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Ethics in politics: Why it matters

Pickering, N. and Potter, D. (2009) Ethics in politics: Why it matters. Internship Report, Murdoch University.

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In a country with a modern democratic system, the support of the public is vital to the continuance and legitimacy of the government. However, there is a perception in the Australian public that ethics is absent from politics. The public expects that parliamentarians will represent them and act with honesty and integrity, but believe that these expectations are not being met. This can contribute to a higher level of cynicism, disengagement and apathy with respect to politics. In order to respond to negative public opinion, mechanisms have been developed to restore and maintain ethical standards. However unethical political behaviour remains a problem in contemporary Australian politics whilst parliamentarians may face a series of ethical dilemmas. These dilemmas are exemplified in the following case studies: ICAC and the political demise of Nick Greiner in a case of improper influence; Nick Sherry's travel claims and misuse of allowances; United Kingdom cash-for-influence scandals of the last twenty years in cases of improper influence; the Tasmanian 'Shreddergate' affair in the case of misleading parliament; and Santo Santoro's failures to disclose financial interests in a conflict of interests case. As demonstrated through this analysis, a broader approach is needed to improve the existing framework for maintaining ethical standards, for example professional development and ethics training. Greater emphasis should be placed on ethics as a meaningful foundation for political behaviour. Ethics matters in politics, not only in terms of public expectations and government legitimacy, but also for the future of democracy.

Item Type: Internship Report (Parliamentary)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Politics and International Studies
Notes: A Parliamentary Internship Report Prepared by Nikkola Pickering and Danika Potter for the Hon John Kobelke MLA
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