned Professor Albert Bandura may no longer be with us, but his work lives on. Next year the twelfth international conference of indigenous and cultural psychology will be held in Yogyakarter, Indonesia.

That conference will commemorate the centenary of his contribution to science.

His research into ‘real life’ individual and collective behaviours and practices provides a clarity and tool for understanding that are needed more than ever.

One of the fondest wishes he had for his work on moral disengagement was that it would be used by people to prevent harm and restore, as it were, the health of organisations. Empowering people.

Before continuing to read you might like to find out more on the official website Albert Bandura.

It is, I believe, a national disgrace that the Australian Government is allowing the behaviours and practices that have enabled moral disengagement to continue to be a feature of politics and public administration.

What can we all do?

Look at the behaviour, practices and policies of the government and the Australian Public Service. What you have experienced personally. What you know from others. What you have seen in the media.

Look at what you have experienced or are concerned about through each one of the mechanisms. The more indications you see the worse the situation is.


Mechanisms of moral disengagement Indicators
Advantageous comparison “It would be worse with”. It would be worse if …”
Attribution of blame They brought it (harm) on themselves. They didn’t navigate the system properly. They didn’t tell us.
Dehumanization Treating people as not quite one of us. As a liability. A threat to the system. As cogs in a process.
Diffusion of responsibility “It’s the system. It’s the process. I’m only responsible for”
Displacement of responsibility “I’m following orders. I have no choice”.
Disregard, distortion, and denial of harm Hierarchy fragments responsibility for harm. Robodebt was an attempt to further minimise human responsibility.
Euphemistic language The use of sanitised language to mask hurt and harm. Officialese or bureaucratese
Moral justification Moral, social and economic. *Also, bureaucratic and technological. Data driven.


What actions could you take next?

Talk with your family, friends and colleagues. If you are a member of a trade union or professional body talk with them.

Write to or talk with your member of parliament. If they don’t respond you’ll know they are part of the problem.

Share and start conversations on social media. I suggest you tweet at your local member of parliament, a Minister or Prime Minister. Please use one or more of the hashtags below:

#PeopleFirst #MoralDisengagement #AlbertBandura #OurFuture #OpenGov #auspol #GreatGovNow

The sooner we all start looking at the behaviour and practices of government and the public service through a common lens the better. Why? Doing so will give us all a more powerful voice.

I’m often asked how we got into this mess? The patterns of history are important.



The early twenty first century was a time of optimism about the future. About a world of promise.

It was no surprise that Australians dismissed the Howard Government in 2007 and elected the Rudd Government.

Early in its term the Rudd Government faced the global financial crisis. They demonstrated a speed, creativity and achievement that was praised around the world.

The Rudd Government also set a leading example with Open Government, Freedom of information, public engagement, and its efforts to reform public administration, the Australian Public Service

The intent of these initiatives was reflected in the title of the reform report – Ahead of the Game. The aim was to give Australia the best public service in the world. Innovation, openness, data, enhanced democracy, and Gov 2.0 was being championed.

A Gov 2.0 movement had started prior to the election of the Rudd Government. That movement was highly valued by members of the government. The enthusiasm was immense. The work and approach of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce was world leading.

However, there was also tension courtesy of ‘the old guard’ of the Australian Public Service. There were cultural battle lines within and across public service agencies.

During the tenure of the Julia Gillard Government the declaration of open government was released. In many ways that declaration highlighted the cultural and political battle lines.

Please read the Declaration of Open Government media release and share the declaration.

These were times of great promise. However, the changes were fragile flowers.

Why were the promises and changes made to achieve greater openness, transparency, and public engagement (often referred to as enhanced democracy), so fragile?

Because these flowers of change were young and its roots shallow. In contrast, the dark culture of power, control and authoritarianism ran deep. That culture persisted due to the Howard Government giving Australian Public Service agency heads their fiefdoms.

The actions of the Howard Government resulted in strong shift towards blind compliance to Ministers and, with that, the corrosion of the of the notion of whole of government and its public service serving the Australian people.

It was unsurprising that with the demise of Rudd and then Gillard Labor Government those promises, and progress were snuffed out.

Thinking about the travesty of Robodebt years later. The behaviours, practices and environment that enabled Robodebt were set by the Howard Government years ago.

The trajectory of decline was, therefore, set by the Howard Government.



The election of the Abbott Government in 2013 saw an aggressive return to the Howard years. The use of data and technology to enhance democracy, fairness, and decency? Forget it. Open Government? Closed.

Freedom of information? Reduced to a shadow of its former self. The Freedom of Information Commission and the Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan, were treated appallingly.

Behaviours and practices to ensure silence and blind compliance were normalised. Aggressive authoritarianism on a whole of government scale was the order of the day. The Abbott Government grew unpopular in a short period time.

Such was the concern that Malcolm Turnbull mounted a leadership challenge against Tony Abbott. 30 consecutive Newspolls had shown the government was headed for defeat.

Ultimately, Turnbull took the Liberals to the 2016 election. The result? A one seat Liberal majority.

However, due to his having ‘only’ narrowly saved the Liberal Government the radical neo-liberals saw an opportunity to oust Turnbull. Morrison was installed as leader and the authoritarian neo-liberal agenda ramped up.

Even darker times lay ahead



In so many ways the behaviours and practices of the Morrison government were the end point in a long and cruel journey. Parallels with the Trump administration and that of the Johnson Government in the United Kingdom abound.

Like you, I could go on and on about the policies and conduct of the Morrison Government. However, there is no point. Why? The mainstream media and social media have reported extensively on what we have all witnessed and experienced.

What the mainstream media have not done is explain why we are in such a dire situation. What drives the behaviours and practices. Some media outlets are blinded by ideological bias. Others lack the knowledge and skills.

The single most damning and powerful accounts were the real-life cruelty, corrupting behaviours and practices exposed by the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

The real-life stories and experiences were an evidentiary illustration of the extent and normalisation of moral disengagement. Arguably, Australia had a government of ‘Moral Disengagers’.

The Morrison Government took Australia to a 21st Century version of a Dark Age.



On 2 June 2023 I drafted advice and guidance that I was going to send to the Prime Minister and other politicians. The advice was for members of parliament to set an example by discussing moral disengagement openly in the House and the Senate.

Why? One of the reasons why moral disengagement thrives and grows is that the mechanisms that drive it (behaviours and practices), are rendered undiscussable.

I decided to sit on that advice to see how the Albanese Government would progress. That was a fair enough call on my part. Besides, as I stated at the start of this document:

“As for the public in general and the causalities and victims of this ‘culture’ they are rightly demanding real and lasting change. They want answers to the question of what drives all this abuse and disempowerment. They want to know why there is so much silence and denial from government”.

The fact is that moral disengagement has been normalised in government (politics), and the Australian Public Service. Its widespread and granular, corrupts everything and causes long lived harm to individuals, communities and our society.

Are the actions of the Albanese Government sufficient to deal with the prevalence of moral disengagement in our institutions? NO.

Is the Australian Public Service willing or capable of eradicating moral disengagement? NO.

Should the National Anti-Corruption Commission be publicly using the mechanisms of moral disengagement as a tool to proactively prevent corrupt and corrupting behaviours and practices? YES.

Do we need to do so to provide great government that actually serves people? YES.

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. andyfiftysix

    This is the hidden result of IPA type of policies. The whole Liberal party has embraced the IPA agenda. You cant have unbridled capitalism WITHOUT brutality. They go hand in hand. Purity of the agenda is paramount, no matter the human cost. And you see it through their whole time in government. From the way they treat politics as a blood sport to robodebt and beyond. They are a brutal if not brutalised bunch of power hungry aresholes.
    At the minimun, people like Abbott and Morrison should have spent some time at his majesty’s leisure. At the very least forgo any financial support from us. They work agaisnt us because we demand more than they are capable of. There is no room in the agenda for empathy and compasion. ie, dole payments or refugees on manus island.
    They are incapable of leading us into the 22nd century and they know it. My gripe with Labor is that they too have been sucked into the “agenda whirlpool”. All ahead as before is no longer possible, the waters have been poisoned.
    The RBA is now saying that 4.5% unemployed is a balanced system. Fuckme over once more, wont you. Is there enough grounds to sue the bastards if your unemployed when they admit its a deliberate policy to keep you there? Its a brutal impact on the individual, there is that word again.
    I aint no christian anymore but the image of JC wipping the money men is an image i can’t shake. We have all been brainwashed into thinking that capitalism is the only way. This is something we have reinforced from the get go. Then its not a hard step to jump to the next level of theory and acceptance of the brutality.
    Supply and demand has come to mean massive disruptions for us as individuals. The gig economy is just a better way to reach 4.5%, if not a steady increase over the years. Its just so much easier to balance out a higher rate than a smaller rate. So naturally, our gutless politicians who claim to be superior economic managers have drifted to higher rates. You tell me what the agenda is. My guess is to keep the whip up close in case the slaves get ideas.
    And you think we aint been brutalised?
    No wonder they run from the UBI idea. Heaven forbid, they would have to design carrots for us to work. That whip is just so hard to give up. Just ask the american negros how hard that was.

  2. DichotomousEnigma

    “On 2 July 2023 I drafted advice”.
    Does this statement suggest that the author has recently visited the future ?

  3. Harry Lime

    Great article,Steve Davies,should be nailed on every politician’s wall in extra large print,even larger in dead eyes Dutton’s office.No doubt would need to have the detail explained to him.Maybe the soon to be unleashed NCCC will begin the urgent repair.With a lot of determination ..and luck.Whole of government and public service attitude clean out.Has Albanese got it in him? Not on the evidence so far.Too many lifers and passengers on both sides.

  4. The AIM Network

    Thanks, Dicho’.

    Typo fixed.

  5. Andrew Smith

    Unfortunately Morrison was either the peak or nadir of contemporary LNP politics with ‘libertarian’ or ‘free market’ IPA/CIS (‘Atlas’) and Murdoch led media pulling the strings, then ‘quiet Australians’ are expected to follow.

    As the think tanks suggest, it’s not unique to Oz, but now transnational with much US ideological influence*, described by US conservative (centrist) Anne Applebaum as ‘ultra conservatives’ who have an affinity for fellow travellers and/or regimes e.g. Hungary’s PM ‘mini Putin’ Orban and their barely concealed fondness for Putin, while willing along Brexit.

    *An acceptable descriptor is ‘corrupt white nativist Christian (or other religion) authoritarianism’, replicated in many nations leveraging ageing electorates to game liberal democracy. The Koch’s economic muse was behind the Austrian/Chicago Schools of Friedman, Hayek et al. i.e. ‘segregation economist’ James Buchanan, helping perpetuate the deep south ‘planter economics’, also partly explains the nostalgia for the 19-20thC .

  6. Russell

    Perhaps we get the government we ask for, and so we must all as citizens ask ourselves if we are somehow complicit in what nasty acts, receive and outright carpet bagging corruption goes on. If the electorate actually believes rubbish like Morrison and Taylor and Joyce are fit to represent them, for God’s sake who are the people so foolishly deceived? Are Australians honest with themselves these days or living in a blindness to our own venality, our Yankee style gross materialism, our ignorance of decent ethics. It is a country in denial which is so imbued with the importance of getting and spending that it fails to see the corruption and rot these entail. How to reckon with our corporate joint flaws, for only then will we vote for really top notch leaders and parties who will pursue a higher vision of human life!

  7. Ross

    There is no indication the current Labor government, (a “labor government” in name only), is going to do a hard left turn on the neo-liberal market rules agenda of the previous dog and pony show coalition government.
    Most just wanted Scotty from Marketing gone and if we got a real Labor government in its place then bonus points all round. Sadly that was not to be. Nowhere near as bad as the last lot but what we have now is a right wing conservative neo-liberal market rules government with a slight rouge tint.
    Why that is when an unelectable opposition is led by a wildly unelectable cartoonists dream, Murdoch’s Empire of Effluent is on the skids and no one bothers to take any notice of our third rate mainstream media is anyone’s guess.
    Any thinking person might assume now is the perfect time to grab the economy by the scruff of the neck jettison the totally discredited economic orthodoxy of the past forty years and start to rid society of the blight of inequality that left unchecked will destroy us.
    But it looks like this Labor government does not have it in them and don’t want to rock the boat.

  8. keith vass

    We need Rules of Engagement to apply to politicians with very stiff sanctions.
    Government must consider the MAJORITY-not the !%-punishable by JAIL!
    Bring back the PUBLIC SERVICE
    Set a MAXIMUM SIZE for BIG BUSINESS and BREAK UP anything beyond that size.

  9. Harry Lime

    Funny how the stench of that’elder statesman’ and revered Liberal figure still fouls the body politic.What an utterly detestable little bastard.

  10. JulianP

    Reply to keith vass.
    Excellent suggestions all, thank you keith – particularly as regards corporations.
    Certainly the “Big4” – PwC et, al, need to be broken up.
    In the US, corporations are now pretty much beyond the reach of the law.
    See for example:
    Also, I think the 2Party system has outlived whatever usefulness it may once have had.
    This has given us the career politician – one of the most potent agents against real change.
    Perhaps its time for limited tenure representation – one term only and no pension.

  11. Fred

    If one takes the concept the LNP has as a core objective of “minimal government” coupled with a “market economy” to its logical end point you wind up with “no government with total capitalism”. ScoMo was clearly doing his personal best, secretly leading the way by taking on ministries at will, which had he kept going would have enabled him as “minister for everything” to have a cabinet meeting on his own. Obviously there was nothing wrong with this to cause the Governor General pause. Given a “government” with that mindset it is not hard to understand why the public service has been decimated to the point where delivery of “public services” is severely limited. How Robo debt got any traction at all beggars belief. I’m guessing that any public servant voicing dissent would have a short government career. Sounds like Stewart Robert may have further questions to answer on other matters.

  12. Harry Lime

    Meanwhile: “not a corrupt person”:Dutton on Berijiklian.Thanks for the heads up,Pete,obviously a years long forensic investigation by NSW’s ICAC just shows that they don’t know what they’re talking about.In your expert opinion.In my opinion,you are not an opposition leader’s arse,and you personally are accelerating the demise of the conservative parties in this country,despite the best efforts of Murdoch’s propaganda rags.You are on borrowed time.

  13. Canguro

    @Harry Lime, given your frank assessment of Spud’s qualities, and accurately so, and that it follows that he’s on a hiding to nowhere, then he’s really got nothing to lose, has he? It’s not as if there’s a Big E epiphany waiting around the bend and he’s actually really going to become the warm and cuddly Petey that the barkers have been warning us to expect.. the Spudling’s DNA and conditioning doesn’t permit that radical metamorphosis during this spell of organic inhabitance in (shudder) human form.

    Nup, he’s a wysiwyg, through & through. A knuckfuckle, ingrate, blinkered and recidivistically poor blinded fool with a nasty streak who’s wedded to an antiquarian anachronistic political philosophy which has consistently failed to deliver benefit to the broader mass of the community it purports to represent, and the hilarity of it all is that he fails to see just how hugely he’s on the wrong side of history and that he’ll die on the ramparts to defend his clod-headed attachment to this Luddite-like position.

    On the brighter side, though, I suppose he can take comfort in that humanity is littered with similar fools of his ilk, should he so care to acquaint himself with their histories.

  14. Harry Lime

    Canguro,an impressive litany of descriptors on boofhead,but could be precised to one four letter word that this site usually frowns upon.Doesn’t alter it’s veracity,though.For what it’s worth, there are some amusing relevant, anecdotes in the Shovel today.

  15. andyfiftysix

    yes its hilarious, a one year investigation says she was corrupt yet spud, true to form, “stands by his man”.
    So are we to take that anyone who is shown to be corrupt will be supported by spuds? Oh my, Morrison, Roberts…………anyone else want a photo opp?
    This is true MAGA territory.

  16. GL

    I shall now post a complete list of The Spud’s qualities:

  17. Harry Lime

    Now now GL,no need for exaggeration.

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