The year of morals and ethics

It is likely that 2015 will be remembered around the world as the year when morals and ethics overcame deception and greed. There are a number of examples that could be given with regard to investment funds, rorting allowances and living circumstances as well as just corporate greed. Let’s just confine ourselves to a few.

In August this year, Fairfax and the ABC reported on a joint investigation into the chronic underpayment of wages to employees of 7-Eleven franchisees. According to Fairfax, 7-Eleven has 620 stores in Australia, predominately on the east coast. The joint investigation discovered that there were significant differences between the payroll records and the actual working hours of a number of employees — mostly overseas students in this country on student visas (which have restrictive work conditions).

The results of the investigation were reported by Fairfax on 29 August and broadcast by ABC on its Four Corners program on 31 August 2015. By 2 September, there were moves to call the 7-Eleven franchisor to appear before a Senate committee.

While the owners and operators of 7-Eleven may not be appreciating the attention at the moment, it seems that Fairfax and the ABC have reported fairly and accurately on a systemic failing of a large company. The company concerned is not denying the allegations, rather it has set up an ‘independent panel’ to assess the claims of affected employees (who are paid through the franchisor’s office) and to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman in the prosecution of a Sydney franchisee. The chairman of 7-Eleven Australia for many years, Russ Withers, as well as the General Manager Operations, Natalie Dalbo, have subsequently stood down.

Michael Smith, former Director of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and iiNet, was installed as Chairman of 7-Eleven with a brief to fix the problem and repair the reputation of 7-Eleven. He was reported as commenting:
7-Eleven was the tip of the iceberg for wage exploitation of young and foreign workers in Australia, adding: "We have a problem in this country."
Similar staffing accusations have been made against Australia Post contractors and United Petroleum franchisees which adds some veracity to Smith’s claim.

Clearly there is an issue. Unfortunately, the issue of deception is not limited to Australia. Around the world there are various regulations surrounding the emissions that motor vehicles are permitted to pump into the air. Some Volkswagen vehicles in the United States were discovered to be emitting up to 40 times the volume of some chemicals than they should have been. You can read about how the deception was discovered here and how VW organised it here.

After a number of high ranking VW employees ‘falling on their swords’ over the last month or so, the new CEO of Passenger Cars, Dr Herbert Diess, claimed the company ‘did some things that were wrong’. Surely an understatement from a moral point of view.

In the case of both 7-Eleven and VW, while the morals may be questionable, the objective was clearly to cut corners and enable a larger return to those that have a financial interest in the company. As a result of the reaction to the publicity regarding wage underpayment, the 7-Eleven franchise system in Australia has been altered to give those that actually operate the stores more than the previously contracted 43% of the store’s profit, and VW will be working out how to retrofit something like 11 million cars around the world so that they perform and emit the quantity of chemicals, as originally specified in the glossy brochure, with oversight from various countries that do care about emissions levels. (It is a telling point that in Australia, the ACCC is the agency investigating VW, not for the excessive emissions but for a breach of advertising standards.) In either case, there was short term financial gain with, one suspects, a fair degree of long term financial pain ahead.

While we could claim money is a motive for large companies to attempt to deceive, when governments do the same thing you have to ask why.

Days after the 2013 election, then PM Abbott and then Immigration Minister Morrison announced ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ where Abbott effectively said that he would implement his ‘no more boats’ slogan — whatever it takes. One of the early actions was to withdraw information from the public, claiming ‘operational security’. In their submission for the 2014‒15 federal budget, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce argued:
In 2013-14 Australia will spend almost two-thirds as much locking up in detention a few thousand people seeking asylum, as the entire UNHCR spend in the last financial year assisting tens of millions of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide. This is a grossly disproportionate amount of money and is unjustifiable waste in terms of both the financial and human costs; with men, women and children being held in inhumane conditions in detention camps offshore.
In addition:
The publicly known allocations to offshore processing alone for the Department of Immigration for 2013-14 thus far are in excess of $3.28 billion. This figure excludes other associated costs which have been earmarked as commercial in confidence and not released, costs for these operations borne by other departments or arms of government, and other significant incentives offered to those countries in order to gain agreement with these operations.
For reference:
Yet by comparison, in 2013 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that its annual budget (composed primarily of voluntary donations) had reached a ‘new annual high of US$5.3 billion’ at the end of June 2013. The UNHCR has staff of more than 7,600 people in over than 125 countries and helps tens of millions of people.
In the 2014 budget the Abbott/Turnbull government was attempting to introduce a $7 ‘co-payment’ for consulting with a medical practitioner in Australia and ensuring that those under 30 who were unfortunate enough to be unemployed would have to wait six months to receive help from the social security system. Those measures were justified as helping to ‘repair’ the ‘budget emergency’. The same people were spending $3.28 billion of your and my money on fulfilling an election policy that is inherently xenophobic and of little value to Australia.

In addition to the extravagant waste of money that could have been spent helping those in need or creating infrastructure (after all Abbott claimed he was to be the ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’), Australian military units breached Indonesian territorial waters on several occasions which created a gulf in the bi-lateral relations between Australia and Indonesia. Towing back boats is also probably illegal:
International maritime law prohibits Australia from interfering with boats that fly the flag of another country on the high seas for the purpose of preventing their entry into Australia. Prohibited interference on the high seas includes transferring passengers onto Australian vessels or “towing back” the vessel.
For those who managed to evade the ‘tow back to Indonesia’ option, the Australian government has another form of torture for the innocent refugee. These ‘lucky’ people are flown off to detention centres in Nauru or Manus Island — part of PNG — to fulfil the ‘promise’ that ‘boat people will never live in Australia’. The treatment of those sent to Nauru can be summed up by the story of a Somali woman, allegedly raped by security guards on the Island, flown to Australia for an abortion and returned to Nauru before the procedure, apparently just prior to legal proceedings occurring to prevent the woman being returned to Nauru. While the Government claimed the woman had changed her mind about undergoing the abortion (a claim disputed by her legal team), an academic writer has suggested that the actions of the Australian government are similar to the ‘extraordinary rendition’ process practised by the USA during the war against Saddam Hussain:
Extraordinary rendition depended on the CIA’s ability to exert de facto control over its allies while remaining at arm’s lengths from the dirty work they performed.

Australian refugee policy works in the same way.

“People who are in the regional processing centres are the responsibility of either the Nauruan government or the PNG government,’ Dutton told Emma Alberici on the ABC’s Lateline program earlier this month.

Of course, Nauru was formally administered by Australia until 1966, just as PNG was until 1975. Both nations are heavily dependent on Australian aid. When they were asked to host detention centres, the suggestion was, as Marlon Brando might put it, an offer they could not refuse.
Until February 2014, the Salvation Army had been providing recreational and mental health services to refugees on both Nauru and Manus Island in PNG. The contract with the government was cancelled late in 2013 by then Immigration Minister Morrison. Morrison danced around the reason for the cancellation as well as refusing to discuss who would take over the provision of humanitarian services:
“I wouldn't be making any comment on those matters at this stage, only to say that the contract arrangements for our offshore operations are in the process of being determined with a view to improving our operational effectiveness at all of those centres based on everything we've been gleaning for the past 13 weeks since we've been in office," he said.

When told the Salvation Army had confirmed the contract termination, Morrison refused to say whether another provider would be brought in to provide the services, saying: "I provided the answer I'm giving today."
Could it be that the reason for the cancellation was actually in the same news report?
In the past, Salvation Army workers have blown the whistle on harsh conditions at both Manus and Nauru.
Roll forward to October 2015 and nothing has changed. Fairfax reported:
Charities working in immigration detention centres were asked to pay multimillion-dollar bonds that could be forfeited if they spoke out against government policy, as the Coalition sought to maintain secrecy over border protection.

In what critics say is the latest evidence of the government's determination to control information about its immigration detention program, aid agencies including Save the Children and the Australian Red Cross were asked to offer "performance security" — in one case, of $2 million — during negotiations over contracts relating to work caring for asylum seekers and refugees.
Without trying for a Godwin, are the Governments that were led by Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull so concerned about the uproar that evidence of the true conditions on Manus and Nauru would bring, they tried to deny culpability? It didn’t work in Nazi Germany, it didn’t work for 7-Eleven, it didn’t work for VW so why on earth does the Australian government believe it’s going to work for them?

There has been one Australian journalist permitted to visit Nauru in the past 18 months and he comes from The Australian, an outlet that is usually friendly to the Liberal/National Government. This Guardian article reports on the lack of journalists going to Nauru, the $8,000 non-refundable application fee is apparently a significant disincentive!

There is still a month or so left in 2015: wouldn’t it be nice if the (forced) re-discovery of morals and ethics in the corporate world extended to the Australian government? Both 7-Eleven and VW have admitted error and claim they are working to correct the failures of the past. While it may all be smoke and mirrors, there are certainly processes in place to watch the two companies’ new-found honesty and credibility. Various governments around the world are certainly watching VW’s rectification process as the Fair Work Commission is watching 7-Eleven.

If the Australian government came clean on ‘offshore processing’, our budget position would be close to $5 billion better off; the refugees held in what are reported to be sub-human conditions in Nauru and Manus Island would be allowed to come to Australia (along with others in refugee camps around the world) to prove their credentials, with the potential to be re-settled in a kind and humane manner; our culture would be enriched (as the various waves of immigration over the past 40,000 years have done); and the Australian government wouldn’t have to tie themselves in knots defending the indefensible. It’s logical, honest and needs to happen, so that next time we sing the national anthem, we actually mean the fifth and sixth lines of the second verse.
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share
What do you think?
Oh what a tangled web we weave! When large corporations are held to ethical standards and own up to their breaches, why can’t we expect the same of governments? Have we become so cynical of politics, of election lies, of ‘core and non-core’ promises, that we no longer expect ethical behaviour of our politicians? If that is the case, we have indeed reached a sorry state in which politicians have woven their own web of deceit far removed from ethical standards.

Next week Ken presents a very different take on the reasons why government is obliged to provide welfare and services in ‘Entitlement makes up for lost production’.

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15/11/20152353 Thank you for a fine exposition on the questionable ethics and morals that permeate our society. Whilst the dubious ethics of both small and large enterprises are commonplace and at times quite disgusting, the aspect that most enrages me is when governments indulge in unethical and immoral behaviour. Most in our face, day after day, is the immorality of this nation’s treatment of asylum seekers. When a more humane approach was shown by the Rudd government, the Coalition seized on the increased arrival of boat people, and Tony Abbott, forever the wedge politician, saw an opportunity to discredit and disadvantage Labor with his ceaseless condemnation of Labor’s refugee policy. Abbott saw asylum seekers as a way of garnering votes, especially in the marginal seats of Western Sydney. They were simply cannon fodder in the perpetual war Abbott declared on the Rudd and Gillard governments. The unbecoming Gillard response was to try to appear even tougher than the ruthless Abbott, but who could outdo this hardnosed political operative? The net result has been the most hardhearted and uncaring approach to these sad and distressed people, incarcerated in inhumane conditions with no hope of settlement here, and scarcely anywhere else to go. Mental illness, self-harm, suicide, and in at least one instance murder, has been the outcome. Their stories are extremely distressing, yet Peter Dutton seems scarcely moved. Only on his visit to Jordan did we see a glimmer of humanity soften that man’s unbending demeanour. The true extent of the immorality, of the unethical behaviour of the Coalition has been shrouded in secrecy. Hiding the reality of the disaster that its policy has produced was the object, but bits and pieces of the true horror have filtered out in a series of heartbreaking stories. Instead of attacking this inhumane discriminatory policy, Labor has lamely followed, head bowed in the Coalition’s wake, scared witless that standing against this immoral Coalition policy and advocating for the refugees, would lose it votes. Only the Greens have stood firmly with the refugees. When governments, which we elect, act on our behalf in this unacceptable way, what can we do? Vote them out, but in the case of asylum policy, the alternative is scarcely better. The only encouraging signs are that there now seems to be a quiet policy of moving some refugees out of detention, as we saw recently with the Sri Lankan woman released after years of questionable detention, yet whose circumstances had not changed. Is this a sign that Malcolm Turnbull has instructed his humourless Immigration Minister to quietly and unobtrusively move out those who ought not to be in detention? How the po-faced Dutton will explain that is something we can anticipate with not a little pleasure. It is disgusting that as voters we have had to suffer the indignity of what our government is doing in our name, and experience the wilting criticism of refugee advocates and overseas governments about our maltreatment of asylum seekers. Let’s hope that with the replacement of the heartless Abbott by the more humane Turnbull, our nation’s reputation may be restored, and that once more we will be regarded as a moral and ethical nation which cares for those whose lives have been disrupted by war, sectarian strife and religious persecution. Thank you for presenting this issue for discussion.


16/11/20152353 This image captures the spirit of your piece. Sorry I don't know how to embed the image. I did have a comment but, like TT sometimes, I managed to lose it. If it comes back to mind I will have another go.


17/11/2015Ken, Brilliant! And if the Daily Mail (which is rather conservative) is saying it, it shows how out of step and out of touch Australia is.


17/11/2015The recent terrorist attacks in Lebanon, France and other places deserve a comment - especially when we are talking about moral and ethics of Governments. Rather than reinvent the wheel - read the linked article from John Burningham on how to beat ISIL without losing sight of the big picture.

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17/11/2015Ken What a brilliantly satirical image! 2353 John Birmingham has, as is usual, written a penetrating article. I thought Barack Obama summed up the appropriate way to respond to the Paris outrage: "[b]Don't shoot first, then aim!"[/b]. It is the lack of proper aim before shooting that has landed the West in difficulty time and again. We seem never to learn!

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18/11/2015Folks Have you wondered why some of our conservative politicians, such as Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi, and now departed Joe Hockey, uttered some of the words they did, why they did some of the things they did, why they behaved as they did? What seems inexplicable has indeed an explanation, one provided by cognitive scientists. If you are puzzled, as I have been, you might be interested to read a piece I’ve just now posted on [i]TPS Extra[/i]: [b][i]Understanding the conservative mind[/b][/i]. You will find the piece at: After you’ve read it, do let us have your comments and opinion.


19/11/2015A wonderful piece in The Guardian regading the morals and ethics of some of the media pack. It's well worth a look.

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19/11/20152353 It would take a whole volume to cover the extent of the MSM's contribution to political and sectarian conflict. It is culpable, but sadly, unashamed.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?