Ethical Government

The first requirement of good government is a high standard of ethical behaviour; an unethical government is never a good government. On this page I discuss just a few of the ethical shortcomings of recent Australian governments.

Australia ranks 53rd in the world in population, but sixth in the world in the CO2 produced by its electricity industry; it has 0.3% of the world's population, but produces 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gasses; it is well up among the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet. Australia's per-capita greenhouse gas emission rate is about 17 tonnes per annum, more than three times the world average, which is about 5 tonnes per annum. Australia has an ethical obligation to bring its rate down at least to the world average.

Australian governments, particularly those of Abbott and Morrison have not only failed to improve this shortcoming, they have exacerbated the problems.

I have argued elsewhere that for a person in a position of power to lie in opposing action on climate change is the greatest crime in the history of humanity. A number of Australians, in and out of government, fit into this category.

This page was written 2016/10/25, last edited 2021/02/09
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Recent Australian governments, whether Coalition or Labor, have been guilty of unethical behaviour in a number of areas. There are three very important fields where Australian governments have shown a criminal lack of ethical standards.
  1. Refugees deserve to be treated humanely; there has been a sad lack of compassion in Australian governments' treatment of refugees.
  2. Climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise and the millions of illnesses and deaths due to the air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, are huge threats to the future welfare of all the Earth's species, including Mankind; Australian governments have failed to give them the priority they demand.
  3. Australia's rich have been getting richer, the poor poorer, and the gap between the two has been increasing. Recent governments have done nothing to produce a more equitable and just spread of wealth. Wealth gives the wealthy power; similarly, lack of money makes the poor powerless. One of the responsibilities of governments is to work to produce more equitable power across the wealth spectrum by limiting the power of the wealthy and increasing the power of the poor; recent Australian governments have favoured the wealthy.
None of the major parties in the federal sphere show any apatite for a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in spite of a glaring need for a body to look into corrupt behaviour in parliament and government. Tellingly, Prime Minister Turnbull resisted a royal commission into the finance industry until he was forced to back down; the royal commission then brought to light huge corrupt practices in the big banks and insurance industry.


Nobless oblige

This ancient concept has a lot in common with the subject of this page.

Wikipedia (2016/10/27) states:

Noblesse oblige is a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges". It denotes the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such status to fulfil social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.
The Dictionnaire de l'Academie francaise defines it thus:
  1. Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.
  2. (Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.
The Oxford English Dictionary meanwhile says that the term "suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behaviour; privilege entails to responsibility."
Similarly, those who have power have an ethical obligation to use that power honourably.
Unethical actions of governments of one or both major parties:
  1. In regard to refugees:
    • Governments have called them 'illegal immigrants'; there is nothing illegal in entering Australia to seek asylum.
    • Refugee camps have been run under secrecy to stop the people of Australia from knowing what goes on in the camps. This allows inhumane treatment of the refugees.
    • The Turnbull Coalition government, with bipartisan support, has legislated jail terms of up to two years for health workers, welfare workers, teachers, etcetera who speak or write about abuses that they know of in refugee camps. (Outside of refugee camps these same people would have a legal responsibility to report the same abuse.)
  2. In regard to climate change and ocean acidification:
    • A fee-for-service arrangement, with political favours in exchange for donations to campaign funds, is corrupt and unethical, but it seems to be the only explanation for the favourable status that the fossil fuel industries are getting from Australian governments, particularly from Coalition governments.
    • Governments, whether Coalition or Labor, have maintained high levels of subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.
    • Both Coalition and Labor governments have supported the fossil fuel industry when any interpretation of ethics indicates that we must put fossil fuels behind us.
    • Coalition governments have dishonestly slandered renewable energy development.
    • No Australian government has given climate change the attention that it needs and deserves.
  3. In regard to welfare and taxation:
    • Governments of both major parties have allowed the disparity of wealth between rich and poor to widen continually for many years; indeed, they have participated in worsening the disparity by increasing the pay of top public servants at a much higher rate than that of base-level public servants.
    • Governments of both parties have allowed multinational companies and the super rich to get away with paying very little tax.
    • The Turnbull Coalition government has made many proposals for decreasing welfare for the poor while proposing giving more tax breaks to big business.
    • Governments of both parties look after politicians while they are in parliament and make sure that they are also very well taken care of once they leave parliament; they get generous salaries, very generous pensions and they are often given plum jobs when they retire from politics. This is a form of nepotism; similar to ex-Prime Minister Howard's 'mateship'.

Turbine and message

Ethics requires that people consider the needs and wants of others; it requires that those who have power look after those who lack power. Governments have power, the wealthy have power.
  • Refugees have very little power;
  • Of those who will suffer most from climate change, today's young have little power, future generations have no power;
  • The poor have very little power.

Australian governments' refusal to take climate change seriously will ultimately greatly increase the number of refugees.

The great river deltas are probably the world's most densely populated areas, they are also the most vulnerable to the sea level rise that will come with climate change. Bangladesh, for example, has a population of about 160 million and 46% of those people live within 10m of sea level. How many of the people from low-lying areas will be looking for refuge in Australia in the future if climate change is not curbed?

Australia, as one of the nations with the greatest greenhouse emissions per capita and the Australian government is one of the most recalcitrant in acting on reducing emissions. Any national government wanting an excuse to go slow on climate change action can hold up Australia as an example: "Why should we take action on climate change when a wealthy country like Australia has a very high greenhouse emission rate and is doing next to nothing to reduce those emissions?"

Favouring the fossil fuel industries over the renewable energy industries is not only unethical, it is counter-productive economically because the fossil fuel industries are on the way out while there is universal recognition among all well informed people that renewable energy is the way of the future. A government that tries to hold on to outdated technologies that are doomed to go, rather than embrace the new technologies that are obviously going to spread exponentially, is foolish, irresponsible, and in relation to this page particularly, unethical.

Government for the government, parliamentarians for the political parties

Recent Australian governments and oppositions have been motivated by self-interest; they have made decisions for the good of the party in power rather than for the good of the nation. Similarly, whichever major political party was in opposition has opposed any government policy that they felt would be to their advantage to oppose, they did not just oppose those policies that were bad for Australia.

Classic examples of this:

  • The Turnbull government (in power as I write this, October 2016) is looking after the fossil fuel industry and opposing renewable energy because they perceive that to be in their short-term best interest; it is certainly not in the long-term interest of the nation or the world.
  • Some years earlier the Liberal-National opposition headed by Tony Abbott seemed to have a very simple action-plan: oppose everything that the Labor government tries to do, no matter what it may be.

Similarly, parliamentarians of the major parties do not speak or vote for what they believe to be right; they speak and vote for whatever the party policy happens to be at the time. Any parliamentarian who does not cross the floor and vote according to his or her conscience, at least once in a while, cannot justify holding any self respect; such a person is nothing but a puppet and should be ashamed of themselves.

Related pages

External sites...

Canberra Times: Australia is a bludger on carbon emissions, not an overachiever

On this site...

Australia's energy future is with renewables

Australia's Liberal party opposes climate change action (but Labor is hardly any better)

Australian Coalition governments; under Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

Burning fossil fuels kills millions of people world-wide each year through air pollution.

Climate change in the international and Australian contexts

Coal has little future; investing in it is foolish

Disconnect between ethics and the law

Greatest crime in the history of humanity

The Pros and Cons of Various Methods of Generating Electricity

On this page...