What is 'public life'?

In the book the term ‘public life’  relates to any form of service or work that entails engagement on issues of shared concern with a wide range of groups, communities and interests—that is, a wider range than if you were merely involved in private or semi-private transactions or relationships.

Politics is perhaps the most obvious form of public life, but it is not the only one.[1] You may be in public life as an advocate or interest group representative, NGO leader or philanthropist. Public life also extends to community engagement by volunteers, and to some activities described as ‘social activism’. Journalism may amount to engagement in public life, even extending to blogging and the smart use of social media.

Engagement in a profession or business—to the extent that you merely serve clients or customers—is not per se public life. But you are in public life if you have a leadership role in your profession or industry: setting standards, defining ethical practice or engaging with government; and whenever you accept a ‘corporate social responsibility’ that entails acting for the benefit, not just of partners or shareholders, but of a broader class of interested parties.

Sport and the arts are not public life per se, but again they can be—if you have a leadership role, or prominence of the kind that attracts endorsement, makes you a role model and subjects you to higher standards for your peccadilloes than the average person.


[1] There is an alternative way of making the same point. One might say that although the book is about ‘politics’, that term should be understood broadly. As Craig Wallace says: ‘Politics, in its broadest sense, is happening all around us and in every … retail district, body corporate, office, school and community’. As the cliché goes ‘politics is ubiquitous’.

About the probity committee

The probity committee consists of:

  • Margaret Halsmith
  • Peter Acton
  • Lucas Walsh

Read their CVs here.