Compromise and Principles

Don’s Diary

Once we have established the price the negations begin.” (Maurie Lubanski, Chairman Stafford Holdings, 1980): I was a new employee. He was saying be flexible in your commercial dealings but maintain the principle, in this case the price.

We are all supposed to stay true to our principles but when negotiating, often the very same people who say we should, and demand us to be “principled”, then expect us to put our tenets aside in the interest of reaching "consensus" !

There has been a lot of focus on the issue of compromise in the last few weeks. The word compromise has a noble sound. It connotes a participant as a person of goodwill, compassion and understanding, and goal directed and a higher one at that. We should be those things, but not at the cost of our integrity. Mahatama Gahandi wisely said: “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is surrender..” It raises the issue of how one can compromise, should our advocates surrender principles to secure an outcome and when should those who act on our behalf have their brief clarified? When should we sack them?

I never think of any of the senior people in Canberra as my leaders: it would mean that I am a follower and that is certainly not the case. I regard them as my representatives in the parliament, my agents, my advocates and at times my advisors. I think of them as more like the many that I have appointed over the years: real estate agents, town planners, solicitors, accountants, stock and station agents and so on. You can add to this list combat commanders who might lead our sons and daughters in action.

This makes it easier: one hint of “slime” and they go. With my family’s wellbeing at stake and my life’s savings at risk there is no presumption of innocence – I will sever my engagement immediately. An agent or advocate who lies to me or betrays my trust, someone who tries to complete a deal and compromises a principle in my brief will all be terminated. If the best deal that can be done potentially involves the violation of a principle, they should come back to their principal for a revised brief – in a political context this is called an election or a referendum, the most democratic things that can do be done!

Some will use or invent a crisis as pressure to achieve a compromise. “Stocks are getting low”, “the price is due to rise”, “there is no other option” or it is in the “National interest” and so on. Often they try to play on our fear and our ignorance. We will see “crocodile tears” too.

Maurie Lubanski compromised on order quantities, delivery, interest on outstanding monies, allowable returns, future orders and so on and he was a highly successful businessman. An agent can offer compromises on timings, emphasis, and so on but never on principles, particularly in a parliament where a party has been specifically elected on the promise of a principle. I am amazed when those purporting to want to compromise abuse the other party – hardly a way to win good will. If I had commercial agents that did this, I would sack them.

We are told to be steady and firm in principal. On our great ideal of integrity, it has been said that “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised”, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe (1930 -).

Compromise can go too far and remember the saying: that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

Yours fraternally

Don Paterson