21/10/2015 - 13:28

Easy to be wise after the fact

21/10/2015 - 13:28

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Some of our elected officials would be wise to consider their decisions more closely in light of recent events.

STILL THERE: The expenses scandal didn’t stop Lisa Scaffidi’s re-election for a third term as lord mayor.

Some of our elected officials would be wise to consider their decisions more closely in light of recent events. 

Any ranking of Western civilisation’s greatest minds would most certainly have at the forefront the great Hellenic philosopher Aristotle, and that greatest of Englishmen, William Shakespeare.

Both had truly incisive minds, which is why they’re remembered so many centuries after their passing.

I was prompted earlier this month to briefly think of them, since two currently serving political leaders – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and (newly re-elected) Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi – highlighted how they had more recently benefited from their ‘getting of wisdom’ (wisdom being something invariably, in its varying forms, associated with Aristotle and Shakespeare).

Interestingly, Aristotle and Shakespeare took somewhat different stances in their considerations.

Aristotle is said to have claimed that: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” whereas Shakespeare wrote nearly two millennia later: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Here’s how Mr Turnbull and Mrs Scaffidi claimed they’d recently become wiser.

During a Melbourne radio interview, Mr Turnbull was asked about the effect of his having lost the Liberal Party leadership in December 2009.

“I’m obviously older and I’m wiser,” he told the interviewer, after which he retreated somewhat by adding: “And as I’ve got older I hope I’ve got wiser.”

“I’ve learned to listen a lot more and talk less.

“I take a lot of notes, you know I’ve got my iPad here, I go to meetings and I take a lot of notes.”

The reference to his iPad proved rather unfortunate, as it prompted questions about the security of his messaging since it may include state secrets. 

Malcolm Turnbull has been ­operating a private email server outside federal parliament’s sec­ure system to conduct government business and communicate with colleagues and journalists,” one report said.

“In a situation similar to that of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, which caused a scandal, the prime minister has been using the separate server and email address for work and private use.

“A spokeswoman for Mr Turnbull said last night: ‘The majority of government correspondence is routine and of a non-sensitive nature and is therefore not ­subject to sensitive security markings’.”

Moscow and Beijing, two known centres that aggressively hack Western governmental communications networks, undoubtedly appreciated hearing Mr Turnbull’s spokeswoman confirm that routine government correspondence was communicated in this manner.

More pertinent is whether Mr Turnbull is, in fact, wiser by repeating a practice undertaken by Mrs Clinton, which has got her into so much strife for not complying with her department’s security measures.

And is it wise to fail to change one’s ways?

Or is this yet another example of Shakespearean farsightedness, a case of: “The fool doth think he is wise … ”?

What of Mrs Scaffidi?

She, too, claims to having become wiser following an unwelcomed and well-publicised ordeal involving governance procedures.

This followed disclosures that emerged firstly as part of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation into practices by BHP Billiton, and then from Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission into her August 2008 acceptance of flights and tickets to Beijing Olympics from the mining giant worth up to $16,000, plus other handouts.

In Mrs Scaffidi’s case it’s perhaps more appropriate to set aside that understanding of wisdom attributed to Aristotle and Shakespeare to highlight, instead, Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous one liner on leadership.

When particular generals were recommended to Napoleon for promotion or assignment to specific campaigns, he asked not about the general’s experience.

He’d instead say: ‘I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?’

Clearly, Mrs Scaffidi hasn’t been that.

When was the last time an (Anglo)Australian multinational was investigated and fined by America’s powerful SEC over gifts to, among others, a local government official?

BHP Billiton has been slapped with a $US25 million ($31.6 million) fine and charged by the SEC for violating anti-bribery law by splashing out on luxury hotels and event tickets for African and Asian government officials at the 2008 Olympic Games,” The Australian Financial Review reported.

BHP, a major sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, failed to ‘devise and maintain sufficient internal controls over its global hospitality program’, the SEC said, upon announcing on Tuesday in the US that the civil suit had been settled after a six-year investigation. 

“The Australian Federal Police is still investigating the matter. 

“Perth Mayor Lisa Scaffidi was referred to WA’s corruption watchdog after US investigators found BHP-Billiton gave her flights and tickets to the Beijing Olympics worth up to $16,000. 

“The trip was not publicly disclosed by Ms Scaffidi.

“US authorities referred BHP Billiton’s provision of hospitality to Mrs Scaffidi to the federal police, who in turn referred the matter to WA’s Crime and Corruption Commission.”

Clearly, being investigated by the SEC, Federal Police, and CCC, wasn’t what Napoleon would have regarded as being lucky.

But that didn’t stop Mrs Scaffidi saying: “Given what I’ve been through, I will be even stronger, wiser and more prepared.”

Napoleon would undoubtedly agree that ‘them’s fightin’ words’.

Let’s hope her understanding of being wiser is akin to Aristotle’s timeless piece of advice that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.


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