Comment on The Common Wealth – Paul Laris


The concept of our common wealth as Australians stems from the fact that the well-being of each of us depends on maintaining the well-being of our fellows, and thus of our society. As a society we create collectively the conditions under which we as individuals strive to lead ethical and fulfilling lives. In this context, the 6 values set out in the draft make a lot of sense. I have just three concerns: The draft focuses these values on the role of internal national management and neglects adequate consideration of the nation as a global citizen. Secondly, the distinction made between equity and fairness may be confusing. Finally I believe diversity is a value we should express — at a number of levels.

Just as we as individuals have a social responsibility to our fellow Australians, we as a nation have a global responsibility to the rest of humanity and to the biosphere that sustains us. Much of the wealth that we enjoy as Australians has been expropriated from less wealthy lands by colonial resource exploitation in the last two centuries and increasingly by labour exploitation in this one. Currently we sustain levels of consumption only possible by eating into the limited natural resources of the planet and its future. A nation with a conscious external focus, prepared to take on the role of facilitating partnerships and linking peoples to enhance global welfare is akin to an active citizen acting as neighbourhood community developer. The examples could illustrate this more than they currently do. The irrelevance of national boundaries for the biosphere and issues such as global warming or depletion of sea life demonstrates that stewardship of the environment restricted to a national level makes little

sense. Perhaps activism should be a basic value. This is not ‘the minor burden of global citizenship’ referred to in the current draft, but rather the right and responsibility to play an active role in global community engagement for a stewardship of sustainability of humanity on a living planet.

Equity has been narrowed in the document to refer to equality of opportunity. I am not sure this a common interpretation. Fairness (often seen as synonymous with equity, but distinct from equality) is then raised separately to describe equity of process — the ‘fair go’ and the need for policy and procedures to acknowledge and accommodate the relative advantage and disadvantage some groups will have compared to others. This is fine, but why not collapse these under the one value of equity as fairness?

Finally, what of diversity? A society that embraces and successfully manages diversity must engage with its communities, enable freedom within equity and provide stewardship. It must acknowledge and deal with complexity. It is one of the basic attributes of an ethical culture. Diversity is a basic tenet of a successful multi-cultural society, both nationally and globally. Just as Amrtya Sen has observed there has never been a famine in a democracy, its hard to envisage a totalitarian state that truly embraces diversity. The preservation of diversity in the biosphere will be crucial to our survival as a species.

Our ethical society should be able to pass the test of Rawls ‘veil of ignorance’- if we were designing a set of values to underpin a nation state, without knowing if that state was to be us or another, would the outcome be different? Would these values would be sustainable if all nations adopted them. I think if we added diversity we could then claim to be serious about valuing an ethical culture and celebrating our role as global citizen, rather than begrudging its ‘burden’.

Paul Laris
October 31,2005

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