A new guide for SME's to connect with purpose

Purpose, values and principles are the bedrock of every thriving organisation. With many facing a reset right now, we’ve released a guide to help small to medium sized businesses create a road map for good decisions and robust culture.

In the world of architecture, even the most magnificent building is only as strong as its foundations. The same can be said for organisations. In these times of constant change, a strong ethical culture is essential to achieving superior, long-term performance – driving behaviour, innovation, and every decision from hiring, through to partnerships and customer service.

The foundations for a high-performance culture are made up of three principal components: Purpose, Values and Principles.

Each is necessary. Each plays a specific role. Each complements the other to make a stable foundation for the whole. Together, they make up what we call an Ethics Framework.

PURPOSE (WHY) – An organisation’s reason for being.

Purpose explains the WHY; it is the reason an organisation exists and what it was set up to do or achieve. It’s a defining expression of what your organisation stands for in the world and why it matters.

VALUES (WHAT) – What is good.

Values shape the WHAT; they are the things that an organisation believes are good and worth pursuing. Values guide actions, activities and behaviours within an organisations by identifying what is of merit.

PRINCIPLES (HOW) – What is right.

Principles determine the HOW; helping to guide how an organisation obtains the things it thinks are good. If Values tell an organisation what to pursue, Principles tell them how they should go about getting those things.

The Ethics Centre has spent the past thirty years helping organisations to build and strengthen their ethical foundations. In many cases, we have been able to work directly with organisations. However, not every organisation has either the time or the funds needed to invest in specialist advice.

So, the Centre was pleased to accept a grant from The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s Community Benefit Fund for the purpose of creating a ‘DIY Guide’ for ethics frameworks – with a special focus on the needs of small to medium-sized businesses. It goes beyond broad theory to offer practical, step-by-step guidance to anyone wanting to define and apply their own Purpose, Values and Principles.

The publication of this guide comes at an especially important time. The current pandemic is testing organisations as never before.

Indeed, COVID-19 is every bit as dangerous as an earthquake – except, in this case, it is the ethical foundations of organisations that will determine whether they stand or fall. In a time of crisis, weak foundations are susceptible to crumble, opening up an organisation to the risk it will make ‘bad’ decisions that will ultimately cost it dearly.

The Ethics Centre believes that prevention is better than cure. Our hope is that the practical guidance offered by this guide will provide owners and managers with the tools they need to build stronger, better businesses.

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Are you clear on your organisation's reason for being?

FODI launches free interactive digital series

FODI Digital, announced today, is an exciting series of free, online conversations to be live-streamed on May 9 and 10.

The line-up will feature a selection of the international and Australian speakers originally slated for the live festival that was cancelled, by government order, as the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect last month.

“The theme for 2020’s live festival was Dangerous Realities and we seem to well and truly have encountered one. Critical thinking is essential, especially as we isolate further from our communities, families and global neighbours.” said Festival Director, Danielle Harvey.

Executive Director of The Ethics Centre and Co-Founder of FODI Simon Longstaff says FODI digital is a timely invitation to think critically.

“We may submit to a lockdown of our bodies, but never our minds. If ever there was a time to test the boundaries of our thinking … it is today!”

The series of online conversations takes inspiration from the original FODI 2020 theme of ‘Dangerous Realities’, with online sessions being streamed via the festival website. The series will interrogate the reality of the current pandemic and its wider implications for our world and society.

Audiences can contribute questions live while the discussions take place.

For Festival Director Danielle Harvey, there’s never been a more important time for these critical conversations. “Decisions are being made at every level that will shape how we live our lives both now and in the future.

“While we can’t present the program in the way originally planned, these digital conversations will address topics that really need to be put under the microscope. COVID-19 will hopefully end at some point, and understanding what kind of world we will then be entering is essential.”

Sessions include:

  • The Truth About China – Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is joined by journalists Peter Hartcher and Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, with Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang, and strategist Jason Yat-Sen Li, in a wide-ranging discussion about China;
  • The Future Is History – Russian-American journalist, high-profile LGBTQI activist and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Masha Gessen, shares her thoughts on Russia and the coming US elections;
  • Snap Back To Reality – Philosopher Simon Longstaff leads a discussion with social researcher Rebecca Huntley, political journalist Stan Grant, and fellow philosopher Tim Soutphommasane, on the social shifts, policy and economic consequences that await us in a post-COVID-19 world;
  • States of Surveillance – Futurist Mark Pesce, 3A Institute data expert Ellen Broad, and founder of Old Ways, New Angie Abdilla discuss the issue of digital surveillance for virus tracking and the potential threat posed by the ‘normalisation’ of government surveillance;
  • Misinformation Is Infectious – First Draft’s Claire Wardle, tech journalist Ariel Bogle discuss COVID-19-related conspiracy theories and what they tell us about technology’s role in the spread of damaging misinformation;
  • Stolen Inheritance – Australian youth leaders, Daisy Jeffrey, Audrey Mason-Hyde and Dylan Storer discuss their concerns for the world they will inherit: a world of debt, educational disadvantage, diminished job opportunities, climate catastrophe and … future pandemics;
  • The Ethics of the Pandemic – Philosophers Matt Beard, Eleanor Gordon-Smith and Bryan Mukandi take a step back from the day-to-day dilemmas of the pandemic to try to understand what’s really going on, the lessons we learn and the hidden costs of the choices we make;
  • Political Correct-Mess – Conservative Australian commentator Kevin Donnelly, journalist Chris Kenny, and journalist Osman Faruqi join journalist Sarah Dingle to dissect political correctness and ask, “Has it gone too far?”;
  • Ageing is a Disease – Biologist David Sinclair talks about cracking and reversing the ageing process, which may help the elderly in their fight against a range of diseases and viruses.

The event will live stream straight from The Festival of Dangerous Ideas website across May 9-10. Visit www.festivalofdangerousideas.com to view the program.

You can contact The Ethics Centre about any of the issues discussed in this article. We offer free counselling for individuals via Ethi-callprofessional fee-for-service consulting, leadership and development services; and as a non-profit charity we rely heavily on donations to continue our work, which can be made via our websiteThank you.

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Can you put a price on life?

Eight questions to consider about schooling and COVID-19

For the parents of school age children, the coronavirus pandemic presents challenging ethical decisions.

On one hand, all available medical evidence suggests ordinarily healthy children are at no risk of harm from COVID-19. While they can present with minor symptoms if infected, there’s believed to be no lasting injury. The nation’s formally appointed medical advisers have advised that schools should stay open, at least for now. Despite this, there’s considerable agitation amongst parents facing this decision, a number are already voting with their feet by not sending their kids to school.

The situation is made more difficult for parents thanks to contrary medical advice from credible informal sources. Likewise, parents are wrestling with apparent conflicts in policy settings – indoor gatherings of 100 or more are deemed hazardous (500 if outdoors), and we’re implored to adhere to social distancing, yet schools are deemed to be exempt from these restrictions.

Part of the problem is that governments are seen to be lacking transparency around why these contradictions exist. So, many parents are left to wonder if their children and their families are being asked to bear risks for the sake of others – and to do so without any opportunity to consent to the role they are being asked to play.

So, what should parents do? Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:

  1. What are the facts?

    Have I sought information from the most authoritative sources, not just those with the loudest voice or widest following? Am I listening to those specifically qualified to speak on the matter or am I sifting information to suit my pre-existing preferences (what we know as confirmation bias)?

  2. Do my children and family matter more than others?

    Does my duty to my immediate family take precedence over obligations to all others in my wider community, including relative strangers? Who will bear the ultimate burden of my decision? For example, some of the reasons for the government wanting schools to remain open are to allow emergency workers with children to attend to their duties and to help prevent the economy from shutting down due to employees being diverted to child-caring duties. All of this confers benefits on wider society.

  3. Am I claiming a privilege I don’t deserve?

    what would I decide if I found myself in the position of the most vulnerable person in society? Not everyone has the same choices in life. For example, the very wealthy will often be able to afford a period without employment income, while others will struggle to meet the most basic needs. So, is the option to withdraw your child from school something that you can ‘afford’ to do – but not others with fewer financial resources, or less support, more generally?

  4. Is fear distorting my judgement?

    Am I misjudging the real level of risk? And in doing so, am I discounting the opportunities for my children? For example, has the school put in place hygiene measures and the monitoring and testing of symptoms as part of their regime? Does that offer an environment that is only marginally less safe than your home – especially if you and other family members still intend to come and go from the house, as required from time to time?

  5. Am I being proportionate in my response?

    Am I considering opportunities as well as risks, and weighing them up in a manner that allocates appropriate weight to each? In making this assessment should the interests of society as a whole be given priority? For example, if the risks to my children and family are very low, but the effective costs of my decision on others are very high, have I good enough reasons to explain to others why my small gain is worth their large level of pain? If your decision to withdraw your child tips the school into closure, will you be imposing a burden on others that they cannot afford to bear?

  6. What are my ‘non-negotiables’?

    Are there certain decisions that I would regret making for the rest of my life? For example, if your child did become infected at school – could you live with the fact that you had allowed exposure? Would it matter so much if you knew that infection would have only minor consequences for the child? Likewise, could you live with yourself or another family member being exposed to risk of infection due to your child attending school?

  7. How might history judge my decision?

    Would an independent and unbiased judge find the decision you make wanting? Indeed, would you remain confident in your choices if you know it would be a leading news story in the months or years to come? Imagine people in the future considering your decision and its motivations. Would they endorse those choices, given the information and options that are available to you now?

  8. Are there creative alternatives that would resolve the dilemma?

    Is it possible to reconcile competing interests by proposing a novel solution? For example, could society close schools while making alternative arrangements for the safe care of the children of people working in essential services. Is it possible to maintain a flourishing economy while whole families work from home for extended periods?

There are no ready-made answers to ethical dilemmas. As such, ethics does not demand an illusory form of ethical perfection. Reasonable people can and do disagree about the answers to challenging ethical questions – such as how best to respond to the emergence of COVID-19. That is fine – especially in circumstances where the best option available is simply the ‘least bad’. All that ethics requires is that, as a minimum, we stop and think, tie our decisions back to an explicit framework of values and principles and make a conscientious judgement of how competing interests should be ranked in our estimation of what it is right and good to do.


You can contact The Ethics Centre about any of the issues discussed in this article. We offer free counselling for individuals via Ethi-callprofessional fee-for-service consulting, leadership and development services; and as a non-profit charity we rely heavily on donations to continue our work, which can be made via our websiteThank you.

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Facing tough decisions around redundancies? Here are some things to consider

One of the most difficult decisions an employer will ever have to make is whether or not to dismiss employees during an economic downturn.

Invariably, those at risk of losing their jobs are competent, hard-working and loyal. They do not deserve to be unemployed – they are simply the likely victims of circumstances.

As one employer said to me recently, “I hate the idea of having to be ruthless – but I need to sack forty to save the jobs of four hundred”. So, what are the key ethical considerations an employer might take into account?

  1. Save what can be saved

    There is no honour in destroying all for the sake of a few. Even the few will eventually perish in such a scenario.

  2. Give reasons

    Be open and truthful. Throw open the books so that people can see the proof of necessity.

  3. Retain the essential

    Some people are of vital importance to the life of an organisation. However, when all other things are equal, protect the most vulnerable.

  4. Cut the optional

    The luxuries, the ‘nice-to-haves’ should not be funded. Use income for the essential purpose of preserving jobs.

  5. Treat everyone with compassion

    Both those who leave and those who remain will be wounded by the decisions you make – no matter how necessary.

  6. Share the pain

    consider offering everybody the opportunity to work less hours, for less money, in order to save a few jobs that might otherwise be lost.

  7. Seek volunteers

    If sacrifices must be made, invite your colleagues to be part of the decision. Some might prefer to step down – their reasons will vary. Honour their choice.

  8. Honour your promises

    If you have made a specific commitment to a member of staff, then you are bound by it – even in a crisis – unless it is impossible to discharge your obligation.

  9. Minimise the damage

    Those who lose their jobs should not be abandoned. How can they be supported by means other than a salary?

  10. Look to the future

    Make sure that your organisation has a purpose that can inspire those who remain – and justify the losses suffered during the worst of times.


You can contact The Ethics Centre about any of the issues discussed in this article. We offer free counselling for individuals via Ethi-callprofessional fee-for-service consulting, leadership and development services; and as a non-profit charity we rely heavily on donations to continue our work, which can be made via our websiteThank you.

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How to build a successful culture

They say that what gets measured, gets managed (or improved).  But when it comes to measuring corporate culture, that’s an idea that needs unpacking.

The corporate sector has traditionally taken a quantitative approach to risk management and governance. Compliance, regulation, risk and legislative frameworks are applied, analysed, audited and reported-on to varying degrees of accuracy and certainty.

Unfortunately, these management mechanisms do not in themselves lead to effective governance as evidenced by a multitude of corporate scandals and collapses. Overconfidence in the science of risk management can lead to faulty corporate governance – and could well lead to disaster.

The art of risk management and governance lies in the capability of directors and executives to navigate and understand the highly complex and unpredictable set of human behaviours and interactions that make up a modern organisation.

The current scientific approach to risk management is insufficient when seeking to mitigate non-financial risks to business success – leaving companies vulnerable to catastrophic levels of exposure. There is now a shift in thinking and an appreciation that the intangible qualities of culture are critical to the issue of risk management and corporate governance.

Can you measure culture?

The subtle aspects of an organisation, such as values, motivations and political dynamics, are difficult to measure, influence and describe, let alone govern effectively. Performance management and processes, culture and engagement surveys, leadership competency assessments and organisational development initiatives are designed to create visibility of these aspects of organisations, but they often fall short by not accounting for the hidden, unspoken and un-self-aware aspects of human agents and the social systems in which they operate.

For over 20 years The Ethics Centre has been developing a unique approach to navigating these complexities – and, in the process, to accurately measure and understand culture.

Our Everest process assesses the level to which an organisation’s lived culture, and the actual systems and processes that drive the business, align with their intended ethical framework. Through in-depth exploration and analysis, gaps between the ideal and the actual culture of a business emerge, along with areas where formal systems and behaviours are misaligned to the stated values and principles.

Everest digs far deeper than a standard organisational review, identifying themes that relate to experiences over time and between groups of people, and reflecting them against the organisation’s formal policies and procedures. It enables companies to build a climate of trust for clients, shareholders and regulators; to unify employees around a common purpose and encourage values-aligned behaviour; to develop consistency between what you say you believe in and how you act; and to enable consistent decision making. Ultimately reducing the risk of ethical failure and poor decisions.

The Ethics Centre’s Everest process is a tried and tested methodology that produces invaluable insights and recommendations for change. In just the past five years, Everest has been deployed to assess the organisational culture of one of Australia’s largest banks, a major superannuation fund, a leading energy company, a major telco, a mining company and a wagering company – amongst many others.

Transforming organisations

Whilst most of our clients have chosen to keep their Everest reports confidential, two recent clients – The Australian Olympic Committee and Cricket Australia – elected to publicly release the reports into their organisations.

In both instances, these acts of “radical transparency” acted as a circuit-breaker following periods of widespread negative coverage.  The release of these reports allowed the organisations to re-boot with renewed purpose and energy.

According to Matt Carroll, the widely-respected CEO of the AOC, “the review conducted by The Ethics Centre provided us with the platform to reset the organisation. We are committed to building a culture that is fit for purpose and aligned to our values and principles.”

Our report on Cricket Australia – following the infamous ball-tampering incident in 2018 –  ran to 147 pages and contained 42 detailed recommendations. Our key finding was that a focus on winning had led to the erosion of the organisation’s culture and a neglect of some important values. Aspects of Cricket Australia’s player management had served to encourage negative behaviours.

It was clear, with the release of the report, that many things needed to change at Cricket Australia. And change they did. Cricket Australia committed to enacting 41 of the 42 recommendations made in the report, along with widespread renewal of their executive team and board.

“With culture, it’s something you’ve got to keep working at, keep your eye on, keep nurturing,” says CA’s chairman Earl Eddings. “It’s not: we’ve done the ethics report, so now we’re right.”

Most of the corporate collapses and scandals that have occurred lately were not the result of inadequate risk management, poorly crafted strategy or an absence of appropriate policies.  Nor were they caused by incompetence or poorly trained staff.

In almost every case, it is becoming apparent that the causes lay in the psychology, ethics and beliefs of individuals and in an organisational culture that rewards short term value extraction over long term, sustainable value creation.

This misalignment between the espoused purpose, values and principles of an organisation and the real-time decisions being made each day can increase reputational and conduct risk leading to an erosion of trust, disengagement and poor customer outcomes.

Even companies with no burning platform benefit from the rigorous corporate health-check that Everest provides.  To quote Ian Silk, CEO of another Everest client Australian Super:

“In my darkest moments I just wondered if we had all drunk the Kool-Aid, and whether the staff surveys reflected the facts.  So I thought a really good way to test this would be to get The Ethics Centre to come in and do an entirely independent, entirely objective test of the culture and the ethics in the organisation.”

If you are interested in discussing any of the topics raised in this article in more depth with The Ethics Centre’s consulting team, please make an enquiry via our website.

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Is culture something that can be measured?

Extending the education pathway

In the course of 2019, The Ethics Centre reviewed and adopted a new strategy for the five years to 2024.

The key insight to emerge from the strategic planning process was that the Centre should focus on growing its impact through innovation, partnerships, platforms and pathways.

We focus here on just one of those factors – ‘pathways’ and, in particular, the education pathway.

The Ethics Centre is not new to the education game. To this day, the establishment of Primary Ethics – which teaches tens of thousands of primary students every week in NSW – is one of our most significant achievements.

As Primary Ethics continues to break new ground, we feel it’s time to bring our collective skills to bear along the broader education pathway.

With this in mind, we’re delighted to report that The Ethics Centre and NSW Department of Education and Training have signed a partnership to develop curriculum resources and materials to support the teaching and learning of ethical deliberation skills in NSW schools, including within existing key learning areas.

This exciting project will see us working with and through the Department’s Catalyst Innovation Lab alongside gifted teachers and curriculum experts – rather than merely seeking to influence from the outside.

In addition, we have also formed a further partnership with one of the Centre’s Ethics Alliance members, Knox Grammar School. This will involve the establishment of an ‘Ethicist-in-residence’ at the school, the application of new approaches to exploring ethical challenges faced by young adults, and the development of a pilot program where students in their final years of secondary education undertake an ethics fellowship at the Centre.

In due course, we hope that the work pioneered in these two partnerships and others will produce scalable platforms that can be extended across Australia. Detailed plans come next, and we believe the potential for impact along this pathway is significant.

We believe ethics education is a central component of lifelong learning – extending from the earliest days of schooling through secondary schooling, higher education and into the workplace.

The broadening of the education pathway therefore provides new opportunities for The Ethics Centre and Primary Ethics to work together – sharing our complementary skills and experience in service of our shared objectives, for the common good.

If you have an interest in supporting this work, at any point along the pathway, then please contact Dr Simon Longstaff at The Ethics Centre, or Evan Hannah, who leads the team at Primary Ethics.


Dr Simon Longstaff is Executive Director of The Ethics Centre: www.ethics.org.au

Evan Hannah can be contacted via Primary Ethics at: www.primaryethics.com.au

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Would you like to live more ethically in 2020? Try these life hacks

If you’re looking for ways to support a more ethical start to the new decade, here are five simple lifestyle changes that can help get you there.

Get back to nature

Aristotle believed everything in nature contains “something of the marvellous”. It turns out nature might also help make us a bit more marvellous. Research by Jia Wei Zhang and colleagues revealed how “perceiving natural beauty” (basically, looking at nature and recognising how wonderful it is) can make you more prosocial. Specifically, it can make you more helpful, trusting and generous. Nice one, trees.

The apparent reason for this is because a connection with nature leads to an increase in the experience of positive emotions. People are happier when they are connected with nature and other research suggests happy people tend to be more prosocial. Inadvertently, Zhang and his colleagues learned, this means nature helps make us better team players.

Read literature to develop ‘Theory of Mind’

In psychology, ‘Theory of Mind’ refers to the ability to understand the emotions, intentions and mental states of other people and to understand other people’s mental states are different from our own. It’s a crucial component of empathy. Like most things, our Theory of Mind improves with practice.

David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano think one way of practising and developing Theory of Mind is by reading literary fiction. They believe literature “uniquely engages the psychological processes needed to gain access to characters’ subjective experiences” because it doesn’t aim to entertain readers but challenge them.

Work up a sweat

As well as the health benefits it brings, exercise can make you a more virtuous person. Philosopher Damon Young believes exercise brings about “subtle changes to our character: we are more proud, humble, generous or constant”.

Pride is usually seen as a vice but exercise can give us a healthy sense of pride, which Young defines as “taking pleasure in yourself”. Taking pleasure in ourselves and recognising ourselves as valuable has obvious benefits for self-esteem, but it also gives us a heightened sense of responsibility. By taking pride in the work we’ve invested in ourselves, we acknowledge the role we have making change in the world, a feeling with applications far broader than the gym.

Take meal breaks when you’re making decisions

In 2011, an Israeli parole board had to consider several cases on the same day. Among them were two Arab-Israelis, each of them serving 30 months for fraud. One of them received parole, the other didn’t. The only difference? One of their hearings was at the start of the day, the other at the end.

Researcher Shai Danzigner and co-authors concluded “decision fatigue” explained the difference in the judges’ decisions. They found the rate of favourable rulings were around 65% just after meal breaks at the start of the day and lunch time, but they diminished to 0% by the end of the session.

There’s some good news though. The research suggests a meal break can put your decision making back on track. Maybe it’s time to stop taking lunch at your desk.

Get a good night’s sleep

We’ve been starting to pay more attention to the social costs of exhaustion. In NSW, public awareness campaigns now list fatigue as one of the ‘big three’ factors in road fatalities alongside speeding and drink driving. It turns out even if it doesn’t kill you, exhaustion can lead to ethical compromises and slip ups in the workplace.

In 2011, Christopher Barnes and his colleagues released a study suggesting “employees are less likely to resist the temptation to engage in unethical behaviour when they are low on sleep”. When we’re tired we experience ‘ego depletion’ – weakening our self-control. Experiments conducted by Barnes’ team suggest when we’re tired we’re vulnerable to cutting corners and cheating. So, if you’re thinking of doing something dodgy, sleep on it first.

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What are some simple ways to live more ethically?

Violence and technology: a shared fate

Don’t be distracted by the exploding sheds, steamrolled silverware and factory pressed field of poppies.

Many of the best works in Cornelia Parker’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) are small and unassuming. They are the quiet pieces that ask us to contemplate the nature of the technology we use in acts of violence.

A small pile of dust, some short leads of wire, a child’s doll split in two. These found object artworks – sculptures, just not those carved into marble or clay – are less about the state you see them in, but the journey they have taken.

On closer inspection (and with a little gallery guidance) we find intentional transformations of objects often associated with brutal violence: a gun, its bullets, the blade of a guillotine.

But don’t be alarmed. There is a dark sense of humour at play here. The disemboweled doll, a ginger-haired child in his newsboy cap and overalls, has a cartoon quality to his expression that echoes less of screams of pain than the shock of a bee sting. The boy has been severed at the waist by a guillotine. The very same guillotine that beheaded the infamous Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

We understand a guillotine as a tool of violence and power, designed to distribute French revolutionary justice at speed to behead the head of state. Here Parker has used the same tool that once transformed European history, to split a stuffed toy of Oliver Twist. Its title suggests a shared fate, that this piece of technology link the iconic Dickensian poor boy and the poster woman for opulence.

Shared Fate (Oliver), Cornelia Parker (2008)

The works on display in the gallery often ask us to consider what these tools of violence are used for, and our role in using them.

Sawn Up Sawn Off Shotgun (2015) has a similar tale of transformation. The story goes: a factory manufactured a shotgun, a criminal cut off its barrel to make it deadlier. He used it to murder an innocent person. It was collected as evidence by police to convict the man, before being decommissioned by being cut into smaller segments. It sits lifeless in front of us now in this quartered state.

In what way was the gun designed to kill? How did the modifications by each person impact its deadliness? And how does its use reflect on the ethics and values of those who designed, manufactured and modified this once-deadly artefact? It’s a neat example that calls to mind some of The Ethics Centre’s the principles for the ethics of design.

The design of the original shotgun, manufactured and distributed legally, embodied a set of values. Options include: the ‘good’ of farmers protecting their livestock from predators or the ‘good’ sporting competition using firearms. However, it was also a feature of the shotgun that beyond shooting ducks and foxes, it had the capacity to take a human life including during the commission of crimes. To what extent was that violent possibility actively noted and considered? Did the designer and manufacturer take any steps to protect against unintended uses?

Of course, we know also that the shotgun was modified and used beyond its intended purpose. By cutting off the barrel, the gun was deliberately modified to aid concealment and increase its deadly effect at close range. Whatever values might have been explicit in the original design are subverted by the modification where the explicit aim becomes to maim and kill in confined spaces.

This is what we consider the post-phenomenology of technology. We describe this in Ethics by Design: Principles for Good Technology as “…when a hitman picks up a firearm, he sets the purpose of the gun as a murder weapon. However, he also uses the gun to constitute himself as a murderer.”

We are told that the user in this case used this shotgun for just that purpose and in doing so made himself a murderer.

In its final transformation the design is changed once more. Using the same means as the criminal, cutting the shotgun again, the police officers have rendered it effectively useless. It no longer possesses the affordances of a weapon: no trigger to pull, no barrel to aim. It is a disembodied mess of its former designs, purpose and values. Here then the police constitute themselves as peace-keepers, because by destroying the deadly weapon they embody law and order.

Embryo Firearms (1995) Cornelia Parker.

If you take away from this the mantra that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ then there is another piece we are challenged to consider. Embryo Firearms (1995) presents two solid lumps of metal in the crude shape of pistols. At this point in their manufacturing they are absolutely harmless, resembling the type of gun you might cut from wood as a prop. These ‘guns’ are mere symbols – no more dangerous than any other lump of metal of equivalent heft.

We are informed though that this metal was intended to become a Colt firearm; one of millions produced each year.

The fact that any resulting weapon of this production process could be used for multiple purposes does not mean that it is ethically ‘neutral’.  While guns themselves don’t have agency or intentions, their design and function shapes the user’s agency and open up a range of possible value-laden activities.

In their embryonic state these handguns provide as much agency as any slab of metal. We know at some point though, as the barrel is hollowed out, the firing pin is placed and the trigger is pulled, a tool of violent potential is born.

Transformation of intended design and purpose is taking place throughout Cornelia Parker’s works. Bullets are reduced to metal threads used to create geometric patterns, murder weapons are reduced to harmless dust via chemical precipitation, and our expectations about technology, art and violence are flipped on their heads.

The Ethics Centre is presenting The Ethics of Art and Violence a special event inspired by the work of acclaimed British artist Cornelia Parker currently on exhibition at the MCA. For more about the event click here

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Should artists tackle social issues?

Five dangerous ideas to ponder over the break

If you’re staring down the barrel of some downtime this holiday season, we’ve curated some big ideas for you to read, watch or listen to. These top picks will challenge your thinking over the holiday break.  

  1. The lost the art disagreement

In his keynote at the last Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Stephen Fry told us that “a Grand Canyon has opened up in our world and the crack grows wider every day. As it widens, enemies speak more and more incontinently about the other side.” Within this great fissure lies the lost art of disagreement. Hear how Fry suggests we begin to navigate through a world of seemingly opposing ideas.

  1. Curb immigration, curb growth

Our cities are overcrowded, and our ecosystems are degrading at a rapid rate. Is population growth to blame? This year’s first IQ2 Debate: Curb Immigration, heard from environmental scientist Dr Jonathan Sobels, journalist Satyajet Marar, counter terrorism expert Dr Anne Aly and urban planner Professor Nicole Gurran. Watch the debate and hear their perspective on issues from urban planning and government policy, to environmental impacts and economic advantages.

  1. An age of anger

Anarchy, resentment and the urge to smash the system seem to be spreading. What caused us to become so angry? How can we understand and navigate interactions with those who are? Author and academic Pankaj Mishra explains why society seems to be so quick to become outraged, and how transformative thinking might solve the epidemic.

  1. Politics and populism

We are seeing a rise of nationalism, racism and authoritarian regimes across the world. Will democracy survive the new decade? At last year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas Niall Ferguson contemplated the future of populist movements. Pankaj Mishra, Angela Nagle and Tim Soutphommasane joined a panel to explore if freedom is just too heavy a burden in the new world in the ‘Rehearsal for Fascism’.

  1. Masculinity is not so fragile

Following the fallout of the #MeToo movement, many men feel that masculinity is unfairly under attack. David Leser, Zac Seidler, Raewyn Connell and Cath Lumby joined our IQ2 debate: Masculinity is it really so fragile, to share their views on modern masculinity and unpack the dangers or virtues of male normative behaviour.


The Festival of Dangerous Ideas returns in 2020, bringing a host of big thinkers and new perspectives to the dangerous issues we face. Gift vouchers are on sale now. 

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Can ideas be dangerous?

Renewing the culture of cricket

On March 24, 2018, at Newlands field in South Africa, Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft was captured on camera tampering with the match ball with a piece of sandpaper in the middle of a test match.

It later emerged that the Australian team captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were complicit in the plan. The cheating was a clear breach of the rules of the game – and the global reaction to Bancroft’s act was explosive.  International media seized on the story as commentators sought to unpack cricket’s arcane rules and its code of good sportsmanship.  From backyard barbeques to current and former prime ministers, everyone had an opinion on the story.

For the players involved, retribution was swift.  Smith and Warner received 12-month suspensions from Cricket Australia, whilst Bancroft received a nine-month suspension.  The coach of the Australian team, Darren Lehman, quit his post before he had even left South Africa.

But it didn’t stop there.  Within nine months, Cricket Australia lost four board directors – Bob Every, Chairman David Peever, Tony Harrison and former test cricket captain Mark Taylor – and saw the resignation of longstanding CEO James Sutherland as well as two of his most senior executives, Ben Amarfio and Pat Howard.

So, what happened between March and November?  How did an ill-advised action on the part of a sportsman on the other side of the world lead to this spectacular implosion in the leadership ranks of a $400 million organisation?

The answer lies in the idea of “organisational culture,” and an independent review of the culture and governance of Cricket Australia by our organisation – The Ethics Centre.

Cricket Australia sits at the centre of a complex ecosystem that includes professional contract players, state and territory associations, amateur players (including many thousands of school children), broadcasters, sponsors, fans and hundreds of full-time staff.  As such, the organisation carries responsibility for the success of our national teams, the popularity of the sport and the financial stability of the organisation.

In the aftermath of the Newland’s incident, many wanted to know whether the culture of Cricket Australia had in some way encouraged or sanctioned such a flagrant breach of the sport’s rules and codes of conduct.

Our Everest process was employed to measure Cricket Australia’s culture, by seeking to identify the gaps between the organisations “ethical framework” (its purpose, values and principles) and it’s lived behaviours.

We spoke at length with board members, current and former test cricketers, administrators and sponsors. We extensively reviewed policies, player and executive remuneration, ethical frameworks and codes of conduct.

Our final report, A Matter of Balance – which Cricket Australia chose to make public – ran to 147 pages and contained 42 detailed recommendations. Our key finding was that a focus on winning had led to the erosion of the organisation’s culture and a neglect of some important values. Aspects of Cricket Australia’s player management had served to encourage negative behaviours.

It was clear, with the release of the report, that many things needed to change at Cricket Australia. And change they did.

Cricket Australia committed to enacting 41 of the 42 recommendations made in the report.

In a recent cover story in Company Director magazine – a detailed examination of the way Cricket Australia responded in the aftermath of The Ethics Centre’s report – Cricket Australia’s new chairman Earl Eddings has this to say:

“With culture, it’s something you’ve got to keep working at, keep your eye on, keep nurturing. It’s not: we’ve done the ethics report, so now we’re right.”

Now, one year after the release of The Ethics Centre’s report, the culture of Cricket Australia is making a strong recovery. At the same time as our men’s team are rapidly regaining their mojo (it’s probably worth noting that our women’s team never lost it – but that’s another story).

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