When journalists want
an expert comment on ethical issues, they often go to Simon Longstaff,
executive director of Sydney’s St James Ethics Centre, which describes itself
as a “fully independent not-for-profit organisation which provides a
non-judgemental forum for the promotion and exploration of ethics and
ethical decision-making.”

That’s exactly what the ABC’s Stateline‘s NSW
program did a couple of weeks ago when it needed someone to discuss the
ethics of former NSW premier Bob Carr’s contentious move to Macquarie
Bank as a part-time consultant on a reported retainer of $500,000 a
year. Which worked well, except that Longstaff neglected to mention
that Macquarie Bank is a sponsor of the The St James Ethics
Centre, a fact which sheds an interesting light on the views he
expressed to presenter Quentin Dempster.

Carr’s timing was “a bit unfortunate,” Longstaff told Stateline,
although he didn’t see any problems with him accepting the position:
“There’s a lot of controversy at the moment about the way in which some
companies are able to generate super profits because of their
relationships with governments. And maybe that wasn’t the best of
times, but that wasn’t his fault.”

Should Carr have waited
longer than ten weeks before accepting the position in light of ICAC’s
post-separation employment recommendations, that “ministers may not
take up appointments in areas of activity specified in the rules, such
as the portfolio areas for which they were responsible during the last
year before they left office”? Macquarie Bank and Bob Carr, I’m sure,
have thought about this, said Longstaff, “and will make sure that he is
not put in that position, and he will have to be very guarded about
it.” For the full transcript, click here.

Tonight, Longstaff is back on Stateline
to explain himself. As presenter Dempster notes: “We didn’t know it,
and Doctor Longstaff didn’t tell us, but a viewer did … Macquarie
Bank is a major sponsor of the St James Ethics Centre. So major that in
the Centre’s magazine, Living Ethics, the Bank’s logo is on the front and at the bottom of every page.”

It sure looks like a conflict of interest. And as Longstaff himself notes on the St James site,
“perception, by others, of a conflict of interest can often be of
concern equal to or greater than the actual conflict of interest

On tonight’s program, Longstaff admits that he put Stateline in
an “invidious situation.” He acknowledges his “ethical failure,”
blaming his lack of disclosure in part on the fact that he’d “just
rushed from the airport to the interview.” I should have mentioned the
connection, he says, “not because it means I would be incapable of
providing a disinterested point of view but because you have a right to
know … because as a journalist you might say, ‘well in that case I
don’t want to interview this person on this particular case or I want
to make a judgement that it’s so material I want to reveal that to

he qualifies, Macquarie is “not a major
bankroller of the St James Ethics Centre … it’s a sponsor of the
newsletter and it’s very public.. it’s listed on our website with
everybody else.” He also says that since “the major part of our
interview was about Bob Carr” and the implications of his accepting the job, Macquarie Bank was a
“lesser part of my concern.”

How much money does Macquarie give The St
James Ethics Centre? Longstaff wouldn’t say, but confirmed that it was
more than $5,000 and less than a six-figure sum.

Although they do support us, he said, “I don’t see it as being a
violation in any case of the editorial guidelines of the ABC with which
I’m quite familiar because the equivalent situation is you might
imagine a journalist, for example, who’s writing for The Sydney Morning Herald or
another paper where an advertiser like Woolworths or Coles are paying
for ads in their paper… now I don’t think they’d be required to
disclose if they had no direct interest in that themselves.”

not, but the ABC’s “Editorial Policies” is clear on the matter (Page
21, Para. 6.7.2.):” If a guest commentator or analyst has a relevant
interest in the issue being discussed, that interest should be
declared. If specific information about the commentator would alter the
audience’s perception of the view presented, that information must be

Crikey contacted Longstaff for his response, but he was unable to get
back to us until deadline. He has been offered the chance to reply to
the story on Monday.

We had trouble finding references to Macquarie Bank on the Centre’s
website, so we contacted the St James Centre for guidance. We were
directed to an on-site PDF of the annual report where mention is made
to Macquarie’s sponsorship of the Living Ethics magazine on
page 14 of a 33 page document. Only St James members receive the
magazine which was said to be emblazoned with the Macquarie logo.