The criticism was that in the last two editions we revealed ourselves as partisan and party political. We used Agora as a Trojan horse because we were critical of the Australian Government in a way that was only thinly disguised. This was not appropriate for a company that had contracts with government.
These comments provoked a lot of thinking and talk on our part. And helped to clarify, in our own minds at least, what Ethos CRS stands for and how we should operate and engage with the world.
And that’s what this piece is about – be warned – it’s soul searching on a page.
The first point to make is that, as a private sector company who works with government, we believe in good government rather government that is small or big. Governments provide services and benefits that individuals cannot, and good governments adjust policies to circumstances and facts. The JobKeeper scheme, whatever we are to say about its execution and administration, was created by a government that set aside ideology to address a problem – an economy flat lining because of COVID-19.
Our approach to business is that we strive for a transformational relationship. Our commercial model is that, as a trusted partner, we are rewarded for the good services we provide. Our ambition therefore is to offer services that enable smart professionals and organisations to work better. The idea of a transformational relationship is important here because as a company we don’t sell widgets, but ideas and analysis that transform an initiative, a program, a team, a work area. And we understand that sometimes, for a variety of reasons, change can be slow.
But if ideas and analysis are to create value over time, then each idea, each component part must have value too. Government is not easy work. And so we do not give credence to alternative facts, pretend solutions or imaginary problems. We think the value we offer comes from the rigour and integrity of the thinking we do. Facts matter; analysis matters; clear thinking matters.
Readers of Agora will notice themes. Because these themes are based on the values that shape how we engage with the world, we mention 3 here.
On our reading of the evidence, we believe the climate change poses a dire threat to human society and to the natural world. We believe the actions of all governments to date have been inadequate. We believe Australian governments have a unique opportunity to lead the world and implement practical and tangible solutions. We believe we should not pretend that inputs – additional spending on environmental programs – are the same as outcomes – reduced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We believe we should be ruthlessly focused on outcomes.
It follows that climate change demands urgent and serious work by all governments. And governments that are not urgent and serious should be censured for their lack of work.
A second theme is a rejection of unhinged political popularism, which resides in the person of the previous president of the United States, Donald Trump. And because Australia is not immune to contagions that originate from abroad, we are alert to the example he gives, the precedents he sets and the damage he does.
President Trump personifies everything we reject: he lies continuously, casually and carelessly; he cares first, second and last for his own interests; he is neither loyal nor faithful; he brutalises those who have less power, and carries favour with those who have more; he is ignorant of scientific detail, facts and reason, and is contemptuous of their value to government. Each of these are vices that serve to undermine good policy and good administration.
In a democracy, a lying leader undermines the ability for citizens to determine their own futures. A transactional, unfaithful leader values their own interests over their citizens’. And ignorance is never a virtue.
In short, if you think Donald Trump and what he stands for is great then you’re against us and we’re against you.
The third theme is that accuracy and precision matters. Governments and leaders should speak clearly. The media should report the affairs of the nation fairly and comprehensively.
While talk of a golden age is rubbish spoken by old people who should know better, the quality of our national debate is at a depressing low. Too many practitioners – ministers, opposition leaders, spokespersons, backbenchers and media advisers – are trained with tax-payer dollars to say nothing or nothing much. Taking ideas and words from George Orwell, their language consists mainly of ‘… gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.’
For a democracy, the consequence is that citizens are less able to contribute, hold their elected representatives to account or shape their own futures.
All this means that we are fierce, reasoned critics of business as usual for the sake of business as usual. We are neither vacant follower nor cheerleader. We follow no tribe.
And so we think it right and sensible for us to examine the decisions that governments make and the reasons why they are made. We do this through the lens of what we value and what we think is important.
At times this means we will write about the decisions of government. This time last year, we praised the response of Australian governments to COVID-19, but lamented inaction on climate change. We’ve criticised projects that destroy value such as the Canberra light rail project – supported by the federal and territory branches of the Labor Party – and the building of car parks near rail stations by the Australian Government.
We will also continue to write about or feature individuals in Agora. We think the Australian Parliament will be a better place without Craig Kelly and George Christensen. Likewise, Joel Fitzgibbon does the Australian Parliament a service by leaving it.
As for the rest of them, in an election year, all they need to do is do good work.