Everyday Justice in Conversation (2)

The “Oh no. Not Again!” Factor in Everyday Conversation

Here are some more points to consider for those seeking a Christian political option in everyday conversation. Of course, it does not need saying that the premier example of “politically correct speech” these days is related to the ongoing, decades-long advocacy of homosexual marriage. The demands for legislation include, as many wise observers have noted, that it is a movement seeking to “re-correct political speech” about marriage so that reference to the male-female exclusive-for-life bond no longer casts aspersions on those same-sex couples wanting their relationship to be viewed as marriage. And hence the movement through various redactions, as to its nomenclature that has now morphed into “marriage equality”. Many are obviously annoyed with this long-drawn-out seemingly unresolved matter. And, I guess, some readers of this blog will sigh and say, “Oh not again!”

What Nurturing Justice has always sought to show, and I hope will continue to demonstrate, is that in “everyday conversation” there are always various discussion routes that one can take to emphasise political principles. Keeping our eye on the command to love God above all and our neighbour as ourselves means that our discussions don’t have to be obsessively oriented to affirm public justice every time we open our mouths after our neighbour asks us to clarify our views.

That being said, let’s engage in a thought experiment. Let’s imagine ourselves in everyday conversation after the proposed change to the definition of lawful marriage has passed the Federal Parliament. Let’s give ourselves the liberty of taking seriously the views of the proponents of this change as they have given their views in the media today or recently.

There is in public reports a continual effort to link advocacy of “marriage equality” to a subsidiary argument. Proponents feel the need to link their rhetoric to a claim that implies such an urgency that the issue needs to be resolved NOW once and for all. That is how they have continued to advocate this revolution for over a decade. That is how they continue to make the claim today:

We have been discussing this for so long and it has been unresolved for so long; let’s get it off the agenda now once and for all and we can get back to what we are supposed to be doing!

Why does this mantra need to be affixed to the claim? It is as if we are being told that the Parliament has been diverted and will be put back on track when they succeed with the legislative change they are demanding. Even so, they fail to tell us exactly what it is that will be changed and what the consequences in terms of public administration will be. The most is usually the “chicken licken option” that the sky will not fall in.

But then to address the question politically instead of sentimentally would mean going back and clarifying what they have been saying and really they present themselves as not really wanting to do that. What is now needed, they say, is to get it off Parliament’s agenda as if the question itself is a hurdle that has to be overcome. And so, they say, this proposed legislation will free Parliament from this pesky and needlessly drawn out debate and, in the words of one articulate Liberal Parliamentarian, get back to considering how Parliament can legislate “to get electricity prices down for ordinary Australians.”

This kind of argument, even if it is framed in terms of the Liberal Party’s now thoroughly discredited respect for voters, ignores the fact that the “political charge” associated with marriage, family, household and friendship will not be turned off simply because Parliament takes this route. But if we take the tired rhetoric (i.e. of Mr Tim Wilson, or of Opposition Leader Mr Bill Shorten) seriously, the question they should be asking their political opponents after the law has been changed is this:

Why do you still consider it a political issue that same-sex marriage is not marriage even now after Parliament has legislated to alter definition of lawful marriage that be enshrined in all legislation? Why do you refuse to accept that the issue is now closed political once and for all?

1. FIRST ANSWER: One answer to that is this: legislation does not close, and never has closed, political debate once and for all. This minor point now helps us identify the implicit statism involved in the marriage equality movement blurred as it might be by a dogma of public sentimentalism. Marriage is not and never has been a department of State. Such ideologues (including current Liberal Parliamentarians) ought to learn from what happened to the Bolshevik abolition of marriage early in the 20th century. Moreover, where do we hear about the distinctive separation of State and Marriage in this “marriage equality” argument. There may well have been an implicit Liberal civil religious be statism in their defence of the previous definition, but what do these “marriage equality” advocates now with the new definition of marriage on the law books (with the marriage institution assumed to be a fundamental human right) intend to do about resisting state totalitarianism? 

2. SECOND ANSWER: Can not Parliament make a mistake? Why should those who now believe the current Marriage Act contains a mistaken view of marriage -and hence have maintained their campaign for the recognition of homosexuality as a valid way of life – believe that those who disagree with them are going to be persuaded otherwise simply because the Parliament joins in making the egregious error of the “marriage equality” movement? Why should political errors only ever be made on this matter to have prevented “marriage equality” justice as they demanded it?

Of course a brief answer in terms of Australian law may simply be: consult Parkinson and Aroney for an understanding of the deep ambiguities that are already at work with the administration of Marriage Law across our Commonwealth. Their  and it will become readily apparent that the “marriage equality” debate is a charade seeking merely a legislative expression of symbolic flag-waving that will, nevertheless have ongoing [i.e. not “once and for all”] administrative and political consequences at home and abroad.

The statement “once and for all” is rhetorical nonsense. Is it not the implicit view of those who will not rest until the Marriage Act is changed to comply with their latter-day homosexual rights agenda, that they must keep up the argument so that justice be done? Why should they speak as if their opponents on this matter are now to be politically shut out of public debate since the legislation is passed? From where do they derive that view? Or is it that it is they who have actually run out of arguments against a view that they do not know how to comprehensively reject and thus had no idea at all how to argue the case for the previous (now current) Marriage Act definition of marriage in order to show where it was in error? In other words, they really do not know in legal terms what they are arguing against? And as much as they have a deficient jurisprudence, they also do not have comprehensive political grounds for arguing for public justice for all including all households. [This would involve the need to distinguish between same-sex households and same-sex homosexual households – why of same-sex households should homosexuals be given notional privilege of being ascribed marriage status? This a distinction rarely, if ever, emerging in this ideologically shaped debate world-wide.]

 

3. THIRD ANSWER: When the argument was given back in the 1970s that same-sex,  permanent relationships were not defective forms of marriage and should not be evaluated in terms of marriage criteria, such an argument was accepted as valid and homosexuality was decriminalised. But of recent decades in the various phases of this ongoing social movement (homosexual rights > gay-rights > gay-marriage> gay and lesbian rights> same-sex marriage> marriage equality) marriage has no longer been viewed as a male-female bond but that relationship as endorsed by law is interpreted as a potential homophobic institution. Hence marriage needs to be de-homophobised and the way to do so is via changing the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act (a view that implicitly will be nothing but a magical wish in its purported operation) that will then mean changing all manner of other public activities, social welfare programmes, health-care, aged-care, education and schooling. And, of course, the idea that the advocacy of “marriage equality” is based on such a subliminal stereotype (hate speech perhaps?) of what is falsely and gratuitously called called “heterosexual marriage” can never get a proper airing in this environment.

4. FOURTH ANSWER: A Christian political option is, with reference to the definitive teaching of Jesus, committed to His view of marriage. Human identity is revealed to us as male and female created “in the image of God”. The question of “sexual orientation” is a pastoral issue and does not cancel Biblical teaching, nor does it over-ride Jesus’ proscription concerning “sizing up” another image bearer of the Creator – whether in marriage or not – in order to vent one’s covetous desires as a path in violation of the Commandment (Matthew 5:27-28). A Christian political option must involve a Biblically-directed view of how marriage, along with family and household relationships of all kinds, should be respected in public-law.

Yes this discussion I guess will be long with us.

Apologies to all those readers who find it tiresome. Can a Christian political option arise from a Christian reformation of the way in which marriage, family and household and friendship functions as part of “seeking first God’s Kingdom” and His righteousness? Why not? Will not all these other things (including the coherent and humble publicly advocacy of a Christian political option of justice for all) be then granted to us?

BCW 7.8.17

 

Politics as Business – Business as Success!

THE POLITICAL-MASS MEDIA CULT OF SELF PROMOTION:

“SPIN AND SUPERFICIALITY”

Yesterday, we noted how the fashion of posting innocent “selfies” to a Facebook page has come about in the aftermath of a world-wide effort to transform universities into enterprises of intellectual self-promotion. My intention is not to identify in mechanical terms some “causal link” – the 1980s reform to Australia’s university system > the 21st century’s unleashing of unbridled narcissism – but rather it is to draw attention to how genuine political education has been made more complex by the impact of neo-liberal managerialism upon science and scholarship.

But it is true that our lives will continue to be filled with inner tension and outer turmoil when public life is dominated by the mercantile foolishness that presumes “success” must be any person’s “chief end”. We do not need a PhD thesis in psychology to be able to see that for the recently elected President of the United States of America, personal “success” is his chief end. It is about orchestrating things by making demands, and to keep on doing so, until he gets his own way. His Twitter tweets are also warnings to those standing in his way now that he has reached the top. (Consider his Tweet this week to the sacked FBI Director. I would have thought that was a “bullying threat” but I haven’t seen Twitter cancel his subscription, at least not yet.) The current aim of the incumbent of the White House is to supersede any threats to his “success” by his “success” and his tweets are made with that in view. The road to “success” and then, having achieved his goal, the path he is on demands that he put into action the plans he has already devised for dealing with competitors, those who, by their “success”, stand in the way of his getting his way.

Still, when all of life is characterised by “success” then one will become aware of a reality that has to be mastered by making many steps, each requiring a mini-success along the way – large and all-embracing goals are achieved by many small and limited successes that accumulate as one’s life goal is attained. In all this, the important thing is to gain one’s self-respect, and to do in a way that ascribes status to oneself by achieving one successful project after another …  and so by mastering the Facebook subscription and launching a first “selfie” one is simply taking the first small step on the path of self-promotion, artfully cutting a deal for oneself, incessantly demonstrating that one is successful and not to be messed with. A public ethic of “success first for me” is also inevitably to announce a threat to any who might “get in the way”. It is also a personal self (if not selfie) discipline.

Consider how the respectful and respected youthful Barack Obama gained “top job” after his “game changing” method of connecting his bid for the Presidency to what is now known as “crowdfunding”, support gained by an appeal for funding, an initiative launched from “social media”. The man who wanted to take his place once Obama’s time had expired, watched all this very carefully and decided he knew how he could gain “top job” by successfully learning the lesson and taking social media one step further … the trick was to develop a technique that would not just gain sufficient support to gain office but one that would enable him, so he thinks, to maintain support once he gained what he decided he had to have. The “top job”, he concluded, was there for the taking, and surely the country needed him to take it – and so he proceeded via his Twitter account to send out that message.

 The ambiguities begin to pile up. Is this an approach to political life that can be sustained? Now that the US President has endorsed a particular use of Twitter, going one-step further than Barack Obama’s “crowdfunding” technique, to garner public support, what is the next step? Where is this development taking us? We may need to think long and hard about this and also reflect upon the uncertainty we have about the answer to that question – if we have one. Does it not remind us of the crisis in which western democracy is now floundering? Does it not confirm to those besotted with Twittered politics that we no longer have a clear idea about the political party’s task?

And of course the US President is by no means the only politician using Twitter.

 

All of life, it would seem, becomes caught up in ways of speaking “in a world where spin and superficiality has far too much to say” (to quote the PM’s valedictory tweet on the death of Mark Colvin). Well yes. And the question is not whether but how spin and superficiality are to be overcome with genuine political discourse and political education. These timely words come back to haunt the Australian Prime Minister in a political context this is not only dominated by spin and superficiality, but by his own recent political “success” when he met the US President. How is it that he and the US leader can get away with mouthing the view that the US with their Australian military associates actually WON the war in Vietnam? How did this view ever escape exposure as “spin and superficiality”? How is it that this “fake news” wasn’t blown out of the water? Spin and superficiality indeed, Prime Minister! The Prime Minister’s Personal Assistants need to stop trying to make the Twitter page so pretty and instead concentrate on giving historically accurate and truthful advice!

And here’s the thing: the launch of the PM’s “selfie” with the US President, and the management of his Twitter account was the goal at one point and its “success” simply meant anything and everything else had to be of subsidiary importance. Did Rupert Murdoch’s Australian-wide tabloid  The Australian feature this “fake news” as news? Is anyone going to inform the thousands of Vietnamese boat people who came to these shores that they were mistaken, that the war had been won by the US and its allies? Did it have to take a former and much respected diplomat, the one-time Australian Ambassador to the United Nations (1992-1997), to tell the PM of his egregious error of fact? And dare we ask whether the record been corrected with the Americans? Are we to conclude that it would simply be spin and superficiality if it were corrected? (Alternative facts, Prime Minister?)

It is certainly not just the Trump administration that has deep troubles with itself. There is indeed much here that requires ongoing and sustained analysis. In closing I list three matter that Nurturing Justice should seek to discuss in upcoming posts.

  • The success ethic, social media communication, schooling and the political education of children!
  • How has political representation been transformed by the “success” ethic? How should Parliamentary representation, as work, be viewed in relation to “careers”? What has the tendency in Parliamentary democracies to make elected representation into a career, meant for careers in the public service and for the diplomatic service in particular?
  • How has the “reinvention of Government” according to neo-liberal criteria since the 1980s and the privatisation of State services meant for the State crafting development and the respect for citizenship as an integral part of accountability of public governance.

To repeat: has not the US President endorsed a use of Twitter to suggest that political “success” is within the reach of any aspiring citizen – whatever the goal may be? What goals may these be?

BCW 18.5.17

PUBLIC EMOTIONS AND JUST DEBATE (2)

Nurturing Justice 2006 3 November

In this issue, I want to extend our discussion of the calls for “gay marriage” from the Greens and Judge Michael Kirby by setting forth the beginnings of a Christian strategy to discuss this contentious and problematic issue. By this stage we should not be under any illusions. The possibility that “gay marriage” will be given legal sanction in this country is by no means remote. Perhaps, as time goes on, the likelihood even increases. Mark Shields of the NewsHour recently gave this opinion: “I mean, the tide has turned on this issue. I mean, the next generation is just immeasurably, profoundly more tolerant of gay relationships than are their grandparents. And there’s a movement that’s inevitable” (October 27. 2006). He is speaking of the US. Are we in Australia about to follow the US down this path? It wouldn’t be the first time.

In introducing this topic last time, I drew attention to the emotional aspect of this debate and emphasized the importance of developing an overview of political life. To make a positive and constructive Christian political contribution to all political debates, not just about marriage law and related issues, a lot of careful analysis will be required. We will have to sort through issues self-critically and certainly not hide from the possibility that our presentation of the Christian message has failed to provide any clear alternative to the so-called sexual revolution. The public confusion about sex, sexuality and marriage is all around us. It is a confusion that has to be addressed. With something like 80,000 abortions per year and many, many marriages falling apart, there simply is no ground for Christian triumphalism.

In our reflection on this issue we must question ourselves as to whether we are rightly understanding the problems confronting us.

So to start. The question before us is: should a homosexual relationship be granted the legal status of marriage? “No!”, all on it’s own, doesn’t get very far. If “No!” is to express a genuine political concern for public justice its needs to be followed by an elaboration of the political view of marriage that has brought us to this conclusion. Can we do that?

We have to explain what our “No!” means politically? OK then let us first explore what “No!” shouldn’t mean. Remember, our aim is to develop political argument to meet the arguments of those whose answer to the question is “Yes!”

First, “No!” doesn’t mean a desire to avoid political debate by merely expounding moral and ethical precepts. The question needs to be taken in its political-legal sense and our “No!” needs to be a political-legal “No!”. It needs more than moral elaboration.

Second. “No!” doesn’t mean that we are making an argument for legally restricting the use of the word “marriage” so that committed couples who might want to refer to themselves in this way are legally forbidden to do so on pain of penalty. That would not be a positive development. If any couple are living together and want to refer to themselves as married, we might have our own views on that, and if asked for our views, we might tell them that they are not really married until they have “gone through” a marriage ceremony to make it public. But on that level of inter-personal interaction our “No!” to gay marriage is not to suggest that the law be changed to restrict the way people use the word in public or in private communication. To expand the powers of government to control the way the word “marriage” is used (or any other word for that matter) would be to take a path that wanders far from the limits of public justice. And anyway there are many male and female “partnerships” that refer to themselves as married. Conventionally they were referred to as “common law marriages”.

Third, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that homosexual couples are being singled out for special negative treatment. The demand for “gay marriage” is often couched in terms of civil rights. Though any “No!” is based on the view that marriage is not a civil right, it is not to suggest that homosexual couples have in some way forfeited their civil rights. Any view that a homosexual couple living together is not a marriage needs to be explained in terms of a wider view of law and human relationships. The law doesn’t usually regulate friendships and nor should it. Here are some other dimensions of the issue.

If a mother and son want to be legally recognised as a marriage, the law already says “No!”, and so it should. Likewise for a brother and sister who might want to make the same claim. Moreover, in this jurisdiction, polygamous and polyandrous arrangements are not accepted as lawful forms of marriage, even though our legal restrictions do not deny that these arrangements are marriages. What the law says in this instance is that polygamy is not a recognized form of marriage in this jurisdiction.

So, “No!” in our case means: a homosexual relationship is something other than a marriage and therefore should not qualify as a lawful marriage. Our “No!” means that we will still not accept that it is a marriage even if marriage law is changed to include homosexual relationships within the legal definition of lawful marriage. Our “No!” in that instance will expand to saying “No!” to the lawful definition even when the lawmakers who are redefining marriage in the way proposed go ahead . Our “No1” will mean that in our view a legal error based upon an empirical mistake is not corrected simply by legislation that incorporates the mistake into its erroneous definition.

As so our “No!” also means that Governments sometimes make mistakes on the basis of erroneous legal judgments. And there is a wider question here about how we should then live as citizens in the context of error.

In this instance, should a legal judgment decide that homosexual relationships should qualify as “marriage”, it would not only misidentify the committed non-marital relationship that may or may not want to be legally recognised as a marriage, but it would also mean that marriage had been redefined because the law would henceforth consider something that previously was not marriage as marriage. What isn’t being addressed is the underlying dogma that it is the law itself that makes marriage. “No!” in this case means a rejection of the idea that the law makes marriage marriage.

To legally redefine homosexual relationships as “marriage” on the basis of an assumption that the law makes marriage would certainly challenge the widely held view that marriage law is about the legal recognition of marriage. What is ignored here is marriage’s ascribed institutional character, having an authority that is established outside the competence of the political community. It seems that advocates of such law assume that marriage is a human creation and so assume that what humans have made they can un-make and re-make.

“No!” here also doubts whether the just support and regulation of committed, long-term relationships will be enhanced by legally re- defining those relationships (including homosexual relationships) as “marriages”. “No!” views two friends who are living together, committed to supporting each other, without any sexual bonding, as a friendship, not a marriage and for exactly the same reason considers a homosexual relationship to be a friendship. In our complex society there are indeed multiplying ways in which people can live together in supportive and loving relationships. But love does not equal sexual love, and ongoing complaint on behalf of “same-sex marriage” about “equal love” is not only blurred, it is blurring.

Such diversity of relationships should evoke our (civic) respect and honour and at points there will be need for changes in laws to ensure justice. But justice is not served by calling a relationship marriage just because the parties to that relationship want to have their relationship re-made in those terms. More can be said here about the “social constructionist” and “consumerist” assumptions that are strongly evident in our commercialised and post-modern way of “doing politics”.

Fourth, to say “No!” doesn’t mean that only heterosexual lawfully married couples should qualify in law for benefits that are already available for people living in committed (household) relationships. “No!” in this case does not mean any criticism of such provisions like “paid carer’s leave” or hospital visiting rights, superannuation entitlements, and so on. Moreover, it may indeed be a matter of justice that laws governing such allowances and access, as well as many financial and contractual relationships (health benefits, superannuation, inheritance), be changed in order not to discriminate against non-married supportive couples. And it would in fact be discriminatory to single out one kind of non-marital relationship for a privilege usually granted to marriage partners while denying that privilege to other kinds of enduring partnerships and committed friends.

Politics is about open debate. We citizens may disagree with each other. At this point in time those arguing for and against “gay marriage” are certainly going to disagree. But the important point is to find ways by which political debate is developed as we disagree and as we find just pathways for policies and laws. We need to avoid the tendency of treating fellow citizens as of no account because they disagree with us on contentious issues, and certainly we should not exclude their voice from our attention because they are committed to other political causes. We should seek to tell the prominent public advocates of “gay marriage” why we disagree and why we think the campaign for “gay marriage” is misconceived. But we also keep alert to the clash of assumptions that will come when public policy is debated.

BCW 31.3.17 Edited version of 3rd November 2006.

A Christian Political Option at the Tipping Point of Australian Parliamentary Politics

Pragmatic Party Politics as the Root of Parliamentary Mayhem

Nurturing Justice has been featuring “readings” of Luke’s Gospel. This is an exegetical exploration of how a reading of the Gospel with the conviction that by giving full respect to the political context of the teaching and action it describes, a decisive light is thrown on how we should proceed on our political path today. Such a disciplined re-reading of the Biblical revelation has to be a pre-requisite for any Christian political option for the South West Pacific and for that matter anywhere else of this earth. We offer it to our readers with that in mind. Without such sustained re-reading of how the Bible is a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path we simply run the risk of not knowing what we are getting ourselves in for.

But some readers seeking some political perspective may well be somewhat bemused by this trajectory of our blog. Have we not seen the descent of our Parliaments, especially our Federal Parliament, into mayhem and legislative uncertainty in recent years? Shouldn’t any blog wanting to “nurture public justice” be given this our concerted attention? Of course, we confront significant political turbulence, and it is not just in the Federal parliament but at the State level and in local government administrations too. We hear on all sides complaints that we are being over-run by arrogant political actors who are said to be in it solely for the own self (business, power) interests. Even if some candidates run for office with a coherent and principled political stand, it seems that once they get elected they are tainted, they soon become compromised. There may be some truth in that widespread cynical observation, but Nurturing Justice would also observe that the wiseacres proffering this interpretation of politics (“Oh that is just politics, what do you expect?”) rides on the back of a widespread refusal to engage in political self-criticism and a scrupulous, cynical avoidance of the need for careful study of the demands of public office.

Whatever games the recently elected  American president may be playing, hiding the true state of his understanding of  the state of affairs, trying to close things down until “we can know what the hell is going on” we have not heard him advocate the need for the disciplined study of political science or of increased emphasis upon training for public administration and assuming the responsibilities for public office. Likewise in this country there is no such political efforts to suggest that the corruption of politics, the judiciary and public administrations needs to be countered by a new emphasis upon adequate training to enhance the skills for civic and public service.

Whether or not our readers agree with our diagnosis that the transformation of political parties into public relations firms is a central cause of our political crisis, they will yet recognise, if they have been following us, that we are committed to the view that political parties – as associations bound by political conviction – should be a positive and vital part of parliamentary politics. They should be playing their part in a thorough root and branch reformation of public governance, not only here in our polity but elsewhere across the globe. And international alliances of such parties should also be active in public education concerning international law and justice in international relations. Without them doing so, we fear, we are simply heading down a path towards further authoritarian  denial of what we once thought was an inherited system of democratic parliamentary law making and governance. Political parties should be major public education associations that facilitate the political discussion between citizens, even when such citizens have diametrically opposed political views and incompatible world-views.

Internationally our global aspirations are in the balance. But then, as we have pointed out with respect to a blatant case of the corruption of the “separation of powers” for local government, the possibilities of local citizens having an impact upon the decision-making in their own communities are also seriously attenuated when political parties refuse to reform themselves. In the above-mentioned case, the local Liberal Party has shown itself, (we would say once again) to be an unprincipled, pragmatic rabble that is simply wanting to increase and concentrate its presumptive power at the expense of the democratic space that should be ascribed to all citizens. It is, to a very large measure, such corruption of a principled political viewpoint in our political parties that has brought us so decidedly to today’s political cross-roads.

And yes, Nurturing Justice does not deny in the least that we need to carefully assess the dangerous “America first” antics of the much over-loved American president whose abdication now might well cause less mayhem at home and abroad than his dogged egoistic resolution to see it through.

Nurturing Justice has only some affiliation with a loose connection of Christians of “reformational” persuasion around the world in Europe, UK, Africa, South America, Mexico, North America, Korea, Japan and Indonesia, as well as the South West Pacific.  It would seem that a concerted effort in Christian sociological theorising and political reflection is called for. Could not such a global “community” develop insights vital to a renewed understanding of the positive and normative contribution that political parties should be making wherever citizens can associate to bring the understanding of public justice to public notice? So how is it that political parties world-wide have degenerated into public relations firms? And then how should a Christian political option be developed to avoid the implicit denigration of political parties that we can witness in the public and legal wreckage of once noble institutions as a result of our taken for granted western, materialistic and individualistic pragmatism? There is significant political educational work to be done. If it is not a task to be undertaken by political parties how are citizens to ever understand the various approach and ideologies that contribute to public governance? How are we ever to understand public justice if political parties do not work at expounding its requirements in an ongoing way?

We have pointed out in a previous post of Nurturing Justice, that before he even entered politics, Mr Malcolm Turnbull was giving voice to the view that for him party unity was the sine qua non of Liberal Party politics. Unity must be maintained at all costs. But such a commitment is simply a convenient avoidance of the difficult question that needs to be answered in all efforts to be politically engage. What is public governance? How is government to justly do its work in maintaining public justice? When I asked Malcolm Turnbull why the Liberal Party, with its alleged commitment to “the economy” was not developing a coherent policy on all bio-ethical issues, his response was that to do so would be to threaten party unity. For him, clearly “the economy” can isolated from ethics, no matter how ethical he maintains his own action and how much he advocates ethic behaviour. The problem for Malcolm Turnbull’s view of (liberal) politics is this: you can’t have a coherent political commitment to “the economy” without articulating a clear and and also unambiguous viewpoint of the central institutional nexus of “the economy”. This central institution is not the “free market” and it is not the banks and finance. It is “marriage, family and the household”.

And so that was back at the time when Turnbull was Director of the Menzies Centre (2002-2004). And so the “hard yards” of developing a public policy that integrated the Liberal Party’s commitment to marriage, family and household has simply not been attempted. The result has continued to be a mealy-mouthed appeal to “traditional values”, but when difficult bio-ethical issues arose there just had to be a “conscience vote” – which actually was implemented to get the former Liberal PM, John Howard, off the hook after he reneged on his pre-election promise before the 2000 election concerning embryonic stem-cell research. (We have referred to that “tipping point” ad infinitum in Nurturing Justice since then and readers are invited to explore our archives on this.) The Labor Party could not call him to task for that and his Treasurer, and heir apparent, simply did not require him to hold to his pre-election commitment to his electors. (So much for the then Treasurer’s aspirations for getting the top job.)

The other day, we also heard how that other former Liberal PM, the one Turnbull replaced, now with a back-bench barracking role on the Government side, wants a referendum to be held to allow as he says “elected Governments to govern”. Such is Mr Abbott’s pragmatic opportunism, he doesn’t seem to recall his hectoring of the Rudd/Gillard Governments – and he hasn’t realised just how much he is driving a tractor into the Liberal Party’s house. To try and create a political principle he seems to be wanting the Australian Constitution to give a “rock solid” commitment to the view that majorities in the Lower House should be allowed to govern. Note that he says little, if anything, about how this view of the functioning of Parliamentary democracy in this country should be reflected in the Liberal Party’s own constitution. It is that constitution that needs reform first, and then, if he and his party have the courage they should put it out there in next election’s party platform – that is that the Liberal Party is committed, on the basis of its own principles, to allow elected Governments (i.e. who command a majority in the House of Representatives) to govern and hence will not block supply. Oh really? Wasn’t that a founding principle of his beloved Liberal Party, that is until his parliamentary predecessors decided that their party was to be run, not by the paid-up rank-and-file members as Menzies and F W Eggleston (1875-1954) had envisaged but by the privileged elite who had got themselves elected. And so in 1974, under Billy Snedden’s leadership, the Liberal Party (the party of good old Australian values) violated its own party’s constitutional principles with the threat to block supply. This departure from its own constitution became the party’s own faux precedent under Fraser another 18 months later. And as they say: the rest is history. It is that “constitutional crisis” that the Liberal Party along with its own political opponents the Labor Party, have never truly addressed. The “good old Australian values” that the Liberal Party has confirmed therefore goes something like this: you can make an electoral promise to get into office but really parliament’s members, when elected, should do all in their power to use their seat in parliament to ensure that they, and their side, gets onto the treasury benches next time.

And so that is where we are. The Liberal Party, and their Labor opponents, are now merely rival public relations firms having unhinged their commitment to appropriate electoral accountability. They refuse to look again at Proportional Representation, intent upon maintaining their elite control of parliament with 40% of the primary vote (60% of the seats) and their parties financed to a large degree by public funds that they accrue from elections. Accountability to electors means being willing to be voted in next time. One can almost forget the party’s manifesto, except of course when new and controversial legislation (witness how the Victorian Government appeals to the fine print  of the party’s manifesto last time to justify controversial school’s initiatives).

Yet when it comes down to it, all they have to say about their policies concerning political parties in our system of public governance is that they have to be bound by their belief that they should be bound – a broad church it is said – because if that unity fractures then the “enemy” (on the other side of Parliament) will be let loose to wreck havoc on the country. The fact that the Immigration Minister can talk in these terms simply confirms the analysis I have put forward. We don’t have parties – we have electoral machines that use policies as sticks with which to whack electors in order to safeguard the incumbency of their members.

This is the tipping point in our system of democratic parliamentary politics. It is such underlying now indeed “traditional political values” (i.e. since 1974) that brought us the Palmer United Party, One Nation and the most recent attempt by one disaffected Liberal Senator to launch his own new party without resigning his seat.

The doyen of Australian federalism, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919), often referred to as the Liberal Party’s historic inspiration, provides a good example of how elected members should see their representation of their electors. Deakin’s won his initial election to the Victorian legislature in 1879 by a mere 79 votes but since:

a number of voters [were] disenfranchised by a shortage of voting papers, he used his maiden speech to announce his resignation; he lost the subsequent by-election by 15 votes, narrowly lost the seat in the February 1880 general election, but won it in yet another early general election in July 1880.

This was the man who subsequently served as Prime Minister for three terms. Those thinking of trying to wangle their way into parliamentary leadership, especially those claiming to be “Deakinite liberals”, should be giving this some serious reflection. Their party is a long, long way away from such principled representation of electors. It is surely time for the Liberal Party to stop fooling itself about what it stands for. It is politically bankrupt and should, with its apparent ability to read the signs, face facts.

And a Christian political option in this polity, at whatever level, needs Christians citizens – inspired by a Biblical view of justice (i.e not a liberal-humanistic view, no matter how much both the Liberal-National and Labor public relations firms claim that they are “broad churches”) who will work hard at understanding the system of public governance we confront, the confused political traditions we necessarily inherit, and our need to keep trust with our fellow citizens as they too seek to promote policies that will deliver public justice for all.

BCW 8 February 2017

The Unsettlement of Asylum Seekers: Trump, Turnbull and the Deal

A brief comment on an international disgrace

The deal brokered between Canberra and Washington in the last days of the Obama administration for the US to take the asylum seekers holed up on Manus Island and Nauru, should never have ever come about. Australia should have long ago taken these people in. The view put forward by government ministers that to do so would give heart to people smugglers now looks even more ridiculous. One can only wonder what the people smugglers are thinking now. How does this international disgrace contribute to breaking the “business model” of unscrupulous crooks? It doesn’t. It simply confirms, once more, the pagan myth motivating the current White House incumbent (all pious prayer breakfasts notwithstanding) that life in this world is simply a matter of orchestrating deals and then getting away with them by whatever other deals and artful advertising one can spread around!

And President Barack Obama should never have allowed his name and his presidency to be sullied by his administration’s co-operation with this thoroughly ill-conceived effort by the Australian Government to get itself “off the hook”.

Can we seriously believe that those brokering the Canberra-Washington deal, from the Australian side, did not know how precarious the deal was when they brokered it? Did they not know full well that it was also functioning as an Obama administration poke in the eye to the incoming Trump administration?

They may have thought they were being very smart, very tricky – using their agreement to embarrass the incoming administration before they took office and therefore presuming to put pressure on Mr Trump, to force him into line, to discipline him – but let’s not fool ourselves. That is simply diplomacy that idealises a realpolitik view of what politicians might imagine in order to keep their ratings high, and that is a view that has been shown to be vacuous. It only embodies the faint or feint hopes of those who had reservations about this man that they could bring him into line once he took office.

Careful and rigorous political reflection would have instead raised the prospect that Trump would be maintaining his intransigent asinine approach to all things inconvenient. And now he continues the charade – which we should have expected – of trying to present himself as the victim of “dumb deals”, maintaining his own twittered ratings, putting forward an image of one who didn’t know about it.

And national honour in Australia goes down the gurgler as the Australian PM tries so hard to look like a statesman who didn’t expect that Mr Trump would throw a wobbly at the deal. Are both sides of this tatty deal not trying to fool themselves about this issue? we ask. It certainly seems like it.

But the Showman’s explosion that this was and is a “dumb deal” was not unexpected – it should not now be viewed as if it were. It feeds further marketing of his art that this is his way of doing things, this then is a foretaste of how he does and doesn’t do deals.

And now, from “our” Australian side, with the US administration’s threat of “extreme vetting”, we should be “calling them out” and pulling out of the deal forthwith – completely, utterly. These cowboys with their cabinet sheriff badges shining in the new day and their Clown need to be called out into international main street to a gun fight on taking responsibility for the words they use. They should not expect to get away with saying it was only a instinctive twittered response. They should not hide behind a Bart Simpson “I didn’t do it” when they find their Krusty the Clown dropped into ambiguity by their less than well-chosen phrases.

The term “extreme vetting” raises spectres of Gitmo and waterboarding! Australia  should pull out now, resettle the refugees with scrupulously fair vetting processes, with adequate social welfare provision right here, here in this welcoming country. We should do this now, simply because to not do so is to play (further) with the lives of these people in a way that is indistinguishable from the “deal” people smugglers contract to make money from those fleeing for their lives.

The “art of our deal” with asylum seekers, as much as with the US, should now take a new and just direction from this moment! Was it not also our willing coalition in Iraq that brought further instability to a region that in time sent so many fleeing for their lives? Was it not our membership in the Coalition of the Willing (the criminal Bush-Blair-Howard trio) that gave our Government further moral leverage to persuade the US to take the Manus and Nauru detainees? So if we argue morality in order that the US should take these asylum seekers, now with the new administration and their “extreme vetting” we should simply pull out. Thanks but no thanks. Do such deals with some one else, not us.

The willingness of the Obama administration to contract this deal should also be under intense examination – at least by Nurturing Justice if no one else is willing to do so. He and his officers should have known full well that this kind of “exhibitionist rage” from the US clown was on the cards.

Such a u-turn is all a “part of the deal” and now the Obama-Turnbull “deal”,  should be under examination as well, at the US end of this further disaster (for the people on Manus and Nauru), as much as in Canberra.

Barack Obama’s administration should not get off scot-free, at least from the same mainstream media that the new guy continues to sidestep with his Twittered obsession. And after all, we just need to get away from the persistent entertainment that is being massaged of this spat, the talk-show mumbo-jumbo, and instead look seriously at the trouble it is and will be. We in Australia should take no comfort from the fact that by our government’s mishandling of this matter, Turnbull et al take on their own extremely clownish dimensions with Australia playing its part of the ubiquitous US circus.

The election victory of Trump was as much due to an entrenched campaign of unwillingness on the part of his opponent to take his endorsed candidature for President seriously, as it was a political unwillingness among his opponents to examine the man and his approach in a concerted political frame of reference. Trump relied on Twitter. Clinton on cartoons. They should have been identifying the deep political principles involved and suggesting another political course. But they didn’t and Barack Obama and his clan failed to do this and the attempt of his last days to poke Trump in the eye is now seen for what it was – a failure of the former president to justly reckon with the precarious position occupied already by the asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

It was actually Obama’s failure to bring pressure to bear upon the Australian Government, bringing it into line with “our” international and moral obligations. And instead it now unfolds as a decision challenging norms for just international relations between states.

The deal should not have been entertained. But entertained it was because entertaining it is. It’s (cruel) entertainment value is part of the deep political problem we now inherit.

The “deal” already suggested international consequences of significant ambiguity even without the spectre of the Clown’s administration. And the willingness of Turnbull and his henchmen to maintain the deal now under these circumstances does not only confirm hard-heartedness as policy by the Australian Federal Government, it simply walks by on the other side of the road ignoring people begging for our country’s assistance. It shows just how much our political system, as we have come to be entertained by it, presupposes a patent lack of political courage. Nationally, we are not walking in ways described by Micah the prophet : acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Clowning around with people’s lives is what we as a nation are now doing and we will be judged for that!

For the Australian Government ministers to pretend now that they did not anticipate the new American President’s resistance to the deal, is merely a diversion from facing squarely the consequences of how a hard-hearted approach simply adds further suffering of these people whose desire to escape danger and live with us in this “lucky country” is still ignored.

May God have mercy on us.

BCW 3rd February 2017

Praying to the Almighty; Entering the Kingdom Like a Child

Luke 18: 9-17

And this is the parable he gave to them, [especially for] the ones who were confident in themselves that they had right-standing in contrast to others [who were thereby of no account].
“Two men went up to the temple to pray: one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood praying [up the front, bold as brass] saying his prayer with these words:
“’God, I thank you that I am not at all like all other kinds of men who are grasping [extortioners], crooked, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week, and I give away a tithe on everything I receive.’
“But the tax-collector [is standing there] far back and doesn’t even raise his eyes to heaven but beats his breast saying,
“’God be merciful to me, a sinner [please do something to put me to rights].’
“I tell you this man went down those steps again to his house having [his prayer heard] and put to rights rather than the other.
“Because I tell you, everyone who lifts himself up will be in for a big fall, and he that is humbled will be lifted up.”
And they were also bringing children to him that he might [get to know them] and hold them in his arms. But when his disciples saw this they told them [their mothers] that this was inappropriate. [It was not convenient] But Jesus called them [his disciples] to him and said:
“Make it possible for the children [your children] to come and do not stand in their way. For this is all about the Kingdom of God. And I tell you whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a child does simply cannot enter it.”

Luke follows this famous parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector with the report of the rebuke Jesus gave to his disciples when they were trying to “bounce” children and their mothers away from meeting the Teacher.

The parable, he writes, was given to assist those who were too smug about their ability to have their prayers heard. And that also follows on directly from Jesus seeking to encourage his disciples not to lose heart. It was his disciples, those who had previously been with John, who had asked Jesus to teach them to pray just as John had been doing (11:1-4). Here, Luke tells us, Jesus needed to instruct his disciples so that they would not blind themselves with presumption. They might have felt so special to have been chosen as his own special disciples. But this was no ground for presumption.

It can be expected that a Pharisee would know how to pray. Here one such all-too-confident fellow, presumably with impeccable religious credentials, contrasts himself with an utterly broken man who gets his daily bread by being a servant of the system, gathering taxes that the religious authorities have brokered with the Roman occupation army. The tax-collector is thoroughly embedded in a system that is, in all likelihood, hated by his fellow Jews, or by most of them. John had not gone along with that view and forcefully reminded all and sundry, as well as tax collectors, that collecting taxes was an activity that could never exist outside of God’s laws (3:12). It was a task with its own integrity. And there is the blind dismissiveness in the Pharisee’s attitude to the tax-collector.

But Jesus says, it was the humble and repentant tax-collector who returned home from his temple prayers having been granted the unpriceable gift of God’s mercy. He knew he needed this mercy and had pleaded for it. He assumed that God knew all about him and his sins before he mounted the temple’s steps.

The Pharisee, meanwhile, seems to have been praying in a way that suggests that God needed to hear just how righteous he had been, and for this attitude to be bolstered he apparently needed to resort to an exercise in comparative spirituality.

So here again is a parable by which Jesus was indeed reaching out – to tax collectors as much as to Pharisees. Jesus was seeking those who had come to place confidence in their own prayers rather than in the One to whom their pleas for a merciful hearing were addressed.

And in fact, any tax-collector who might be tempted to pray:

I thank you, Lord, that I am not like others with their self-righteous attitude, nor even like this pompous Pharisee …

is put on notice by this parable.

My hunch is that since Mark’s Gospel (Mark 10:13-16) is so very close to what Luke wrote here that we may be reading the result of some collaboration. What Jesus said here about children in God’s Kingdom was of great encouragement to young disciples and it would seem from what Luke tells us about Mark in Acts that this young fellow, Peter’s nephew, was a child during Jesus’ ministry in Judaea and Galilee. And so the message that God’s Kingdom is for children had an enormous impact. Clearly, Luke is telling us that Jesus’ disciples did not live it until he taught it to them. His disciples were put straight when they tried to keep children away from their Rabbi.

It was not just the religious leaders who had the wrong idea about God’s Kingdom and approaching the Almighty. The disciples apparently thought that they were rendering a service to Jesus by keeping children and their mothers from the Teacher. But Jesus didn’t want them to leave. He was there for them. Jesus wasn’t too busy for the people he wanted to be with. Luke has already told us how Jesus taught them to welcome children in his name. Now he said it again. They hadn’t understood. Now, if they were to understand they would have to listen to him teaching while he was in the crèche with a child on His knee. Being in God’s Kingdom means being a child of God, being willing to learn! What better place to learn about our Heavenly Father than in a crèche? This was new. It was also important. Very important.

The Kingdom which God has planned for His Son is for children, God’s kids. Jesus taught with a child on His knee and accepted women and mothers as well as men and fathers.

Jesus’ message is that God’s Kingdom is specially for children. As God’s child you grow as a member of his family, his household, his regime, his Kingdom. In this Kingdom a person learns to fully respect the other children God brings across your path. No ifs, buts or maybes. Entering God’s Kingdom means accepting ourselves as children, children of our Heavenly Father. That also makes us sisters and brothers of Jesus.

Luke boldly puts the parable that exposed spiritual presumption in prayer right next to the account of how Jesus insisted to his disciples that kids are fully part of the coming of the Kingdom.

20 January 2017

Who will pay the penalty?

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In the wall adjacent to the Point Lonsdale pier is the above “Survey Mark.” Readers will note that this artefact of Point Lonsdale’s history, this surveyor’s mark, exists with a warning of a £50 penalty for anyone who might be tempted to engage in “interference”. The integrity of coastal mapping was and is at stake. We cannot really allow for the marker to be unilaterally shifted by those who might wish to souvenir a nice artefact for their lounge room wall or their coastal hideout.

There was, and is still, a need for meticulous accuracy when measuring tidal shifts in the sand and sea. I’m not an expert in the technology of guiding ships through “The Rip” but I can imagine that the authorities who had this “Survey Mark” installed knew well enough why they needed it to remain in place without “interference”.

As the Queenscliff museum will reveal to those who are interested in our community’s history: we are located at the start of southern Australia’s “ship wreck coast”.

I am only one of the local residents who are dismayed by the “place name theft” that is now associated with the real estate development on the west side of Fellows Road. They have tried to sell their properties by referring to the precinct as “The Point”. It is not Point Lonsdale’s point. Point Lonsdale’s point is 3km away on the coast and its exact place on the map is indicated by the survey mark, interference with which, to say it again, incurs a £50 penalty.

Over a period of 3 years I have sent out emails to this real estate business, to Councillors of the Queenscliffe Borough and those of Geelong. I have made my views known by letters in local papers and generally continue to make a “point” of directing people’s attention to the true location of our coastal community’s “point”. I have not been the only one to have gone into print on this. A friend of mine, an accomplished writer, has written about this “place name theft” in a popular on-line magazine.

I would like to suggest that the “place name theft” that Point Lonsdale community has to deal with involves a serious “interference”. It may not be a physical vandalisation of the above pictured artefact that can be seen in its place near the pier and the Point Lonsdale lighthouse. But we have been subjected to , a serious “interference” and I would respectfully suggest that there is a violation of our civic and coastal responsibility here as citizens that requires redress.

I have no actual data as to when the Survey Mark was put in place. It may well have been in the 19th century. Let’s say it was there at Federation (1901) – which is convenient for my calculation because the Reserve Bank’s Pre-Decimal Inflation Calendar does not reach back before that date. So what would £50 at 1901 rates mean for today’s penalty? The calculation given by the web-robot is a cool: $7,200.

Now this is written to engage our calculation of the unpriceables in our community life, the value of our community’s name. And to think about the unpriceability of that I am simply proposing an exercise in our civic imagination.

There’s about 2400 residents of Point Lonsdale. OK let’s levy a $1 fine on each of us. We simply haven’t been civic-minded enough; we haven’t respected our community’s name as we should have. Let’s penalise ourselves $1 each and $2400 of the weighted penalty means 33% of $7,200. Let’s weight it that way since this is the name of our community, Point Lonsdale. We’re responsible.

Although the Real Estate developer should shoulder it’s fair share of this penalty – it could have changed the name of the precinct very early on in its development but it hasn’t done so and it has continued to maintain its rude presumption with its two web-sites; the “interference” from the theft of (part of) our name – a dismemberment of Point Lonsdale – continues to this day. So what would we say: let’s put it at 25% liability for their share of the penalty ($1800)?

And what about the City of Greater Geelong that effectively flagged through the “place name theft” of a point on the coast as well as the name of the community whose centre of gravity lies outside its own ballywick? 12% ($840). And what about the failure of the Queenscliffe Borough Council to raise its public concern not only to CGGC but also to remind us, the people who elected them, of the integrity of our and their own place of residence? I’d say another 10%. ($720). Then of course there is the State Government that should pay 10% ($720) for its negligence and let’s not forget the Federal Government chipping in with its 10% ($720).

Now I can imagine that some readers will be bemused; they may even think this is “whoopee”. What I am trying to suggest is that things do happen to our local life and we, as citizens, as members of our community don’t lose our responsibility just because we do nothing, or are not interested, or tell ourselves that we are political. We are political; we are citizens and the name of our community, the good name of our community, is also an ongoing part of our responsibility as citizens.

I do not think we should allow our name to be stolen, usurped, dismembered as it has been.

The surveyors who embedded the “survey mark” understood its importance. It helped to identify the place.

We should take note and respect the integrity of our coastal community and guard its name from theft.

11.1.17