Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On politics, ethics, integrity and lying.


From The Guardian

"It is hard to imagine how he thinks – having made such a point of the importance of keeping election promises, right down to the footnotes – that he will not be judged by precisely the same authenticity standard he used so implacably against his political opponents. 
If you promised to match school funding dollar for dollar over the next four years – if you promised that every single school in Australia gets the same deal whether there is a Labor government or a Coalition government after 7 September – then that's what you promised. 
You cannot subsequently put it down to some well-meaning person's hallucination, a mass delusion, as Abbott suggested on the Bolt Report on Sunday. "But Andrew, we are going to keep our promise. We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made or the promise that some people might have liked us to make. We're going to keep the promise that we actually made."
Katharine Murphy goes on to talk about the political campaign fudge - it's expected, it what happens in elections.
To fudge information is to avoid making something clear. Many of us do it with an (almost) clear conscience in response to questions about the style of clothing a friend may be about to purchase, and similar things which don't have a major impact on anyone else.

The above article uses the word fudge in an interesting way. It softens and almost lightens a very serious issue. After all, to call a Prime Minister a liar is unlikely to be something a responsible journalist would do without due consideration. (I'm thinking here of the photos of a grinning Abbott in front of posters of the then PM Julia Gillard, making a pun on her name - juliar .) 

At what stage does a "fudge" become a lie? At what stage are the standards which are expected of children, and of employees in the workplace - to be honest and to tell the truthapplied to adults in parliament?

If a person applies for a job and lies at interview, is hired and is found out to have lied, or fudges figures or information, the employer will take a dim view of the falsehood, and will most likely fire the person. To lie is considered to be a serious breach of appropriate behaviour, and there are consequences.

A scientist who 'fudges' data, who is shoddy and falsifies results will be named and shamed. We expect their work to be free from bias, for results to be presented accurately and as such their papers are subject to scrutiny from qualified peers. If something is amiss, steps are taken to correct the information

Yet politicians aren't held to the same standards expected elsewhere in society. Given what were learning about addiction and money as well as addiction and power, it is an oversight where we, the public are likely to lose.

In a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770, the British Prime Minister said: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." (here)

Abuse of power has been known since Roman times - Isn't it time to look the implications seriously and to attempt to address the issue before societies are ruined?

Is it acceptable for a politician, running for the highest office in a country, to "fudge" information relating to education? to healthcare? to issues which honesty and clarity would be more beneficial to voters PRIOR to an election?

Do we accept (or even expect) the 'fudging' of ethics, of integrity, of honesty? How can those in power be held accountable if we don't know which statements about policy are true and which are lies, when they're both presented as truths? Are we being taught to assume that everything a politician says is a lie? to expect the opposite of what's stated?

It's an appalling state of affairs when what's being affected is our lives, our liberties, our services. When it's a country which is being governed and voters expect to be lied to, it's vastly different to whether a pair of jeans suits a friend. It's serious and can have dire and unexpected consequences for those who expect a modicum of honesty and decency from their representatives.

How can you make an informed decision if lying is more common than honesty?

The voter then has to contort their thinking to go along the lines of:

If he says this then he probably means that, but then again, it could be something else entirely, depending on what way the wind's blowing and the state of his digestion. "

Trust in relationships is eroded when one partner lies, shifts blame and is shown by words and actions to be self-serving, unreliable and dishonest. And yet, it's what we've learnt to expect from some of those who have some of the most influential jobs in the country ... by word and deed, too many politicians have taught the electorate not to trust them, and I believe we're all diminished as a result.

Our elected representatives would do well to pause often, and reflect deeply on the words of Stanley Melbourne Bruce, Australia's Prime Minister, 1923 - 29. 

"May those who enter this open door 
govern with justice, reason 
and equal favour to all. 
May they do so in humility and without self-interest. 
May they think and act nationally. 
May they speak with the voice of those who sent them here
 - the voice of the people." 
9 May 1927

Old Parliament House, Canberra.



Alan Warren said...

Powerful post, Sue. We have been trained, like Pavlov's dog, to behave a certain way when our politicians open their mouths. Unfortunately the good ones wind up being tarred with the same brush as the refuse and we all end up losers.

Sue Travers said...

Thanks Alan. I know people go into politics for noble reasons and I really feel for them. I wonder how much bullying and coercion takes place and can imagine the impact that has on a good person and their family. I do believe they can't all be bad but to speak out? I doubt it'll happen - we don't treat whistle blowers at all well and the personal cost is huge. But it's what is desperately needed ...

Gerardine Rudolphy said...

Good one Sue. I confess that my recent response to a friend who is contemplating a move into politics "to make a difference" was that she is naive and deluded. From a cynical viewpoint, the only difference she'll make is to herself and her personal integrity through the blurring of her "line in the sand", rationalised as political pragmatism.

Matt Posetti said...

Hi Sue
Nicely put, would be interesting to further juxtapose different 'professions' and their tolerance of the 'fudging' phenomenon. Academics would be hounded out of their university, legal officers would be de-bared or arrested, CEOs of listed companies sued or jailed, but time and again, and generally after the fact, we are asked to accept the nuance between what may and may not have been a core commitment from our political leaders.

Matt P

If the opportunity does eventuate for me this year, I will be ever so pleased to have you keeping check on my own authenticity and integrity.

Sue Travers said...

+Gerardine, I've heard other people say similar things, which is sad. We need people with integrity in politics and we need for them to have friends who hold them accountable!

+Matt, indeed, there are few professions where wanton lies are condoned. I know you'll work incredibly hard to make a difference and I'd be honoured to have the opportunity to hold you to account.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue .. politicians are short-term thinkers .. worrying about re-elected next time around ..

But I guess these and free speech rather than a dictator with no rules, other than I rule.

Cheers Hilary