The Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics 18th Annual conference will be hosted by The School of Philosophy at The University of Tasmania from the 7th to the 9th of June, 2011. The Conference Convenor is Dr Leila Toiviainen. Leila‘s convening of an 18th annual conference might not be that insignificant; especially when one remembers how often Leila has returned to work in India on behalf of those in need. After all, some have suggested that the number 18 might have significance in Hindu Mythology what with The Bhagavad Gita consisting of 18 chapters and being in The Mahabharata which consists of 18 books. Of course that might be a mere coincidence. But regardless of that we are most fortunate to have Leila convening our 18th conference and highly appreciative of all she is doing to make it the success it will be.
What is not coincidental is that our conference will be in Tasmania. That we arranged some time ago. Tasmania is a beautiful state. Yet, discounting the aesthetic aspects, Tasmania seems to embody many of the ethical issues which currently concern us. Applied ethicists often debate the costs of economic growth upon the natural environment, and alternatively the harm to the unemployed in the absence of such growth. In Tasmania, Gunns‘ $2.3 Billion plan to build a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley utilising solely plantation timber sees those arguing that such an investment will create needed employment, and add substantial value to a product which is shipped abroad and pulped in far less environmentally friendly plants than the proposed Tamar Valley plant, pitted against those concerned with the potential threats to a pristine environment. Such conflicts between those concerned with our environment and those concerned with employment have often surfaced at AAPAE conferences. As have conflicts between those arguing that financial markets are efficient against those arguing that they are not, and that they do not discount all the probable costs: especially to those less vocal stakeholders such as the environment. It is of course interesting that in 2004 when the proposed pulp mill was announced Gunns‘ share price was at $4.50. Seven years later it is close to one seventh of that. One can but speculate whether indeed financial markets are efficient and have it quite right, or whether they in the case of Gunns are not discounting all the significant costs, or have discounted numerous fictional ones.
Tasmania, furthermore, is a place where in 1803 some – what we term today boat people – arrived with every intention of staying. On arrival the local inhabitants numbered in excess of 5,000 people. Few survived the encounter. Presumably the outcomes of such encounters affected the Australian psyche. Currently, an Australian population of close to 22 million people views the arrival of proportionally far fewer boat people with extreme trepidation. Although, perhaps that is being both unfair: and inaccurate too. Nonetheless issues of dispersion and statehood plague the contemporary world and cause much ethical debate.
Admittedly such issues always existed. After all, way before 1803, in fact in 1066, a fellow named William together with others left France in some boats and headed for England with every intention of staying forever. And they did. Boats though were not always necessary.
Five years after that in 1071 the Turks, after breaking the Byzantine line of defence in Eastern Anatolia, invaded what in 1923, after the exodus earlier that year of the remaining 1.5 million Greeks, became known as Turkey. Persian rug aficionados insist that the flight of those Greeks explains why Turkey no longer manufactures those oriental rugs which were produced there prior to 1923. And indeed one aspect of globalisation has been the increasing migration of various populations seeking employment opportunities. The reception of such populations, and the conflicting rights of those seeking refuge against those wishing to exclude both them and what they represent, occupies much of the current ethical debate. As do debates as to the ethics of nationalism and whether a nation is an illusionary community. All of that is germane to Tasmania and what happened there in 1803.
For those reasons and many others the AAPAE is fortunate to be holding its 18th annual conference in Tasmania where we will debate various issues relating to applied ethics and, hopefully, through such debates leave Tasmania able to contribute to a better world. Whether we are indeed able to or whether we are not, we will leave indebted to Leila and her colleagues in the School of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania.