The Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics Sixteenth Annual Conference was hosted by the School of Policing Studies, Charles Sturt University in Goulburn from 9th — 11th June 2009 with the conference theme Professions in the Community. The AAPAE is indebted to Anna Corbo Crehan who convened the conference. Anna did a wonderful job and provided our association with an excellent conference.
Anna organized an impressive range of keynote speakers. These included Lyn Allison: a past leader of the Australian Democrats, John Pritchard: the Police Integrity Commissioner, Professor Colin Thomson: the Chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, Professor Gillian Cowlishaw, whose work examined the relationships between Indigenous and settler Australians, Dr Brian Steels, who is a Research Fellow at the Restorative Justice Research Unit at the Centre for Social and Community Research, Murdoch University, and Stephen Keim, who was the barrister for Dr. Mohamed Haneef. These keynote speakers along with the accompanying Plenary Sessions and other Conference Delegates’ Papers made for an excellent conference. However it is not my aim to offer a conference report. What I would like to do is to consider our conference alongside another applied ethics conference, and in doing so to attempt to say something about the AAPAE.
At just about the same time that my paper was accepted by our conference I had another paper accepted by the European Business Ethics Network Annual Research Conference which was hosted by the School of Management, Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel from 15th – 17th June 2009. I had never been to Beer-Sheva before but I did have some perceptions as to what it might be like. I had never been to Goulburn either. I had a whole lot of perceptions as to it mainly informed by the ongoing marketing of produce from the Goulburn valley. Yet, whilst I had perceptions galore, time seemed a problem: a few days after the end of our conference I would have to be at another on the other side of the planet; and shortly after that I was scheduled to lecture on our Singapore program. I contacted David our travel manager.
David is an unusual individual. He is extremely well read. Unlike many academic staff & students he regularly uses our University library. I should therefore not have been surprised at his rejoinder when I explained my travel plans to him. He informed me with some relish that the last Australians to seek transportation from Goulburn to Beer-Sheva were the Australian Light Horse along with their mounts in 1917. . . and proceeded to help make the travel arrangements.
It is of some interest to compare that EBEN conference with our conference. Both had logistic similarities. To get to Goulburn you flew to Canberra or Sydney and proceeded from there. To get to Beer-Sheva you flew to Tel Aviv and took the train to Beer-Sheva which is further south in the Negev desert, and not difficult to find, as that is where the train line ends.
At our conference Mr Alfie Walker of the Pejar Land Council performed the welcome to country, thanked the original owners, and spoke of some of them. At the EBEN conference, where the conference language was English, the theme was ‘Conflicts in The World of Business Ethics’. Yotam Lurie, in opening the conference, referred to the book of Genesis and the earlier residents of the city of Beer-Sheva, Abraham and Abimelech, and how they resolved their conflict over the available water. I was surprised to discover that Beer-Sheva is a far older city than Jerusalem. I was also intrigued to hear the Australian author David Malouf, in an interview on ABC radio on the 25th of September 2009, claim that cities created civilization as they forced strangers – such as Abraham and Abimelech initially were – to exist together as neighbours.
Most of the participants at our AAPAE conference were Australians. The EBEN conference was dominated by the Europeans. I have never visited Europe and had never encountered them en masse before. I spent a lot of time enviously admiring the most elegant attire of the men, particularly those from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Back in Goulburn I had felt comfortable: alongside them I felt shabby.
The EBEN conference was a larger conference than our conference, but not much larger. It did though allow EBEN to offer three simultaneous sessions where we only offered two. Nearly all of the papers at our AAPAE conference were secular. At the EBEN conference papers on topics such as Islamic banking, Jewish law and whistle-blowing, and corporate perspectives from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae were not uncommon.
Goulburn is a small town by Australian standards. Beer-Sheva is one of Israel’s biggest cities. But with Israel being such a very small place Beer-Sheva’s population is not much larger than the suburb I live in. And in both Goulburn and Beer-Sheva welcoming functions were arranged by the respective mayors. Indeed, what struck me about these conferences was not the differences which were superficial but the similarities. When I was sitting in a conference session listening to a paper being delivered, or between sessions drinking coffee with other conference delegates, I could have been at either conference. The similarities overwhelmed any differences: at both places people interested in applied ethics had gathered together to address this topic. And at both places the discussions were of a very similar standard. As Australians we tend to knock ourselves. We highlight what could have been done better. But in benchmarking our conference against that EBEN conference we have little reason to be critical of ourselves. The EBEN organizers believed they had organized an excellent conference. They had. And so had we.
It would be remiss of me not to mention one other thing. I attended both conferences to further my understanding of applied ethics which I did. But at both conferences part of that understanding was provided not by what happened at the conference itself, but by what happened in going to the actual conferences. To get to Goulburn I had to drive past Lake George. Lake George is 25 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide. It is also bonedry. It has been for years now. It is very hard to stare at it, to think of everything that must have been associated with the lake when it was a lake, and not to start thinking about environmental ethics. To get to Ben Gurion University of the Negev you walk through Beer-Sheva. It is an interesting city, but it is not a pretty place. It is dominated by drab, concrete apartment blocks built as public housing projects in the early 1950s to house refugees from North Africa. It is a desert town. There is a lot of space and the streets are very wide. There is little vegetation. It is very hard to walk along those streets while staring at those ugly concrete buildings and not to think of the aesthetic dimensions in creating communities. Both of these areas fall within the preserve of applied ethics, and in both there is much work to be done.