Aug 12, 2014

Ethics 101

What with everything going on in the world at the moment, there are far more terrible issues to contend with than the two local items below. But doing the right thing and taking responsibility for having done wrong are universally important. So, here are my opinions on two "case studies" (as both are no doubt already in text books by now), which highlight massive failures of ethics.

Essendon Football Club Supplements Scandal

The Essendon Football Club "supplements scandal" is in the news again (or should that be "still"?) because Essendon has taken its case against ASADA to court, and the case is being heard this week.

I guess it's inevitable when there are careers and money at stake, but it's amazing to me that Essendon/James Hird are fighting this at all.  The Essendon supplements scandal is a textbook case of unethical behaviour. They did wrong, and they need to accept it.

Let's put aside these aspects: the supplements were not effective; one of the prohibited supplements was not prohibited at the time; other clubs are or were using supplements too.

Those aspects are not really relevant to the fact that Essendon did wrong.

The charges against Essendon are listed here, and they can be summarised as:

  • putting players at risk
  • failing to adequately control and monitor the program
  • acting against internal policy
  • operating in a culture that was lax, uninformed, risk-taking, disregarding of rules and cavalier with players' well-being (2013 slogan: "Whatever It Takes")
  • using prohibited substances!

The Essendon management in general were bad, but James Hird has been appalling. The correct stance when caught out in a scandal of this magnitude is contrition, immediate and heartfelt concern for the players' welfare, and humble acceptance of what was, in this case, an incredibly lenient punishment (initially, suspension for a year with pay, with agreement to return as coach the following season).  Only a massive ego would reject and fight such a punishment, and consistently refuse to accept he did anything wrong.

It's simple ethics:

1. There are good reasons for all those annoying rules. Always do the right thing, even if you're swimming in a culture that doesn't. Eventually, the tide will turn - and then things will not be pretty.

2. If you have a duty of care towards others, exercise care.

3. When you've done the wrong thing, take responsibility and take your medicine. 


HSU expenses scandal

I'll tell you one thing that has seriously annoyed me: the number of people on the left willing to ignore or downplay the abomination that is the Health Services Union expenses scandal. I've always been pretty solidly left (lately more like "centre left"), but I cannot see how anyone can defend criminal fraud and theft.

Those on the left who defend corrupt trade unions or dismiss Craig Thomson's theft because "the government gives more money to Rupert Murdoch" or some such terrible argument, are not helping the left.

(Example: a tweet from Helen Razer dismissed the Craig Thomson case as "a handful of knock-shop change".)

Yes we know that governments have and have had questionable arrangements with Rupert Murdoch and other power brokers.  But like the defense of Essendon that "other clubs are doing it too", it's not a defence. It is actually almost irrelevant.

I am fully aware that the current government Royal Commission into trade union corruption is political and the Liberal party's ultimate goal is to sneak in Workchoices by another name. Again, that's not a defence.

Corruption is a cancer, and the audacity and level of trade union corruption, in this day and age, where we're still reading about events that sound like they should come from thirty years ago, should appall everyone. Funds stolen from trade union "slush fund accounts" and fraudulent expense claims are money stolen from workers, who are ultimately duped and abandoned by the union they depend on.

There is a tendency on the hard left (not the sensible left) to absolve any wrong, downplay any crime, for "the greater good" of keeping the left in power. Leaving aside the fact that any side in power for too long becomes at worst dangerous and at best useless, it's a terrible position anyway.

The thing is, while in theory I can often agree that an isolated or limited bad deed might be justified or outweighed by the greater good, in practice I can't think of a single time I've ever felt that way.

Corruption and theft are always bad. They always have victims, and they always do damage. And left unchecked, they always get worse and endanger more people.

Ethics cannot be elastic.

So that's my rant for the week. What do you think? I know passions are high on both of these topics; do you see things differently?


  1. There may be times when doing the wrong thing for the right reason is acceptable but those times would be few and far between.

  2. Our world is very strange today because bad habits and customs are acceptable. So black it means white. It is contemporary world in 21 st century.

  3. Oh yes.
    Accepting responsibility seems to be getting rarer, and rarer. Either for where we are, or for where we are going. Excuses are slippery devils though. And not conducive to intergrity. Or firm foundations.

    1. "Accepting responsibility seems to be getting rarer": yes. Everyone's first reaction now seems to be to deny, lie and fight the charges even if they're valid, costing everyone else time, money and grief

  4. As a life long union member, I find it particularly difficult when I hear of union corruption and dodgy dealings. You are correct, of course. Western countries need to be very vigilant about corruption. This is where the trickle down effect does work. It is the poorest who end up paying.



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