Readers will not need to be told that we have just passed the 15th anniversary of what the Americans call “9/11”, the 11th of September 2001. Thinking back over those years, I have thought it might be appropriate to type some lines that explain why Nurturing Justice has been deemed by me to be necessary. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the news, go to a major news website, and it may be difficult to figure that what we are as much involved in the political consequences of political actions (and inactions) of events 15 years ago (or more). Often it is merely the political problem that occurred yesterday we find shouting at us as if it can fixed by action today (or at the latest, tomorrow – social media feed anyone?). But political debate is not just about arguing about near-future consequences of present proposals. And neither is this merely another post encouraging readers to explore the Nurturing Justice archive, although I would be delighted if you would take the time to do so. Your feedback is always welcome.
So, as we think politically about how our political responsibility has been formed over these 15 years, I wish to re-introduce the reason I have launched Nurturing Justice. And the way I do that will be by trying to identify a key political thread that knits together what has been taking place over these 15 years. Of course, such a wide-ranging intention needs a focus, and for the purposes of this post I will outline a political view of how genuine political parties have been systematically undermined and thus displaced from our debate about vital issues of public governance.
This is no usual “conspiracy theory”, at least it is not simply about how some mass popular movement has taken over. It is about how our major political parties have hijacked themselves. That has been a persistent theme of Nurturing Justice since it was launched in 2006.
Today, I started out intending that this not be a long post. There’s much that can be said; the archive is freely available for those wanting to investigate the way I have developed various aspects of this persistent political thread. At the conclusion of this post, I will also provide a link to two other posts that will launched soon after this one.
So why has Nurturing Justice been initiated? The answer is quite simple. It has been launched and maintained as an attempt to promote – as our blog by-line says – “a Christian political option for Australia and the South West Pacific.” And as our previous post said: we aim to do justice to political debate! That is a necessary first step to developing a Christian political option. And yes, NJ has been around now for over ten years, but we believe that a decade has not been long enough to make more than an initial few baby political steps toward this goal. And political debate also requires genuine public justice!
Nurturing Justice, therefore, has consistently tried to draw attention to a major development in our political life that too often is left off the agenda of current political debate and its accompanying discussion. In other words the “development” we have sought to trace is actually a lack of genuine political development in public debate, a growing tendency to narrow political debate in order to preserve the elite aspirations of major political players, in other words so that the Liberal Coalition and Labor, with the Greens and One Nation not so far behind, be not inconvenienced.
Nurturing Justice has been provoked by the persistent transformation of political parties into public relations firms for self-proclaimed political elites. We have sought to analyse the twisting and turning of major political players who are unwilling to actually promote debate of the issues they are effectively suppressing. They do not wish to support public debate that would critically examine their own conduct as political parties. We wish to explain why so much of what passes for political debate blocks genuine contributions to public reflection about public governance. There persists an ongoing failure of major, if not all, extant parties to explain and thereby seek electoral support for their view of what a party is and what it should be. There is, from political parties a failure to articulate what they believe about themselves, about political parties and how these seemingly ubiquitous players in all dimensions of our polity, should contribute to the administration of public justice. But where is there political party attempt to promote open political debate that allows due respect for the searching lights of genuine public opinion about them as parties?
Consider The Weekend Australian (September 10-11 2016) which ran the headline: “Costello’s blast: Libs lack vision”. Apparently, the former Federal Treasurer said that the Liberal Party’s “historic mission” is to be the custodian of small government and low tax. Meanwhile, his former boss, John Howard, says that the Liberal-Coalition has to get the right balance between “what is desirable and what is achievable”. And when we read further we discover that the Liberal Party’s “vision” is its view of how it gains support from the electorate at election time so that it can remain in Government. It’s task is to help make all of life consistent with the view that good public governance is really about economic management with an occasional sprinkling of respect for “good moral principles” (whatever they are these days).
And so, with this at the centre of Liberal-Coalition efforts to maintain party unity at all costs, the Coalition cabinet have now decided upon a plebiscite on “same-sex marriage” and “marriage equality”. Presumably the Liberal-Coalition cannot have a policy on this because they have come around to the view that it is for the people of Australia to decide. But decide what? Are not the parties of the Liberal-Coalition a privileged part of our public governance and do they not have any political beliefs that will decide this matter for themselves as a party? And so we should not expect to hear anything during this upcoming plebiscite debate about the Coalition’s comprehensive marriage, family and household policy platform. That has now been relegated to wherever it is that former political party policies end up. To have and put forward such a policy package, presumably, would split the party. Tut. Tut. And that will never do.
Whatever else the plebiscite will be, the funds set aside for “Aye” and “Noe” will not be sufficient to enable the Liberal Party to explain the principles that require it to shift away from a comprehensive marriage, family and household policy. Why? Because the Liberal Party’s decisive shift away from principled party politics is long-established. It is firmly embedded in the Liberal Party’s “conscience”. The primordial political principle of the Liberal Party is that it is there to ensure that it controls the government of the country; and if that means it cannot govern without being united, and if being united means forsaking coherent policy about the core institutions of our economy – marriage and family – then presumably marriage and family can be forsaken as well.
But, of course, they won’t be saying that.
Costello and Howard make such public pronouncements as if their own contributions by limiting policy debate by focusing upon small government and low tax, or balancing the desirable and the achievable has nothing to do with the political confusion about public governance and marriage that pertains on their “side”. And it is notable that their public statements indicated that they no longer have any real concern about a political party’s policy about itself and what it believes a party should be.
One has to wonder whether Peter Costello’s public blast about the Liberal Party’s lack of vision at a Menzies Research Centre business leaders’ forum is simply a diversion. Careful political analysis will show just how far the Liberal Party has wandered away from the political vision of Alfred Deakin (1856-1919). It should be remembered that Deakin’s initial speech in the Victorian Parliament was to tender his resignation; he had been informed that voting papers were not properly distributed in the electorate for which he had been declared winner. And in the subsequent election, he lost! Politics according to Deakin was not about holding onto power; it also meant relinquishing power to maintain one’s principles. The Liberal Party has, as we have noted in these pages, been willing since 1974 to give up its stated principles about parliamentary democracy in order to enhance the political power of its own party. The Liberal Party is over. Is it going to take another 42 years for it to wake up?
When in 2001, John Howard reneged on his pre-election undertaking that there he would not support legislation to allow embryonic stem-cell research, all Peter Costello had to do was to follow Alfred Deakin and remind his Liberal Party leader that although he was PM, he was still accountable to his electors. Howard could always resign and seek re-election, but presumably this was no longer part of the then Prime Minister’s “vision” of the balance between what was desirable and what was achievable. Presumably the arguments of the pharmaceutical companies in favour of that ill-fated research intervened between the Member for Bennelong and his electors. That was 15 years ago, and had the then Treasurer argued as a genuine Deakinite, he might have even been able to confirm Deakin’s political vision within the Liberal Party of Australia. But he didn’t. And his failure to do so, notwithstanding his latter-day grandstanding on “vision”, has simply continued the process of the Liberal Party walking away from its task as a political party and instead maintain its unjustifiable place – that is, in terms of its own founding principles about Parliamentary democracy, in our polity. It is simply now a public relations firm with serious questions about the manner in which its own self-proclaimed elite standing is maintained.
Our concluding comment concerns the upcoming plebiscite and advice about how to contribute to the impending debate. Don’t be fooled by the nonsense about “equal funding” to “both sides”. The major political issue that the Liberal-Coalition and the Labor Party have to explain is why they have walked away from putting coherent marriage, family and household policy as integral to their views of economic justice. Whatever else the plebiscite may be, and whatever else may be the result of the subsequent debate, Nurturing Justice is concerned that it is already shaping up as a serious diversion from genuine political debate about the way in which the transformation of political parties into public relations firms has simply cleared the way to a view of Parliamentary competence in our system of Government that it can invent new forms of marriage with the permission of the “people”.
Here are two further posts: