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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Trust and ethics in government - post election reflections

It was interesting to read this book, some of which was clearly written shortly after the 2004 election, in the light of developments over the subsequent three years and the defeat of the Howard government at the 2007 election.

The difficulty that some commentators have had in putting their finger on the reasons for the defeat of the Howard government might have been lessened by paying attention to the teasing out by John Uhr of the complexities of making judgments about trust, ethics, accountability and responsibility in the Australian political context.

In Terms of Trust John Uhr works through some fundamental questions about political and governments leadership:
  • How can we make political leadership compatible with ethical leadership?
  • How relevant is personal character to public life?
  • Why do we need to widen the scope of ‘leadership’ to include all public officials and not just those at the top?
This is a book informed by a familiarity with classical political theory, contemporary ethical analysis and a practical knowledge of the Australian political and parliamentary system.

John Uhr is a subtle writer and the subtlety of his style is, I am convinced, part of the substantive argument that he is making is this book. Judgments are not laid down in a prescriptive, take it or leave it manner. Rather directions for assessment of issues are teased out by a balancing of the insights of differing positions - the balancing requiring the exercise of practical virtue of prudence.

It is a trifle surprising that someone of an Aristotelian temperament that Alisdair McIntyre does not get a guernsey. Perhaps there is a hat tip offered subtly in that direction in the closing paragraph of the book when the author speaks of rebuilding ...the 'terms of trust' around more substantial moral virtues than are found in many conventional accounts of ethics ins government. (p.211)

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