Everyday Justice in Conversation (4)

Here We Go Again – Confusion Reigns

“Under the Government’s plan, a postal vote asking if the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry will be sent out to everyone on the electoral roll.” (ABC web site 9 August 2017).

This is so naive and so ignorant of the public-legal matter itself, and of the way in which our elected Parliaments have a major player in misshaping public understanding for so long. It is politically embarrassing.

It is wilfully ignorant of the way people are currently using the term “marriage” in their every-day discussions. This is a pragmatic device fraught with deep contradictions. And these contradictions are not going to go away, whatever the outcome of “letting-the-people-have-their-say”. It is a kite-strategy, we recall, initially flown a couple of weeks ago, by the newly installed “multi-department” Minister for Home Affairs.

Nurturing Justice is certainly not commending this latest populist initiative. It is more an attempt to hold a political coalition together than it is about finding just policies in relation to a problem generated by a populist surge that is not going to go away any time soon.

Yesterday, we identified the initial step that is being avoided by “both sides” as they continue to avoid elaborating their political vision for how marriage, family, and household matters, if not also friendship, contribute to our national life.

This unprecedented (voluntary) initiative confirms that the Liberal-National “side” of politics is no longer a coalition of parties, as it bends itself backwards on its public-relations path to shore up electoral support for elected members of its “side” as the next election beckons. Such political self-interest at the expense of the national interest can only confirm the political and legal misunderstanding of the current state of affairs. And meanwhile deep factionalism still tears it apart. Genuine public discussion about marriage, if not of the institution itself, is made hostage to this political mob’s fortune.

We will say it one more time (not for the last time): read what two competent jurists say about the complex legal situation we currently confront in the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, Ask yourself whether a citizens free postal vote is going to do anything more than confuse a confused situation. Ask the couple who have moved in next door or your own adult children who have entered into permanent living arrangements how they see their relationship and their entitlements and how their relationship functions in relation to legal requirements).

As it stands the key phrase in the news report – “[whether] the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry” – is so fully ambiguous it may well provoke many to opt out. The wording strongly suggests that the current state of affairs in everyday life is being ignored. The formulation assumes that somehow the current legislation prevents freedom of speech, if not freedom of association. And it does no such thing. When has the definition of lawful marriage ever prevented same-sex couples from saying they are married, from referring to each other as marriage partners as thousands of de facto (“hetero” if not same-sex) couples have done for decades?

Moreover, whichever way this search for a legislative path goes, the presumption of those initiating this ballot is that the nation’s view on this matter can be properly gauged by it. It cannot. The issue presupposes a gross falsehood, namely that the political parties – via their receipt of public funding for elections – have educated the electorate already about the state of affairs governed by the Marriage Act. That is the offensiveness of this initiative, Mr Dutton. To send this out to all registered voters is to assume that the voters are competent to make a judgement in public-legal terms, when in fact they have to a large degree rendered incompetent by the studied self-interested negligence of our major political parties since at least 2004 (we’ll only refer to the mass media en passant here).

The above formulation assumes that the State by law prevents same-sex couples from asserting their belief that they are married.

The above formulation does nothing to challenge the implicit Statism in the populist view that marriage is a creature of Government. It is a confirmation that Parliament does not now know how to politically answer the accusation that the definition of lawful marriage in the Marriage Act, which both sides endorsed in Marriage Act amendments from 2004,  is an implicit violation of the human rights of same-sex couples. Some imply that such a definition of lawful in the Act is implicitly homophobic. Parliament has long since given up the task of defending the bi-partisan changes “both sides” endorsed in 2004 to the Marriage Act. If they are now no longer wanting to support that bi-partisanship, why aren’t they busy explaining themselves? The answer is: they are too busy “running for cover”. Mr Shorten’s current anger at the Government with predictions of an efflorescence of hate speech are merely a political cover-up of his own party’s contribution to public confusion. When has his party ever explained its pragmatic U-Turn on this matter, let alone his “side’s” failure to have the matter properly and publicly debated?

Do you believe that the current definition of lawful marriage as contained in the Marriage Act represents a violation of human rights?

We have suggested that this is the question that needs to be asked of this matter. But Labor as much as the Liberal-National coalition simply do not trust the electorate on this matter to raise it in these terms. For it part the electorate gives many signs that it is paying them back in like manner. These parties in their elevated privilege continue production of “both sides” core and non-core electoral agitprop. And they are so eager, so very eager, to display their post-modern credentials even as the “absolutes” of their respective “sides” dissolve in their rhetoric (ref the definition of post-modernity according to Jean-Francois Lyotard as incredulity to all meta-narratives). Labor’s absolutes are now “civil rights”; for the Liberal Coalition it is their tattered banner of “Vox Populi Vox Dei”.

There’s more to be said. For instance, what role does a Government have in relation to language? Can definitions of terms be legislated? Will some read the ballot question in terms of whether it is Government that can determine the meaning of the words we use? [While the Christian church has no mandate to depart from the teaching of Jesus about marriage, what it is, see here the wise words of N T Wright on the political danger of asking Government to legislate to define the meaning of words.] Further posts on how and why the reform of political parties is necessary for our ongoing state-crafting will follow. It is and will continue to be an important part of our everyday conversation about justice.

BCW 11.8.17



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

Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep

Early in the morning of 8 December 2016 I was the recipient of an initially cheery:

“Hi Bruce this is ____ _____. How are you today?” phone-call.

When someone on the phone, in an unexpected call, asks me “How am I today?” I am immediately on my guard. In this case it  was the recently appointed Mayor of our tiny Borough with its 3,000 voters, who wanted to talk with me about the letter that had, that morning, been published in the regional daily newspaper(see below). I immediately said that I was not prepared to talk with him over the phone on this matter, he then seemed to get agitated, talking on and saying that I had indulged in what was a “cheap shot”. I told him he was welcome to visit me later in the day to explain this criticism when others would also be at my place. I was not going to talk over the phone on this matter and I was not going to discuss it with him one-on-one.

“Thanks for ringing and good morning!”

This was my letter as published today by the Geelong Advertiser

From the Advertiser’s article last Friday, we learn that the recently appointed  Mayor of the Borough of Queenscliffe has now taken on the “top job” in the Bellarine  Liberal Party. This candidate now continues to tell us what he asserted during the campaign, that rather than being a politician he simply “looks to the future”. So why were electors not informed of his future intention, even if it was only then a remote possibility, during the election campaign itself? And perhaps more importantly, why does the Liberal Party allow itself to look so deceitfully furtive as the “behind the scenes” player, keeping its intentions from display until after the election? How will the new Mayor, and his political crew, explain why they haven’t been profoundly disrespectful to Borough electors and Bellarine voters? I guess we will be provided with the usual flapdoodle, but they should grow wise about the difficult task of LGA public governance and realise that a community’s civic trust is not advanced by “hidden hand” trickiness.

He did not turn up. And perhaps that’s not so bad. But clearly the fellow was rattled by the letter and clearly the issue is front and centre in our current political crisis.

Readers may note that my letter to the Geelong Advertiser is couched in terms that refer to offices and office-bearers rather than “personally”. This is because we are dealing with a political issue of some complexity that pertains to the duties of an elected public officer. In my view this is “good practise” when dealing with public life and especially when political questions are raised about the legitimacy of some or other policy or procedure.

Any person elected to public office remains accountable to the electors that they now represent – even those who did not support the election of this person. And while an elected official should be able to discuss political matters with his/her electors, it does not follow that electors will necessarily feel free to discuss one-on-one with an elected official. We should not be surprised if some citizens are somewhat ill at ease in discussion with public officers, particularly with those who have been elected. They may, for some reason, lack the confidence to raise issues with the elected person, especially if it is to be in a one-on-one exchange. They may also have a lack of trust that their views will be understood, let alone heeded, and this may be due to what they have experienced on previous occasions. And mere election to office does not necessarily mean that the elected poerson is able to discuss political matters in an open and frank exchange.

In this respect the current Mayor, puts himself at a severe disadvantage when he says that he is not a politician. There will be those who say, “But we all know what he means by that!” but in fact we do not. It is an obfuscation. In fact, even if he had no intention of doing so, it sends a message that he does not wish to engage in discussions that he terms political. As stated, this is a very unfortunate political position to take not only because a Mayoral office is a political office, but because it implies an unwillingness to engage in any discussion with those with whom he has political differences. Is he now only prepared to enter into discussion with those who politically disagree with him on his terms? The standpoint is unsustainable.

As I interpret it, we are dealing with a public officer, who is also an elected public officer, who is like many of us when it comes to clearly distinguishing between the various responsibilities we retain, both public and private. Hence, my heightened concern that any such contentious political discussion – which could so easily involve profound political disagreements – be properly managed. This is not just a matter of the relationships “the other guy” has with other people. It is also a matter anyone, like myself, has with “others”.

Clearly the letter rattled him, but in fact it said less, and was less critical, than an article “How many hats can a mayor wear?” in the Queenscliff Herald (December 2016 p.3). That article effectively asks how many more public hats we in the Borough are now expected to indulge during the time of this Mayor’s incumbancy.

But then, let’s not reduce this problem to that of but one elected councillor. Nothwithstanding his repeated statement that he is “not a politician”, there are indeed various public layers and kinds of political responsibility that need to be kept in view here.

This man with his many roles was nominated for Council. Presumably, his nomination was declared valid by the designated Council officer and by the Victorian Electoral Commision which oversaw the election. This is the first point that needs careful examination.

Some are clearly not at ease with a serving senior police office – whatever his duties may be – standing for (another) public office. It seems he remainins as a senior seargent holding significant duties in a vitally important police taskforce.

So the question is: since when were serving public servants such as police officers allowed to stand for other elected public service (and hence political) positions?

The fact that now the incumbent of the Mayoral office is also heading up the Bellarine Liberal Party’s attempt to defeat the Labor incumbent in the next State election – who also just so happens to be Police Minister in the current State Government – simply renders the complexity even more intractable.

Actually, it is not certain that the member is going to represent the the electorate for which she has been a Member of Parliament for some years. I may be wrong but has she not signalled her intention of stepping down?

Clearly, both major political “sides” (the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor) know well enough, I guess, the legislation and the legal grounds for a serving police officer to be able to stand for Local Government as well as the conditions that may pertain to this dual responsibility. But the problem for these parties now is that the electors, in general, do not know because they have not been adequately informed.

The recent Council election was held with this uncertainty in evidence among electors. Many were, in fact, uncertain about the legitimacy of a serving police officer’s candidacy. It may turn out to be legal – the VEC did endorse his candidature after all – but some are convinced that a serious error or series of errors has been made in order to make this possible.

Despite the Candidate, who is now Mayor and President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, saying that he is not a politician – which as we have said is a statement that will be very difficult to justify – the matter is indeed a public and political one. It needs to be resolved publicly and politically. I have told him that if I were to talk with him to explain the kinds of issues that I have raised here, it would have to be face-to-face with at least one other person present. And it is not going to be resolved merely by his statement that he has at all times acted in good faith.

It is now indeed a sticky mess and it has not been made any easier by the fact that the Council has voted to make him the Mayor, even with the hats he was already wearing before the opportunistic and over-reaching Liberal Party appointment was announced. Will not that Council decision now have to be revisited? It should be.

It will interesting to see if the Liberal Party is capable of understanding how it has contributed to this sticky political mess. It is a problem not just for the Borough Council, and for the compromised position of the Liberal Party but a problem for Borough electors and we anticipate this having an impact upon the manner in which citizens across the region understand party politics from here on.

It certainly suggests that the kind of political mayhem that has brought a completely unsuitable person to become President-elect in the USA, which we, in this country, have been quick to condemn, is closer to our front doorstep than we might have thought.




Getting off the US Presidential Barbed-Wire Fence

Well aware as I am that what I say below may sound completely opposed to all carefully cultivated “reformational” political instincts, I yet ask:

would there be any value in us discussing how a Trump presidency might be induced to save itself, and with it the “American experiment”, by advocating a reformation of the entire system of electing a President?

Could not the ambiguities of a Trump Whitehouse, along with the institutional and social impacts, continue to mount up to such an extent that DT himself would have to become convinced that the only way of saving face would be to concede the fraudulence of the election result? In doing so, he could then refer to the complete failure of the Republican Party in that his nomination was simply the culmination of its complete vetting failures. And so he would also become the advocate of genuine reform in his own “side” of politics, instead of the multi-billionaire who made a killing on the back of increased and increasing political cynicism. But would he not first have to be convinced that the evidence is telling him of a built-in systemic fraudulence which has got him into his most uncomfortable position? Could the barbed-wire fence of the Trump presidency bring about a positive result?

Consider, could DT save his presidency by becoming the student of a political reform, even if that is something he has never before grasped, let alone considered? Could he, by adopting the humble role of student of political science, become the leader of a new wave of electoral justice reform across the USA? Could he thus induce those who voted for him, as well as those deeply opposed to his election, to keep on talking to each other in order to work for a root and branch reform of the system by which a President of the United States of America is elected?

Reflect on the election result. Think about the remarkable events after Hillary Clinton’s concession of defeat and the winner’s own comments, let alone his modus vivendi with the President whom he charged with all kinds of failures on his way to electoral victory? Is not his election due to a basic failure in the American political system and is not Mr Donald Trump, whatever his complicity in this failure in order to get elected, now best viewed as the victim of it?

So, now will the next incumbent of the US Presidency concede that the only way to save the “American experiment” is for him to become the central advocate of its reform – and in this case to repent of his summary dismissal of this own need for repentance – and simply acknowledge the fraudulence of his election win and the nation’s need for a new system of Presidential election?

I am well aware this might sound like I am making an impossible appeal to an hyper-idealistic un-realpolitik. But I do recall that with the disastrous election of “Dubbya” back in 2001, the US was then served by a White House “faith-based” initiative which, as I read it, would not have taken the form it did without the Centre for Public Public Justice’s Welfare Responsibility project during the first half of the 1990s. This was indeed a positive contribution from “a Christian political option” of justice for all. 

In terms of the responses by the losing candidate as well as the US President, it would seem that these “Democrats” are more sympathetically aware of the “unanticipated consequences” that now confront DT than the President-elect himself. He now appears even more ridiculous with his back-pedalling on campaign promises, threats and other verbal garbage. His political opponents now seem, in their conciliatory tone, much more aware than the Victor of the barb-wire fence on which he is now positioning himself.

Nurturing Justice, in response to this “shock”, and with an anticipation of much turbulence, is simply putting forward the hope that it will bring with it some serious re-thinking about the taken-for-granted ground rules for representative democracy. And after all, in losing, Clinton with Al Gore before her, both outpolled their respective opponents who then each became President-elect.

After this “shock” election, the idea of a Christian political option does not seem so far away. We ask: why shouldn’t we, as Christian advocates of public justice for all, become involved in a movement of citizens who are advocating electoral justice for all? Why should not citizens of all genuine political beliefs demand the re-formation and further formation of genuine political parties? What would be unjust about a movement that promoted just representation of all citizens in the parliaments and councils of modern democracy? In fact, why have the extant political parties failed so miserably to make a clear and decisive political distance from “winner take all” forms of electing political representatives?

With all the post-modern swagger that dominates so-called “progressive” and “enlightened” political discourse these days, where are the political parties and their elected representatives who are daring to make a stand for just political representation particularly for those electors who can not accommodate their political beliefs to the opportunistic, pragmatic, end-justifies-the-means beliefs and programmes of those who in such electoral systems have been “elected” (better “delegated” perhaps) to represent them?


BCW 13.11.16 (edited 15.11.16)

He Grew Up as a Tender Plant

Reflections on Luke’s Account of Jesus’ Childhood

“Why have you been hunting all over for me? Did you not realise I must be busy in the things of my Father?”

The reply of the young man Jesus to His parents is well known. But when Mary and Joseph discovered that the young twelve year-old in their charge was not travelling home with them, what were they to do? Were they to continue on and trust that God would take care of him? Did they not receive their responsibility, as parents from the Almighty One, who had somewhat inconveniently brought this first-born into their lives? Were they not accountable to God for his nurture and his safety?

From Luke’s account we hear what the young precocious twelve year-old said in his reply. He thereby tells us, presumably having also told the teachers in whose midst he was sitting, that he was eager to take the initiative and learn more about the Law and Prophets, about Israel’s expectations concerning their Messiah. And though he had already heard about this from his parents back home in Nazareth, it would also be to his benefit to hear how those teaching in the Temple understood God’s promises to His people. Wasn’t that, after all, part of the purpose of this yearly trip up to Jerusalem?

And here again Luke, like the other Gospel writers, depicts for us a situation in which Jesus Christ was on his own “learning curve”. Sure it was important to hear how these teachers understood Holy Scripture, and no doubt he had already been introduced to the teaching of the Torah and the prophets by his diligent and faithful parents. But here Luke tells us of how the twelve year-old Jesus confronted what we might call the “intersection” of family and Temple, how that contributed to Israel’s and his own way of life. This was an important moment, Luke tells us, when Jesus’ appreciation of the “intersection” between himself as a child of his parents, and  himself as a child of God was clarified to some degree. But then he accepted his earthly parents’ care and nurture and

 … returned with them to Nazareth, living obediently to them. But his mother carefully stored all these things in her heart.  And thus Jesus  developed wisdom, years and favour before and man (Luke 2:51-52).

This account is not mere “shavings on the floor” of the Nazareth carpenter’s shop. Luke is not trying to fill up space on parchment in a narrative which would otherwise go on to more important things. This too is a vital element in the story of the Incarnation, of God’s tabernacling with us. Could Luke have recounted more of his investigations about Jesus’ childhood? At this point we might reflect upon what can be gleaned about children in the Gospels and we’ll soon come to note that Luke doesn’t tell us much about John’s childhood either. The little girl who was raised in Jairus’ household does not have a name and neither does the son of the widow of Nain. Clearly (as with speculation about Mark’s involvement in Jesus’ Galilean ministry) there were children in the crowds that followed Jesus, but it seems that the Gospel writers – let alone the writers of the other New Testament documents – were satisfied in telling us unequivocally that Jesus surely welcomed children. And that’s about it! “Honour your father and your mother, that the days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you!”

What we as readers of the sacred documents need to be told is that Jesus was a child in the full sense of the term, that he was on his own learning curve, that he was respectful of his earthly parents and understood that the One he referred to as his Heavenly Father had given him to them and them to him for his nurture and his benefit.

Is there something here from which we can learn not just about Luke’s silence, but also about the character of the years in which a child is nurtured within a family circle? Luke is emphatic: the story of Jesus’ childhood was kept as a treasure by his mother. We know of her confrontation with the angel who announced her conception; we also know how that story is woven into the story of the conception of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, the one who, in adult life, would announce Jesus as “God’s own lamb for the taking away of sin!” John would also be cruelly executed by a mad tyrant. And by the time Luke takes up his pen, to inform Theophilus but also, presumably, to assist Paul and others in their ministry, such information was known and such stories would be told. How would Luke be able to say that Mary kept these stories in her heart if he hadn’t heard them? But Luke, in his Gospel, in telling us of this visit to Jerusalem, tells us what we need to know about Jesus’ childhood. Yes there was ongoing and intense political tension that dominated their everyday life, in terms of which they had to form their many-sided responsibilities.

What we have in the Gospels are accounts of Jesus’ adult ministry. We might say that what we have are accounts of the way he went about fulfilling his vocation as the Anointed One, in his preaching, teaching and healing. Jesus decisively instructed his disciples to give their unstinting attention to being like children of their Heavenly Father, to keep children in mind as they lived their lives following him, to sit on the mat in the creche when their Rabbi decided that that was where he would teach God’s Kingly Rule that day.

But this nowhere gives any suggestion that the everyday details of children’s lives are to be broadcast far and wide. In fact, it would seem that those composing the Gospels, as well as the other New Testament writers, are united in respecting the tender plant of young people, of encouraging those “grown up” to take on a Christ-like patience to give them time for the public blossoming of God’s gifts in their lives, without presuming upon them. Children are not to be made into objects for adult gratification. Their everyday details may be there to delight those who witness them, but they are not there for public distribution. Nurture is very much a matter of what happens “in house” and open-air and public discipleship needs to be disciplined by the knowledge that parenthood is a calling from God to witness how He is also busily at work in family life. That amazing fact is what we can think about when considering Luke’s apparent silence about the details of Jesus nurture in Nazareth (Luke 4:16).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

As I have composed the above, I have recalled the way we and our legislators – our Parliamentary representatives at both State and Federal levels – have been somewhat incapable of mounting adequate political resistance to the sexualisation of childhood. It would seem that the inability of political parties to argue a coherent public policy case about “marriage, family and household” has weakened our public ability, via the parliaments, to resist the gratuitous commercial exploitation of children in advertising. But more than that. That policy failure now leaves us all exposed to an ideological maelstrom fanned by the consequences of “Marriage Equality” sentimentalism. We are now involved in the political sexualisation of childhood even if advocates of “Marriage Equality” have not realised that this is what it is.
One only has to think about the way , in recent times, “rights appeals” have been made to draw attention to the demand that the sexual identity of children be respected.  It is, as if, parents have been somewhat negligent in what is only a marginal role (after a “begetting phase”) in the formation of a child’s character. It would seem that their responsibility is to stand to attention and salute when these supposed (“essentialist”) rights are trumpeted. The military metaphor is entirely apt. This is the view that children are to be viewed primarily as members of the political community, functionaries of the all-powerful state.
The problem is that under legislation, and the rationale that is given for it, we are seeing the fermentation of an ethos that naively presumes that the way of human rights is actually to interrupt efforts to shield children because of their “tender plant” status from social forces that would encourage them to view themselves and others as sources of sexual gratification.
Are we to presume that Jesus’ definitive version of “Thou shalt not commit adultery” in the Sermon on the Mount has nothing to say to a political discourse in which it is blithely assumed that all people are engaged in sorting out their identity by viewing themselves and others as sexual objects?
We are confronted with a “political discourse” that is running blind to the fact that children are not “adult citizens” and is discounting, if not explicitly denigrating, their dependence and vulnerability upon their parents and upon the way in which the state should be honouring and protecting the distinctive integrity of their parent’s parental responsibilities. Watch out for the bogus “equality” provisions now to be legislated to have an impact upon schools and other “religious” bodies. By carefully orchestrated appeal to children’s sexuality, adults are assuming that it is simply part of our human condition to imagine sexual relations with an “other”.
Let me put this in philosophical terms: the deconstructionist, post-structural philosophical justification (sometimes misleadingly equated with “post-modern relativism”) gives emphasis to the individual child’s right to “self-identification” in terms of a (chosen) “sexuality”. If we were to simply focus attention upon the ubiquitous influence of advertising, popular culture and political debate, then it is difficult to conclude other than that the issue has been already decided. The presumption is that the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is already in violation of Article 28 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that proclaims the right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation. In other words the entire effort to legislate a change to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is due to the juristic perception that the Act itself (albeit unintentionally as far as those who initially framed it were concerned) condones homophobia, that it gives a license to legislators to imply by the laws they bring down “that one form of sexual orientation is legitimate while another is not.” In principle this interpretation suggests that we really should no longer have a Marriage Act at all, since marriage (whatever it is) is merely a function of a more basic sexuality self-identification, and marriage law thereby becomes merely a matter of equalising rights between those dyadic couples who claim marriage as their “entitlement”. The naïveté of this view may be breath-taking but it is a deeply and widely held view.
Drill down into this concatenation of assertions and you will find that it is dogmatically mired in a reductionist view of human life in which a child should be first and foremost respected in political terms, as a member of the State political community. And these implications are not just inferences by analysts or by opponents of “Marriage Equality”. They are spelled out and are publicly available.
In the midst of this fraught debate is there any room to pause and recall that such “intentionality”, as is presumed to be part of a person’s nominated “sexuality”, cannot really develop without having an “other” person in view. And without an account of the normative structural context in which a young person’s sexual identity comes to expression, in a way of life that is carefully and sensitively nurtured, we are simply left high and dry. (Quite apart from the deeply offensive and authoritarian usurpation of parental nurturing responsibility by those insisting upon an ideological demand that “gender fluidity” and “cross-dressing” be included in the pre-school curriculum!) And so we have the thoroughly ambiguous and antinomian state of affairs in which “professional authority figures” are demanding a social ethos in which their libertarian views are to be given free reign – see for example the view of the former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau: “I have never been able to accept any discipline except that which I imposed upon myself” (Federalism and the French Canadians, 1968, p. xxi). Liberty for libertarians are imposed by law! Children are to be instructed that they have the liberty to chose their sexual orientation(s). This is freedom! What it means in practise is that we are simply left with a theory in which an isolated individual’s demand becomes a transcending normative prescription.
Gardeners, bus drivers and those in charge of distributing meals at a school are just as much a part of the school community as teachers of maths, history, biology and social science. The understanding of human reproduction is and should be integral to any school’s curriculum. But the State has no mandate to disallow parents from insisting that schools maintain their own distinctive integrity, nor should legislation make it more difficult for schools to do so. A school whose purpose is to nurture the “tender plant” of youth should not be harassed or lectured or threatened with industrial action because it is set up in the belief that schooling is about diligent pedagogic protection of the children in its care.


Re-Introducing Nurturing Justice

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:

Tracing the Historical Hi-Jacking of Political Parties.

Can political parties be saved?