Ethical question

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJune 9, 2023

It’s another one of those ‘where to even start?’ weeks. The news cycles have been abuzz with a “stepped down” transport minister [no link for that, it’s everywhere…], AI-created imagery (off the back of National’s AI-generated online media campaigns a couple of weeks ago) and fuel companies offering a ‘tax dodge’ as the government reinstates fuel excise tax and road-user charges at the end of the month.

All pressing topics and all in need of some discussion, but the common thread is ethics. Is it ethical to work a ‘nine-to-five’ and have other interests or investments to drive extra income? Perhaps, if the two are definitively separate. Many people work two jobs, have diverged business interests, or play the stock market. But that’s the Everyman. Some of us are elevated to higher moral and ethical expectation…

Is it ethical for Wood, as a local political representative, to hold financial interest in a business entity owned in part by the Auckland City Council? I’d say not. Is it ethical that that entity related to his (former) ministerial posting? Definitely not. Is it ethical that after two years and 12 requests to divest his shares, he only did so after being relieved as transport minister? By this point, we’re beyond a question of ethics, but I will say it’s encouraging the PM got fed up and gave him the boot. Maybe there still is some ethics in governmental politics.

Or is there? As opposition parties tend to do, especially in election season, National has taken to attacking Labour’s shortcomings with online ads. Nothing unusual with that, and anyway, bothering to comment on the underlying ethics of political mudslinging just causes unnecessary wear and tear on the keyboard. What is worth discussing is the fact the party used an artificial intelligence image generator to create the campaign imagery. National said it’s “committed to using it responsibly”, but where the lines of acceptability in using a tool are so inherently blurred that they barely exist, how can anyone claim ethical use? Even more so when the public has little at their disposal to distinguish one depiction of reality from another. Maybe the flimsy ethics of politicking remain unaffected, then?

What about those of public and private businesses? Z Energy and BP have been called out this week as they promote their respective app-based pre-purchasing facilities, encouraging customers to pre-purchase fuel at current prices. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing unethical about a business running a promotion of its products and consumers choosing to take them up on it. Business is business, and consumers can choose what they do with their money.

Of course, the Greens and environmental lobby groups think it’s unacceptable that the government will be robbed of tax and that it’ll encourage motorists to drive more and burn excessive amounts of fossil fuel. Clearly, they have no understanding of the free market. And I suspect those who may choose to burn up their ‘stockpile’ of cheaper fuel driving across the country, “adding to our emissions”, as Julie Anne Genter says, will be the minority. Anyway, is it unethical for consumers to choose to buy fuel now and, if they wish, go for a drive?

Ethics be damned? That depends, apparently, on where on the political spectrum you sit.

Gavin Myers