People who hold positions of trust – like Rupert Murdoch or the paper boy – have to act honestly and in good faith. They must act in the interests of those putting trust in them and not in their own interests.
Politicians cheating on travel allowances behave as if that precept was dead. They have not acted honestly or in good faith. They have acted in their own interests. What really gets up our noses is that their sense of entitlement – do you remember that word whose age had ended? – so blinds them that they treat us as if we had come down in the last shower.
Part of the problem is that there are too many rules and regulations. These small minded greedy people then say that they are within the rules. Even where their conduct stinks – or, as the press say, even where it fails the pub test. (Tony Abbott or his publisher had to hand back $14,000 claimed to promote a book.) You see a similar problem with directors and so much black letter law, and it gets hellish when industrial lawyers legislate for the workplace. Then all sense of individual responsibility goes clean out the window. Lawyers have a lot to answer for in the decline of our moral fabric.
In a book called Law for Directors, I said:
Of course, the obligations of directors derive from the fact that they have accepted responsibility for looking after the affairs of others – but this is also the case with members of the committee of a club, union organisers, or the elders of the church – or the person who agrees to hold the keys to his neighbour’s house or to sell his friend’s Nolan – or get me a copy of The Herald. Nor should it shock our egalitarian sensibilities to be told that a paper boy shares the same moral plain as the Chair of Telstra or that the meat-pie vendors at the MCG and the Chair of the ANZ Bank are both equally subject to the decrees of the Georgian Lord Chancellors and the subsequent divinations of their Antipodean acolytes.
A complete train wreck exists in the form of a man named Culleton. His position in the Senate is in issue because of a conviction for a criminal offence and his bankruptcy. He asked that the Senate be reconvened to consider is position. Just think how much that exercise in futility would have cost you and me! He said that he is not insolvent. It’s about 40 years since I did bankruptcy cases, but I don’t think you have to be an insolvency expert or even a lawyer to know a reasonable test of solvency. If you say that you are able to pay their debts as they fall due, the simplest way to establish that proposition is by paying them.
But more fundamentally, why should we have to wait for a court to make a formal order before this drongo is disqualified from sitting in our parliament? Is it not enough that he has defaulted on his obligations to other Australians? If he is that hopeless in looking after his own affairs, what possible right has a got to claim to look after mine?
Here again we have a fetish about rules that undermines ordinary decency.
What was the first move of the new regime in Washington? To seek to abolish a committee of ethics for Congress – possibly on the ground that the next president could not spell the word. And don’t forget that this crowd in Canberra in its last manifestation was determined to relax the general precept I started with for financial advisers.
As I say, our politicians keep treating us as if they think we came down in the last shower.
Poet of the month: Chris Wallace-Crabbe
Do I Sleep or am I Slept?
At morning there came the dream that includes all dreams,
its detail unclear, but mastery quite profound;
with no visible character
it owned all the pigeonholes:
the future was eaten away.
Perhaps it was the Word.
Needing no breath of syntax it reached out,
imposing domination on the first
half of my ordinary Sunday.
Clearly it had prejudged
parking spot, dates, tennis booking, proper names
just when that bill was due.
On top of my questions, the answer lay
like an old cat.
Celestial timber, silent joinery,
the universe had been fitted out with shelves
on my behalf.