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Life Matters

Integrity and ethics in the workplace

The critical failure of integrity and ethics in the workplace is well documented. Thus it is not surprising that the behaviour of people in public and high-profile positions comes under scrutiny. But when it does is it the role of the media to publicly air ‘dirty laundry’?

Earlier this year the former Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned following a probe into her workplace conduct by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It related to a secret relationship she had with a former New South Wales Member of Parliament (MP), Daryl Maguire. The outcome of the matter is yet to be made public.

This week integrity and ethics in the Australian Parliament has come under fire due to the lack of an Anti-corruption Commission. Independent MP, Helen Haines, introduced a Federal Integrity Commission Bill into parliament. But debate on the Bill was blocked on a technicality by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

Many of us would agree that the Australian Federal Parliament needs integrity legislation. So why did Morrison stand in the way of the Bill?

The Morrison government are committed to establishing a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) to strengthen integrity arrangements across the federal public sector. Consultations on the draft legislation closed on 12 February 2021. The process has been drawn out hence the frustration of Helen Haines to introduce her own integrity commission bill. But should such an important piece of work be rushed?

Any legislation that monitors integrity and ethics in the workplace needs to be a model that is just and fair. The type of anti-corruption model for the Australian Federal Parliament is important. It’s limitations and powers need to be carefully considered. Any model for an integrity commission must also protect the rights of individuals when there is no criminal activity involved. When discussing the matter in Parliament Morrison raised the ICAC investigation into Ms Berejiklian as a moot point.

Many questions need to be asked of an anti-corruption commission as to whether a public hearing, as in the case of Ms Berejiklian, is the best way forward. That is, making private information public before evidence of a crime is conclusive. Does such a model, that allows for public hearings, ethical practice?

In Queensland the Crime and Corruption Commission has come under fire for its investigation into the Logan City Council. As a consequence, Councillors were sacked, and a new Council was appointed. There were no criminal charges from the investigation but Councillor’s who had served their community for decades were out of work. Their reputations damaged. Yes, we do need accountability in public life. But does this have to come into the public arena before unethical behaviour is proven?

One area I do not hear much about is integrity in journalism. Yet I know that there is a Code of Ethics. At least for those who are members of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA). They commit themselves to: Honesty, Fairness, Independence, and Respect for the rights of others.

But we know through media reporting that ethical behaviour can be diluted when it comes to a good story. At least it looks that way to me. What about  ‘respect for the rights of others?’ At times it is  lost within the hunger for a sensational story. Stories that do not respect the rights of other can ruin a person’s livelihood and character.

Not all journalists are unethical. But those who operate in an unethical framework should be called out. Another journalism standard is to ‘do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for right of reply.’ But an opportunity should not include being harassed with journalists setting up shop in front of your home or office. Or never making the effort to seek ‘a right of reply.’

Journalists can claim that a news story is in ‘the public interest.’ But how many stories have happened to scintillate the public at the expense of a person’s privacy and wellbeing?

This past week cricket fans in Australia have heard about the misdemeanours of the former Australian cricket captain, Tim Paine. His indiscretions, identified as a sexting scandal, have been blazoned across television screens and double page newspaper spreads. How could he continue in his captaincy role knowing what he did? He did it for years with the support and sanction of Cricket Australia. How is that everything changes when everyone knows about a misdemeanour, previously only known to a few.

I expect Paine is not alone in his irresponsible lack of judgment. But how does someone come back from public humiliation by the media? Sometimes there is no road back only a slow demise into the darkness of despair. And sometimes suicide. All because of unethical journalism.

But then, what if we could look behind the closed doors of influential industry leaders, politicians, public figures, and others who hold responsible roles in the community. What about delving into the lives of everyday Aussie’s? I am sure there are few skeletons lurking in the cupboard. Once they are discovered there is sure to be good story or two from unethical journalists.

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