The short-sighted John Howard once said that ‘we cannot fix the environment at the expense of the economy’. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her government recently approved the Adani coal project on the basis that it was good for the economy, despite claiming to be environmental advocates.
Are we a nation devoid of ethics?
Where is the ethical leadership in 2016? Join the conversation in our discussion forum.
A reactive Joe Ludwig, federal minister for agriculture in 2011, banned live cattle exports to Indonesia in the wake of a Four Corners report exposing animal cruelty – before reversing that decision following cries from farmers, cattle associations, the then Opposition and many others who said the ban was costing jobs.
Australia continues to allow the advertising of poisons such as junk food and alcohol, along with social disrupters like gambling. We all know that all of these things do damage, but we keep allowing this damage on economic grounds. Being legal is one thing, but advertising gambling, fast food and alcohol is quite another.
Recently, it was proposed that there be a tax on sugar, on the basis of research showing it would save thousands of lives. The sugar industry responded by saying that it would not be good for the economy. Every time a new green fields development is protested by environmentalists (who have nothing to gain personally), those environmentalists are accused of trying to destroy the economy.
And so it goes on. In all of these cases and most others, of which there are too many, it is clear that the economic argument occurs before the moral or ethical argument and in the main, takes precedence.
As social commentator Hugh McKay once noted, in Australia today, instead of the economy serving the community, the community serves the economy. The economy has become an end in itself rather than the means to an end.
This point has been further emphasised in the recent debate regarding whether there should be a royal commission into the banking industry in Australia. One of the primary arguments against such an investigation has been that such a commission may damage the economy.
What is the good of a strong economy if you have no environment to live in?
What is the good of a strong economy if you have to lose your ethical standards to achieve it?
For the majority of the community, what is the good of a strong economy when more than 50% of the wealth generated is the property of the top 1%.
Would the world not be a better place if we had the ethical debate before we had the economic debate?
How can we be proud of a nation that trades ethics for economics?
Why are we so selfish that everything gets back to economics?
Where is the ethical leadership in 2016?