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In praise of moral robustness

  • 02 April 2007

Congratulations to longtime Eureka Street federal politics correspondent Jack Waterford (pictured), who has been named Canberran of the Year.

Making the announcement last week, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope described him as a "household name". He said Jack Waterford has informed and analysed the local community, in plain English, for many decades, as reporter, editor, columnist and leader-writer for its daily newspaper, The Canberra Times.

Politicians are usually sparing in their praise for journalists. It took the likelihood that journalists were among the victims of this month's Yogjakarta air crash for the Prime Minister to acknowledge that those who "report the news" are part of the "democratic network".

Colleagues aside, politicians are even more sparing in their praise for each other. It will be a while before we forget the Government's recent and ongoing attempt to demonstrate that Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is "morally compromised".

But they appear more focused on moral cleanliness than moral robustness. In an essay for Eureka Street Extra next week, Andrew Hamilton looks at what lies behind the idea of moral purity, which is what has governed the recent mudslinging in Federal Parliament. It seems that politicians consider this essentially negative mode of characterising ethical behaviour to be more apposite than the term we prefer, which is moral robustness. Many people regarded as morally robust would not pass the politicians' purity test. Countless great Australians have fallen foul of the law, and the criteria for judging moral purity, at some stage in their life. We can inspect the full list of Canberrans of the Year, or Australians of the Year, and the list of the morally robust who have been honoured in the various divisions of the Order of Australia. Research queries would most likely reveal more than a few of them to be "morally compromised". Yet they are the citizens of which we are most proud. In this fortnight's Eureka Street, we present an interview with a US citizen who is an official disgrace. Jesuit peace activist John Dear, who has spent the past month visiting Australia from the United States. John has been arrested many times, and is a convicted criminal who has spent much time in jail. He has caused damage to US military hardware and establishments through acts of civil disobedience. He has done this out of deep moral conviction. Some would say that he is misguided. But clearly he is guided