Prime Minister Howard held that mateship was one of the great Australian virtues. What is mateship? You would have to say that mateship is about standing by your mates, right or wrong, through thick and thin, putting your friendship before all else.
What could be wrong with that? At first site it appears to be a creditable attribute, but there are several problems with it if you give it just a little bit of thought. If mateship requires that you look after your mates it also requires that you favour your mates over everybody else. And if your mate does something that is very wrong, should you still stand by him or her? If your mate does an injustice to someone who is not your mate, don't you have some responsibility to that other person? Surely you have a responsibility to wider society in addition to loyalty to your mates?
Is there any difference between mateship and cronyism (the practice of partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends or trusted colleagues)? Not much I would think.
How mateship can be the wrong course:
It seems to me that mateship is patriotism and nationalism on a smaller scale. Patriotism and nationalism involves unthinkingly placing your nation before others, while mateship involves putting your mates, right or wrong, before everyone else. Nationalism and mateship both involve favouring those who are closer to you, rather than those who are further from you.
Nationalism and mateship are the other side of xenophobia. The first two relate to favouring those closer to you, xenophobia relates to discriminating against those furthest from you.
It seems to me that loyalty to a larger ideal, rather than to a smaller, is more to be admired, and more likely to produce a good country and a good world. Instead of placing one's mates first, shouldn't one work for the good of the whole of society?
Waterloo Wind Farm
Mateship has a big part in the Australian Coalition governments' favouring of the fossil fuel industries, that are run by their mates, over the renewable energy industry that the world must turn to if our children are to inherit a world that is not greatly damaged by climate change.
Perhaps mateship was the essence of Prime Minister Howard's greatest fault. When, against the strong opposition of the Australian people, he took Australia into his mate George W. Bush's Iraq War he was upholding his 'high ideals' of mateship.
Instead of looking at greenhouse and climate change from a global perspective, he looked at them from a short-sighted, short-term local and selfish perspective and saw action as not being "in Australia's best interest". (Action to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions might harm PM Howard's mates in the coal industry.) He looked at "free trade" as being between two specific nations (those nations whose leaders he was closest to) rather than trying to encourage universal free trade. His approach to economics was to look after the wealthy (his mates) and neglect the poor. He greatly increased the funding of private schools, to the relative disadvantage of state schools, because the children of his mates mostly went to private schools.
At the time when the invasion of Iraq was being justified by the 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' argument PM Howard said:
"Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I've never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime."
Later we saw the PM Howard pushing nuclear power. Was it a coincidence that a couple of his mates (Ron Walker and Hugh Morgan) were proposing building Australia's first nuclear power station?
John Howard can admire mateship; I will admire fairness and altruism.
An example of blatantly unethical mateshipSenator Mathias Cormann announced in July 2020 that he would leave parliament by the end of the year.
Senator Cormann's tilt at this position has the full support of the Morrison government who nominated him for the lucrative job.
As reported by the ABC "the OECD is an international organisation that works to create policies that promote economic growth and look to improve social and environmental challenges faced globally." (My emphasis)
Senator Cormann served as Australia's Finance Minister from 2013 to 2020, under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. In this position he has fully supported those governments in their battle to slow the development of renewable energy and prop up the polluting fossil fuel industries. He has actively fought against support for the environment.
Senator Cormann's nomination as Secretary-General of the OECD is not just a blatant case of mateship and 'jobs for the boys', in relation to this position in particular it is quite obscene.
I've written more on this subject on a dedicated page.
External pagesMates first policy: Scott Morrison’s No. 1 value is seeing the country rot from the head down; "When 'looking after our mates' is your foundational value, those who work for you will get the message: taxpayer funding is there for the taking."
Page, James S. (2002). 'Is Mateship a Virtue?' Australian Journal of Social Issues.
John Howard gets Freedom Medal from his mate.
Related pages on this siteEthics