The Common Wealth – Preamble

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The values: Community Engagement, Equity, Stewardship, Fairness, Freedom, An Ethical Culture

Preamble

The test of a nation's values lies not in the nobility or the eloquence of their expression, but, rather, in the extent to which their manifestation in the public realm, particularly in public policy, contributes to our individual and collective well-being – our common wealth.

Because wealth has many dimensions, and is enjoyed in terms of each person's individual values, it is not easily measured. Indeed, not even the material dimensions of wealth are amenable to measurement. Wealth in all its dimensions, material and non-material, incorporates all our values that have to do with the expansion and flourishing of all human lives, individually and as part of a shared humanity.

Our wealth arises from many sources – our own activities in the private and public spheres, and in the physical, human, social, environmental, and institutional capital we have inherited from previous generations. We have a right to enjoy that wealth and a duty to conserve and develop it further for the enjoyment of those who come after us.

It is not meaningful to classify wealth into 'economic' and 'social' dimensions. An expression in such terms implies a false dichotomy, for economic activity is simply a means to an end – that end being a social one.

Our collective wealth is enjoyed and sustained in terms of our collective values – what some may call 'national identity'. These values, and their manifestation in public policy, change and develop. Australians have a tradition of social innovation, providing a model for other countries and drawing on the best experience of other countries. We have made considerable progress in the last 200 years, but some Australians have not shared in that progress, and in some areas, like the treatment of refugees, we have recently taken backward steps.

We have articulated six values which we believe define Australia as a civilized and decent nation – community engagement, equity, stewardship, fairness, freedom and an ethical culture. All are contestable, particularly in their detail. We have therefore identified alternative values which some societies, and some individuals in our society, may see as more attractive. A statement of values is of use only if it implies choice; as we embrace certain values we reject certain others.

To illustrate how these values translate into public policy we have provided examples of implementation, with particular (but not exclusive) reference to public policy at the national level.

We do not pretend that we live up to these values; indeed, in recent years we have drifted from earlier reference points, such as the social contracts at the time of Federation, but to no particular new reference point. We have been variously attracted to neoliberalism, a resurgent conservatism, populism, and even to crony capitalism: we have found all of these to be unsatisfactory. We are seeking to define a more meaningful set of values, consistent with our traditions of openness, egalitarianism and optimism, that can form an anchor for public policy.

Download The Common Wealth (word) (pdf)

The values: Community Engagement, Equity, Stewardship, Fairness, Freedom, An Ethical Cutlure

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