Comment on The Common Wealth – Paul Munro


On October 23 New Matilda's policy portal published draft proposals for six important values that should underlie future policy development work. The image of the proposed values forming 'an anchor for public policy' would attract support from many of the people with whom I find myself in conversation. We share a view that Australia is adrift in a sea of change; that those at the helm have no indigenous grasp of either proper bearings or of the difference between necessary ballast and supercargo.

There is a need for work of this kind: societal values should be articulated pluralistically and debated. Policymakers formulate principles for applying values, not all of which are articulated, to particular cases. Administrators apply such principles, and hopefully are liable to be held to account for doing so.

There is some overlap within the set of values selected. Thus, equity and fairness might be thought to be on the same side of the one coin. But for a working draft, the six selected: Community engagement; Equity; Stewardship; Fairness; Freedom; and an Ethical Culture, are good enough to begin with.

I wish to comment only on a couple of them.

Community engagement is more a condition of social formation than a value within it: engagement, relationship, each is fundamental to groupings of living sapient beings. The draft proposal explains the value with more emphasis on individual relationship and subjective individual respect than I would allow.

Nuggett Coombs identified some of the key constituents and relationships of Australian society when he pointed out:

Power is not the exclusive possession of the political instruments of government… power has been exerted by members of historically privileged classes; it is exercised by the wealthy, by leaders of large industrial and commercial corporations, by the owners of the press and other media, by trade union officials; and… by organised religions, racial groups and other associations of persons with common social, political or other interests…. it is necessary for us to acknowledge the reality of these influences and to note the development in recent decades of new focuses of influence, which have learnt something from longer established interest about ways of exerting pressures on governments.

Those influences reflect constituents and relationships of the community engagement that is our social system. Individuals are first and foremost, the building blocks of society. I agree that the preservation of their status and effective relationship should be given high value in policy development. But I doubt that that value can be formulated without realistic regard to the competing value of other influences on community engagement. Regard to those influences, or self regard, will often contradict the suggestion in the draft proposal that: He or she is mindful of the rights and needs of others, and is compassionate towards others, no matter how far the social and kinship separations. Mindful compassion of that kind is not so ubiquitous in Australia that could properly be said to be part of our common wealth. I would suggest that the iteration of that value might be rephrased along the following lines: Those rights and duties operate in relationship to the rights and needs of others, no matter how far the social and kinship separations.

I would also amend the explanatory comment that relationships are characterised by respect. I should have thought that it is a value of society to acknowledge, indeed encourage, antinomic relationships between societal influences. Of course, that toleration is conditional upon individual and influential relationships being subject to observance and acceptance of other societal values and norms that enforce a kind of respect.

I would also add a final observation to the elaboration of the community engagement value. I am not able in this comment to frame the counter-values or the policy implications of my suggested addition but I think it necessary. It would be to the effect that:

More than ever, we must accept and give value to our acceptance that our society has global parameters. Global social factors now affect the air we breathe, the level of the tide that surrounds us, the boundaryless dimensions and causes of warlike conflict.

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