Journey to the Center of Ethics
This week has had a couple of amusing stories in the media which have caught my eye. The first was the brilliant tree impersonation by Telstra COO Phil Burgess.
The other was described in the subscriber edition of Crikey which is not online, hence the extended quote:
When journalists want an expert comment on ethical issues, they often go to Simon Longstaff, executive director of Sydney's St James Ethics Centre, which describes itself as a "fully independent not-for-profit organisation which provides a non-judgemental forum for the promotion and exploration of ethics and ethical decision-making."
That's exactly what the ABC's Stateline's NSW program did a couple of weeks ago when it needed someone to discuss the ethics of former NSW premier Bob Carr's contentious move to Macquarie Bank as a part-time consultant on a reported retainer of $500,000 a year. Which worked well, except that Longstaff neglected to mention that Macquarie Bank is a sponsor of the The St James Ethics Centre, a fact which sheds an interesting light on the views he expressed to presenter Quentin Dempster.
Carr's timing was "a bit unfortunate," Longstaff told Stateline, although he didn't see any problems with him accepting the position: "There's a lot of controversy at the moment about the way in which some companies are able to generate super profits because of their relationships with governments. And maybe that wasn't the best of times, but that wasn't his fault."
Should Carr have waited longer than ten weeks before accepting the position in light of ICAC's post-separation employment recommendations, that "ministers may not take up appointments in areas of activity specified in the rules, such as the portfolio areas for which they were responsible during the last year before they left office"? Macquarie Bank and Bob Carr, I'm sure, have thought about this, said Longstaff, "and will make sure that he is not put in that position, and he will have to be very guarded about it." For the full transcript, click here.
Tonight, Longstaff is back on Stateline to explain himself. As presenter Dempster notes: "We didn't know it, and Doctor Longstaff didn't tell us, but a viewer did ... Macquarie Bank is a major sponsor of the St James Ethics Centre. So major that in the Centre's magazine, Living Ethics, the Bank's logo is on the front and at the bottom of every page."
For some reason the idea of the Ethics Centre having problems with a potential conflict of interest is a particularly appealing irony. Maybe ethics are like hurricanes: at the centre the effects cannot be felt.