Religious vs State Law

Muslim cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika has stirred up a hornets nest with his reported statements that Islamic law must, for him, take precedence over Ausralian law.
Hmm? Surely all major religions take the same view. Indeed you don’t even have to be religious to say that wherever there is a conflict, your own moral position must take precedence over the laws of the land.
Now let’s make it perfectly clear, we believe that the current wave of terrorism practised indescriminantly against innocent people of all faiths must be profoundly condemmed. We also believe that the interpretation of Islam that is often used to justify this taking of innocent life is a perversion of Islam.
But this is not an argument about terrorism or Islam. It is an argument about personal belief versus the laws of the state.
On this front, most of us have it easy most of the time. Apart from niggling issues like the appropriate positiontion of speed cameras, most of us agree that the laws we live under are morally justified and we feel no personal moral conflict with them.
Things are not always so clear cut. During the Vietnam war many prospective conscripts put their own conscience before the laws of the land and refused to obey regulations requiring them to fight in a war the believed was wrong (many of them believed that all wars were wrong.) These ‘conscientious objectors’ put their own conscience above the law. Many others believed they were putting the security of our country at risk by doing so. However, as few of the objectors followed a religion not in the mainstream of our culture, few labelled them as extremists.
During the reign of the Nazis in Germany and the Appartheid rule in South Africa, many people are now regarded as towers of courage for giving their lives in the fight against what they saw as morally repugnant laws.
No, a person of high moral character will, whenever there is a conflict, always follow their conscience against the state. What is at stake here is not the issue of whether religious laws overide the laws of the land, but whether the religious laws themselves, or their interpreation are morally justifiable.
There is, we believe, a beacon in all of us that tells us when something is right or wrong. None of us are perfect and we struggle to find this beacon, or we struggle with our own selfish interest against the interests of others. None of us are free from hypocrisy. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said

…the universal dividing line between good and evil runs not between countries, not between nations, not between parties, not between classes, not between good and bad men: the dividing line cuts across nations and parties, shifting constantly. . . . It divides the heart of every man. Quoted here.

But that beacon is there and against it we can measure by our heart’s reaction, the truth of what someone tells us. We can condem an interpretation of Islam without knowing Islam and without necessarily condemming Islam in whole.
In our strenuous endeavour to remove the threat of terror from the world, let’s get our arguments straight – for getting them wrong only aids the cause of the terrorists. This is not an argument about personal belief versus state law and which has precedence. This is an argument about what is right.

We are all self employed

Some time ago Robert Gottliebson wrote in BRW magazine “Teach your children not to think of themselves as working for employers but as working for clients.”
Last week’s BRW feature story was entitled Me Inc. [Subscription Required].
I have a lot of support for the concept of people regarding themselves as self-employed. I think many workers would like to embrace the felxibility theoretically available under an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA).
However I’m concerned about some fundamental princples of fairness here.

  1. Being self employed requires a great deal of self-motivation, understanding of the law as it relates to running a business, ability to budget and manage cash flow and ability to market your product or services. That’s just for starters. Then there’s the stress of when there is no income, or when the client doesn’t pay on time. It has its highs, but it can also be the pits.
  2. An agreement is only a real agreement when both parties have real power in the negotiation. Part of the push for AWA’s is to break down the collective negotiating power of the unions and pit a powerful employer against an often powerless employee. Sure unions are often bloody minded and argue for stupid provisions. In many cases this bloody mindedness seems insurmountable. I don’t know how to overcome this problem, but denying people basic rights doesn’t sound like a good answer.
  3. A typical AWA is not an agreement at all. Take a look at this one from the Department of Prime Minster and Cabinet. It’s full of “you” (being the employee) and “we” (being the employer). That’s not an agreement between equals. That’s one sided.

I fully support the notion of anyone who wants flexibility in work being able to set up their own business. However, for those who don’t have the skills or the inclination, no-one should be forced into working into a so called “self-employed” relationship just to benefit employers.

Alienation and the culture of terrorism

I flicked the TV on late last night just to have a few minutes with a cup of tea before I went to bed. Normal programs on every chanel except 7 which was showing live images from London. It didn’t look too good but it took a while to work out that there had been at least one further incident there.
I wonder what is happening in our world. My hairdresser thinks its something that’s always been with us in one form or another. David Wright-Neville, speaking on Jon Faine’s program this morning thinks it is just the most visible of a global phenomenom. The news reports like to refer to “Islamic Extremists” but Neville points out there are Hindu extremists in India doing much the same thing and a Christian Extremist in the US has just been jailed for blowing up an abortion clinic.
This got me to thinking about alienation. How so many young people in our world just cannot find a reason to keep living. The more “things’ we have, the less we seem to enjoy them.
Alienation is stronger amongst minority communities. In Australia this, to our shame, is greatest amongst our indigenous people, but is also rife in the lowest socio-economic groups where unemployment has grown to epidemic proportions and there is simply no reason for hope.
It must also be orders of magnitude stronger in non-Western based communities in a world so overwhelmingly dominated by the West. Power, prosperity and culture, it must seem, are the province of Western/Christian civilisation. This regardless of the fact that modern civilisation is most definitely not a western construct. So the people of the Middle East, in particular are not only devoid of power and mass prosperity, but their cultural impact on the growth of the world as a whole is ignored.
It would be little wonder that alienation would be the predominant outlook of young people in these cultures. Little wonder also, then that not only do they feel they have nothing to live for, they also seek glory in reaping revenge as their final act.
I despair that Australian Prime Minister Howard, has no sense of this alienation. He himself felt alienation in the Australian political landscape when his views where piloried by what he saw as political correctness. In response he has developed his own PC where any mention of the causes of terrorism and extremism are seen as excuses for these acts. In this he refuses to allow that there are any causes for these world views other than the pure evil of their proponents. The only thing to do with evil, in his view, is to root it out. In this way, he has succumbed to the world view of the extremist/fundamentalist.
While our reaction to extremism is itself extreme, those who hold power will continue to hold it whilst at the same time suffering increasingly at the hands of the culturally alienated.
Our only hope is that people of moral and intellectual rigour on both sides will stand up and argue for a different path.

What we think of our leaders

Leon Gettler wrote recently The Boss is an ass.
He was referring to a Melbourne Business School survey. He notes

Rankings of the chief’s competence and understanding of the business have plummeted over the past three years, from 4.36 per cent to 1.55 per cent. This was once the highest-rated quality, but is now the lowes

Interestingly, baby boomers are more likely to rate their boss higher than their Existentialist (born between 1955 and 1963) and Gen-X (born between 1964 and 1979) colleagues.
I wonder if this is a cultural difference rather than an actual difference. Perhaps baby boomers are still somehow attached to the idea that you should think highly of your boss. As more Gen Xers become managers, they are more prepared to call it as it is and say they think their boss is no good.
So the phenomenom the Melbourne Business School survey has identified has to do with increased honesty rather than decreasing levels of performance of CEOs?
Food for thought.

The dangers of culture change efforts

The Woodside culture chane program is over and some of those involved wonder whether it pushed to hard.

The quote is from Helen Trinca’s introduction to her article in the this month’s BOSS magazine. This was a lighthouse iniative[pdf] sponsored by former Woodside Petroleum CEO, John Akehurst and facilitated by McKinsey & Co program founder Michael Rennie
Internal Woodside program leader, David Rowell, reflects that

My feeling was we had pushed too hard … some people got left behind and became cynical, or they became extreme, they became evangelists for the program. Many of those [extremists] were not under our control and took it too far.

Rowell left Woodside about 18 months ago and McKinsey is nowhere to be seen having reportedly earned $30 million in fees for themselves and other consultants on the program.
It seems another sad reflection of organisations wanting results too fast. Nature says it takes 100 years to grow a mature alpine eucalyptus, but that’s too slow for boardrooms. “We have to be able to do better than nature” they say. Better than God? A sympton perhaps of false sense of omnipotence that comes from living in the rarified atmosphere of the board room.
Changing culture takes time. Sure, sometimes we need to change practices more quickly than we can change culture, but it we want to change culture and grow a lasting great company we have to give it the time it takes while making progress all the time.

An industrial relations dream

Finally someone is talking sense regarding the Australian federal government’s industrial relations reform agenda.
Tom Skotnicki [subscription required], writing in this week’s Business Review Weekly [Australia] makes the point that Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley might get a morale boost from his rousing speeches at the recent trade union protest rallies but it is likely to be personally counter productive to both him personally and his cause in forcing some changes to the government’s proposals.
Beazley is preaching to the converted and might just regain some eroded support from “Howard’s Battlers.” Skotnicki doesn’t accept it but Beazley needed to be there.
However, Big Kim’s address was largely symbolic. What he really needs to do, according to Skotnicki, is work the wavering government senators such as newly elected maverick National Party member Barnaby Joyce and get his message out to business groups.
Skotnicki argues that coming face to face with these employer groups would give Beazley the chance to demonstrate real courage and possibly also get his message across – ie “the changes are in his view unnecessary and will most benefit bad employers.”
Hear! Hear Tom!
It is just possible this is where real ground can be made in this debate and this is where the debate needs to be had. Employer groups are fair and square behind these changes. Anyone who has been in the place of an employer knows that we need to modernise our industrial relations system.
Equally, anyone who has worked in a union knows that workers need protection from bad employers.
Maybe, just maybe there is a leader somewhere out there who has the wherewithall to bring these two groups together.
Kim, have you got the ticker for it?

Extroverted Introvert

Calendar Girl remakrs that “she is as introverted as she is extroverted. ” never thought of that possibility before. For most of his life he has regarded himself as introverted on the basis of his shyness. More recently he has become convinced that he is extroverted on the basis that he loses energy whenever he is by himself for too long. He thrives on being with people.
But now, thanks to Calendar Girl, he is forced to think that he may be both introverted AND extroverted.

Time to be idle

Maybe it’s our age, but feels he needs more time to
be idle.

Don’t get us wrong. We don’t ever want to stop working. We have an
ambition to be still working into our 80s. However we want to do a different
type of work.

Sitting and thinking can be work. We love writing and we love sharing
what little wisdom we have picked up with others in workshops, consulting
and coaching. To do all that with any sort of accomplishment we need
to be profoundly self aware. To be self aware, we need idle time. Time
that is not taken up fulfilling deadlines, working late and not taking
the dog for a w-a-l-k. Idle time that is spent in reflection. Thinking
about why we do what we do. Idle time to talk, really talk, with others
who know us or who have ideas that may spark new ideas for us.

Sounds like the traditional ancient concept of university.

This profound thinking was prompted by comments by our co-bloggers
Bleeding Edge and
Leon Gettler
on the French book Bonjour Paresse (roughly "Hello
Laziness") by Corrine Maier which has just been
translated into English

We don’t know how serious Maier is but she taps into "common knowledge"
that all managers are useless, you may as well do as little work as
possible and what work you do do should be disguised laziness.

There is definitely a serious side to laziness. We once remarked to
a colleague in a well known consulting firm that we were frustrated
that we were not getting time to reflect. "Oh there’s never time
for reflection." he replied. We privately lamented the quality
of management advice most likely being given around the world by consultants
who do not have time to reflect.

We wonder just how effective our CEOs could be if they worked a little
less and idled a little more.

The world didn’t stop

The other day I saw a duck …
It was dead. But
The world didn’t stop
I did.
But everyone kept going
I laughed.
No-one else laughed
Because they though it
was funny
It was sad
Wasn’t it?

Chris Curnow, 1971

Can education replace the law?

The federal government’s proposal to remove unfair dismissal provisions
for companies with less than 100 employees certainly has a lot of people

This segment
on ABC radio’s pm program tonight discusses
the possibility that Tasmania may become the pathfinder for the rest
of Australia in the battleground over the issue.

[T]he Australian State with perhaps the most at stake
is Tasmania, where the vast majority of companies have fewer than 100

We can understand it from the employer’s point of vies.
has a lot of sympathy for people who mortgage their houses and sign
away the rights to their firstborn children in order to set up their
own small business. It’s hard work and it although it has its privileges,
the constant battle to keep cash flowing in the door is mostly heart-wrenching.

However, we are saddened by the attitude of employers who feel that
unfair dismissal is their enemy,

In the words of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive
Damon Thomas

Businesses we’re talking about a very wary of hiring new people.
In fact, it’s an unfortunate truism that at the small business end in
Tasmania you actually get people saying I won’t hire those people, I
do need them, but I won’t hire them because one day I might have to
fire them.

There is no doubt this is the attitude of many small businesses and
it is hard being a small business person. But it also hard
being a low paid worker with a mortgage and a family to support.

Don’t faint but Unions Tasmania secretary, Simon Cocker,
doesn’t agree:

Here we’re facing the very real prospect that these medium
size enterprises will be able to say to their workers, "here’s
your AWA, if you don’t like it, walk", and that worker has got
no comeback.

How can we ever get these two sides to agree?


Well we don’t give much hope to TCCI’s answer

If you don’t treat your workforce properly, you’ll have no
motivation, you’ll have less productivity, and at the end of the day,
you’re the loser, as well as the worker.

Interviewer, Tim Jeanes states the obvious:

But that’s just words. I mean, realistically, what can we
put in place?

To which Thomas replies:

Well, one part of it will be, or could be, a proper coordinated
education and promotions campaign about that very issue, and that’s
one thing that our chamber has actually put to the Federal Government
– a proposal for a small, but significant, pilot program to be
run in Tasmania whereby every employer in the State would receive a
proper guide on how to hire, how to treat, how to deal with your employees,
proper workplace practices, and offer that on an annual basis to make
sure that people were up to date with how you get the best productivity
out of your workforce, and how your workforce gets the best out of you.

Oh, that’s just great. Perhaps we could do the same with car thieves.
Let’s remove the laws against car theft and implement an education program
to show these people the effects stealing cars is going to have on their

Many, many employers know about keeping their staff motivated, but
a lot don’t. They have just started up their businesses and their HR
skills are not great. Why should they be? They didn’t go into business
to be HR managers. But unfortunately like it or not, that’s one of the
things they have to be.

This is the central issue about unfair dismissal. It’s not that employers
don’t have the ability to fire underperforming employees, they don’t
have the skills to manage underperformance.

Instead of arguing for relaxation of unfair dismissal, peak employer
bodies like TCCI and the Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry
should be arguing for more support
for employers in this vital area, Imagine how more productive Australia
could be if we improved the management of performance in small business.

Unfortunately, believes that both sides in this debate
are too blinded be either idealogy or downright fear to be able to see
the other’s side of the fence.

The government is blinded by the idealogical view that employers are
putting up the money and they should be able to do what they want.

On the other hand, the Opposition Labor Party is too bound up in trying
to make find a political handle on this issue.

Both the peak employer and union bodies are a bit closer to the action
and see the real fears of their members.

Australia crys out for a leader who will bring these two groups together
rather than driving them apart.