Ethics classes for Labor pollies and their appointees
The NSW Government is currently trialling Ethics classes for students in year 5 as an alternative to the Religious Education that has been a weekly feature of public education in that state.
In today’s fast paced world, where concepts of right and wrong are increasingly blurred in a stream of You-Tube-anything-goes behaviour, ethics education could be incredibly beneficial.
But the critical question is who determines what is ethical? Do we look at the conduct of public figures to create modern yardsticks of ethical behaviour? Do we look to our political leaders?
It’s reasonable to question whether it is ethical for a Prime Minister to essentially bribe State Premiers with taxpayer funds in order to get them to agree to a deal that is all about improving his own political outcome for the coming election.
The $2.4 billion “extra” that Kevin Rudd threw on the table at the very last minute to get his desired result comes directly from the pockets of tax payers. Is it ethical to spend someone else’s money in such a self-serving bribe in order to score a personal political win?
Or how about the ‘ethics’ of another Labor Scheme that allows money allocated for children’s education to be syphoned off to who-knows-where - with a staggering $16 billion spent to get just $7 billion worth of school buildings.
The Minister responsible, Julia Gillard, has been quick to dismiss concerns and is obviously content to turn a blind eye to such blatantly unethical behaviour.
It would hurt her Government to acknowledge the widespread rorting that has occurred…so it’s one of those “blurry” let’s-hope-this-issue-passes-quickly things.
Politics, by its very nature, is an ethical minefield.
So let’s look at different recent example of community “leadership”. It could be a fascinating real-life case study for the year 5 Ethics class:
You’re the Police Commissioner and ultimately responsible for Emergency response action across your State. You currently have staff working around the clock, monitoring a potential emergency situation. They warn you that tomorrow looks like being the worst day in your State’s history for bushfires. All signs point to an imminent disaster. When you wake up in the morning do you;
a) Clear your diary, get dressed in your uniform, head to one of the various command centres, spend the day working shoulder-to-shoulder with your team and being on hand to offer the leadership expected of someone in your position on such a difficult and potentially tragic day.
Or do you:
b) Visit the hairdresser for a few hours, make a token visit to a command centre, look over the shoulder of those working hard but don’t ask any questions, have a meeting with your biographer to discuss your upcoming book, upon being told that casualties would definitely occur go to a casual dinner with friends, and not seek any information on the unfolding disaster for several hours.
Which is the ‘ethical’ choice?
And then there’s the follow-on ethical ‘dilemma’ – when you have to recall the events of that day to a Royal Commission, do you divulge the full truth, or try, by omission, to portray a very different picture, as former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon recently did?
I’d suggest a 10 year old in a year 5 ethics class would clearly distinguish which ethical choice should be expected of a person in such authority in that situation.
Yet we’ve had a series of Labor supporters jumping to the defence of Christine Nixon over the past week, condoning her appalling behaviour on Black Saturday when Victoria burned and 173 people died. Her supporters include her current employer, The Victorian Labor Government as she happily maintains her taxpayer- funded job.
Accountability and personal responsibility are at the core of ethical behaviour. If we are to set basic standards of what is ethical, they ought not be merely theoretical.
After all, our kids learn more by example than they do in a classroom.
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