Everyday Justice in Conversation (6)

The Consequence: A Conclusion Without Any Arguments

The questions you may confront in this ongoing public debate are many and varied. This is one:

Q: Why are you opposed to “marriage equality”?

Of course, this question may arise in different contexts. Children may ask it of their parents. Actually, it’s possible that parents ask it of their children. To provide a brief answer will not be easy. What about this as an answer that keeps the discussion going:

A:In brief: the “marriage equality” movement is seeking a conclusion that will no longer have any arguments.
Q: Can you explain that view, further?
A: I’ll try. Currently the Marriage Act and its administration does not prevent people from publicly saying that the definition of marriage as given by the Act is wrong. I am yet to hear whether genuine freedom to live a life in dissent from the law will be preserved after the Act is changed to redefine marriage to comply with the “marriage equality” demand.

That explains in a nutshell the fears of many who say “No!”

Nurturing Justice is not attempting to suggest that the political argument that hitherto supported the Act’s definition of marriage is the last word on the matter (i.e. as “both sides” appeared to argue when they complied with a a Liberal-Christian civil religious understanding of marriage in their bi-partisan amendment of the Marriage Act which was passed in 2004). Our point here is that the public argument about marriage must remain open and so we are focusing attention upon the way the “marriage equality” movement closes down discussion of those opposed to its proposal. Instances of this “closing down” can be seen on all sides: it’s not just the Liberal-Coalition that manifests this so-dangerously-close-to-state-absolutism tendency here; the Labor Party leads the way with its commitment to same-sex marriage as a precondition for those standing as their parliamentary candidates post-2019. Seek it out. Look at what is coming down the line straight toward us! Get out of the way in principle, now.

This political movement – perhaps as much here as elsewhere o/s, although that remains to be fully examined – has not been prepared to disclose its view on the right to dissent from the dogmatically presupposed basis of its proposed amendment – and it thus also fails to give a full disclosure of what it proposes should be the comprehensive public policy consequences of such a change in definition.

Under the current law and its administration the human right to dissent from this part of our law, as it is formulated in the Act and administered in the application of public policy, is protected. The irony is that the “marriage equality” movement is loudest testimony to that. But by the demand that marriage be considered a human right, a “down-stream” consequence in the administration of the law is repeatedly foreshadowed by what the various spokespersons say about this proposed new definition. That they in the main do not reckon with that foreshadowing implies a public-legal blindness. And such blindness must have an impact upon any new legal understanding of dissent from the law. For these “marriage equality” advocates, the new definition of marriage must have a necessary impact upon the right to dissent from the law because the change as proposed seeks to overcome a what is claimed to be a deprivation if not violation of civil rights. Thus the law as it now stands is “accused” of being productive of “homophobia”. Therefore by definition the defence of the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act must be an implicit violation of human rights and thus by definition to dissent from “marriage equality” is to argue against human rights and to be party to “homophobia”. This then is the “marriage equality” (dissenting) view and that blindness about dissent is not about to be changed consequent to the proposed change in the Marriage Act.

But nevertheless the right to dissent from that view is now well and truly in the balance!

This is the crisis we face. This is the legal and law-making problem as it now stands. And this is why Nurturing Justice strongly urges readers to desist from participation in the ABS survey. Make your view clear without getting embroiled in that confused and confusing device that has arisen from the decades-long failures of our two major “sides” in Parliament.

The law as it now stands, and is administered, has not stood in the way, nor prevented, the public argument of “marriage equality” dissent that the law as it stands is wrong. Civil unions can be held and can even be held as expressions of lawful dissent from the current Marriage Act. Nothing prevents these celebrations from being demonstrations of dissent.

And so, the “marriage equality” movement has repeatedly failed to explain how the proposed legislation amending the definition of lawful marriage will then stand in relation to the self-same civil right to dissent. If the definition of marriage is as the “marriage equality” movement demands, and is replaced by a definition that complies with the political view that marriage is a human right, the creature of the State, that individuals may enter upon giving fulfilling certain stipulated conditions, then the public and political view that this amended law is wrong, and unjust to marriage, will not only have to suffer the accusation of “homophobia” from defenders of the law but will be considered a dissent that is in violation of human rights.

There is also a profound wedging process at work here. I had wondered how it was, given the Leader of the Opposition’s vitriol at the Prime Minister when the latter announced the ABS survey, why it was that Labor seems to want to participate in its public debate. Then I recalled that from 2019 any Labor Party candidate across the country will be required, as a matter of the party’s electoral platform, to support same-sex marriage. In other words … no, I’ll leave that for readers to make their judgment. Then it will be a matter of a conclusion without any arguments.

We began by saying that questions about this political debate will also be asked by children of parents. Let’s be frank: justice is certainly not being done to the place of sexual intercourse within marriage. And will parents who teach their children that they have come into this life as a consequence of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman – productive of the closest biotic union we can experience – be the next who stand accused of “homophobia” because of their parental explanation of the God-given wonder of sexual intercourse, or procreation, or conception? We are entering a new era of politics and a Christian political option will need a clear and comprehensive conception concerning all things political and that also means all things biotic.

If any reader is unconvinced about the blatant bias in public reporting of the “marriage equality” polemic, they might ponder the manner in which ABC recently reported on the launching of the “Coalition for Marriage”. Not only was the article’s photographs another instance of ABC “flying the flag”, but to read the article is simply to read the journalist’s attempt to turn an attempt to give a serious alternative in the public debate about “marriage equality” into yet another piece of “marriage equality” propaganda – as if readers did not already know, and hadn’t been repeatedly flailed with the mantra: “Oh yes but there are so many Christians who have other views than that.” So why not give a separate article to the views of the Christian minister who is reported by them to have gone close to ridiculing some of his brothers and sisters in the faith? There’s the rub. If the ABC did that it might have to give space to the criticism of the view that this Reverend fellow is actually advocating, and feature an explanation of how Biblical teaching repudiates “wind-vane” Christianity. Is the ABC going to be that balanced?

Not only this Reverend gent but also ourselves might do well, at this point, to hear what the Apostle John reported of Jesus teaching that so upset those who wanted to align themselves with him. Take John’s Gospel 12:39-43 for starters:

“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said [such] things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The dialectics of propaganda in this debate are subtle and clearly many are not really wanting a debate – they want a conclusion without any arguments. And thus we also conclude that that is what the “marriage equality” movement is straining towards.

BCW 15.8.17



Everyday Justice in Conversation (3)

Eight Ways to Ask: So What Should the Actual Question Be?

Apologies again, but my last post brought forward news that there was some disillusionment within the ranks of the Liberal Party’s Christian “faction”. This does not surprise us but Nurturing Justice realises that there are many, perhaps some among our readers, who are feeling “under the pump” about the political allegiances they have hitherto maintained. It is with such readers in mind that we continue to ask for forbearance of other readers who may well think enough has been said on this matter. And so we continue with  our “Everyday Justice in Political Conversation” series. Here we summarise some of the things we have been saying – yes, again and again – since launching NJ in 2006. We might say that our aim, at this point, is focused upon encouraging ongoing Christian political conversation.

We have identified the problematic facing the Federal Parliament in relation to the ongoing political debate concerning the western liberal/libertarian demand that same-sex couples who want to consider themselves as “married” be recognised as such within the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. We have also pointed out that such legislation whenever it comes – whether there be a plebiscite, a voluntary postal vote, or whatever political arrangement to suit the demands of the major parties in Federal Parliament – will not be the end of the matter.

Here we list a series of questions that might assist readers in their efforts to engage their fellows in political discussion, whether formal or informal, in everyday situations, whether it be of a plebiscite or a postal vote (a Government-sponsored poll), or about the impending legislative mistake.

1. First Possible Point for Lunch Room Discussion: Given the competent analysis of Parkinson and Aroney concerning the current highly confused state of the administration of marriage law across the Commonwealth, shouldn’t public debate begin with the major parties – the Liberal and National coalition parties and the Labor party – conceding publicly to us, citizens, from whom they gain their place in our political life, that it is THEY who have created this contentious public situation by a concerted decades-long political avoidance of coherent public policies on marriage, family, household and friendship as part of our public life. They need to be confronted by this political fact of their making because they did not want to lose votes (i.e. this is not fake news and the major mass media in its self-serving “balanced” approach is also complicit in this) and so they have persistently neglected to adequately connect to voters on these vital matters, matters central to our national stewardship and political-economy. Politics is about these matters; politics can never avoid them and to try to do so, as they have consistently tried to do, means our entire system of public governance has become rife with the problems that are now so complex that they will not go away with short-term plebiscites, nomenclature changes in Marriage Acts nor from the results of opinion polls.  Such honest admission of political failure (if not of their “side’s” electoral cowardice) might breathe new life into what is now a confused, confusing contentious political situation. And then, when that fact of political negligence sinks in, we might be in a better place to discuss this matter.

2. Second Possible Point for Discussion over the Back Fence: A principled issue that should be aired in a plebiscite or a postal vote on “marriage equality” is this: should marriage be a civil right? Should Australia take a case to the UN to add marriage the rights listed in the UDHR (and ICCPR)? This way, when the UDHR is amended by the UN, the Federal Parliament can legislate to include this amendment in our own polity’s affirmation of the UDHR.

3. Third Possible Point for Casual Conversation in the Street: Given the possible situation in which the Marriage Act will be amended to allow same-sex relationships to be defined as “marriage” how should the union currently defined as marriage (i.e the union for life of a man to a woman to the exclusion of all others) be justly and appropriately recognised in public law for what it is i.e. in legislation, public policy and in all the dimensions of the administration of public justice? How is public policy going to avoid the implied suggestion that such “conventional marriage” will henceforth be viewed merely as a variation on whatever it is that a same-sex relationship may claim to be?

4. Fourth Possible Point for Dinner Table Discussion:  Are the citizens of this country sufficiently educated in law and in public policy to know what they are suggesting when they vote one way or the other that the Marriage Act should or should not be changed?

5. Fifth Possible Point for Quiet Discussion on Public Transport: Is it the task of Government to determine how words are defined? Is the proposed change in the Marriage Act merely a debate about Government determining terminology?

6. Sixth Possible Point When You Discuss This Issue With Your Electorate’s MP: What is your policy and your party’s policy of the well-publicised view of the Masha Gessen, held by many in this country as well, that a vote for same-sex marriage can only make sense if it is one step on the way toward the abolition of marriage itself. And in this context not only questions are raised about justice for children,  and just procreation, but about what those who have steadily pushed this change world-wide  – that is not just the views of citizens who may have to vote in a plebiscite or a postal vote – have in mind with this intended global change of universal scope? We are not just talking about Chicken Licken’s impending failed prophecy. Masha Gessen has it in mind that marriage be abolished and there are supporters of “marriage equality” who believe likewise. So let’s hear what the political parties have to say about this. When are they going to develop comprehensive policies about marriage, family, household for the consideration of electors. When, in other words, are they going to start being political parties (again)?

7. Seventh Point as One Sits There Looking Out Over the Horizon and at Prayer:  How should I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, respect marriage in adherence to his teaching, and not lose my nerve as the proposed changes to this nation’s public governance are implemented? How do I remain a faithful member of his church when Christian leaders the world over are too frequently showing themselves to be in love with public affirmation rather than seeking the approval of the God they claim to serve? (John 12:43; Galatians 1:10). How then does a Christian respond to fellow Christians who are losing their way in relation to this vexing issue that is not going away?

Enough for this moment … where is the 8th? you ask. That’s for you to think about.

BCW 9.8.17




Confronting Unanticipated Consequences – Overcoming Political Superficiality.

In our most recent post we observed how the Liberal Party’s latest “rising star”, the member for Dickson (Qld.), has confirmed the Liberal Party’s well-established tactic of “getting legislation through” – by whatever means – in order to close ranks and thereby close down public debate that is an ongoing threat to party unity.

Mr Dutton seems oblivious of the fact that he, and the rest of his party, is in ongoing historical retreat from framing a comprehensive policy platform concerned with the most important economic nexus in the Australian polity. I am referring to the most productive institution in the Australian economy – the family household. Presumably he and a good number of his parliamentary fellows on “both sides” assume that offering a clear and unequivocal policy framework to ensure justice for marriage, family and household is simply too contentious to be discussed and debated openly. The Liberal Party in recent times has floated the idea of keeping such discussion behind closed party-room doors. And there is an another instance in which they are oblivious of what they are actually doing to starve electors from active participation in what is in fact debate that is vitally concerned with our own lives. He and his colleagues, and his opponents, regularly confirm the fact that their way of “doing politics” is now all washed up.

And this may be one symptom of our “crisis” in the West, but their failure to openly address it is a cause and consequence of our ongoing national political instability. And this too is why his party is suffering ongoing disunity. Disunity is to be expected when a political party strives to stay in power by transforming itself into a public relations firm.

Mr Dutton says that he believes that legislation for “same-sex marriage”/ “marriage equality” is inevitable. he thinks his side should get amongst the action to ensure that they stay in control of the consequential policy debate. In other words his entire approach is not about justice for “marriage, family and household” but primarily about defeating Labor at the next election. It is superficial nonsense. It deserves repudiation.

What we do have, it seems, is bi-partisan political cowardice. In all the parliamentary efforts to wave rainbow flags, we do not hear of the full gamut of consequential legislative initiatives that will follow the proposed change to the definition of lawful marriage. We are left without any idea of how SSM advocates anticipate dealing with the wide-ranging public and legal consequences of such a change; there is no clear explanation of how “marriage equality” will contribute to the overall policy direction embarked upon by the Australian Federal Parliament.

When critics of “marriage equality” ask about these consequences, the ritual answer is made in terms of an appeal to the children’s story “Chicken Licken”,

… in other jurisdictions where same-sex marriage has been legislated, the sky hasn’t fallen to earth!

Such a response amounts to a lamentable suggestion that opponents ought to allow the experiment to proceed, just as it has been engineered in other polities. IOW: let’s see where it goes? (Should I refer to Foxy Loxy in the Chicken Licken story perhaps?)

Yet for many of this generation’s citizens and politicians the idea that Australia might now be out of step with the rest of the “progressive” West on “marriage equality” is cause for deep embarrassment. Maybe this is what Peter Dutton is referring to when he says that, despite being opposed, he expects “same sex marriage is inevitable”. But the question is: what does he propose politically to do in response to this anticipated state of affairs? That question he needs to answer in conversation with his electors. But his party simply ducks for cover on this matter at every opportunity.

But then our concern here is this: what does Nurturing Justice propose politically to be done about this state of affairs? It’s a good question. Given the state of our political system, and the studied isolation by Christian citizens, I’m not sure there is anything specific that NJ can do apart from encouraging opened up discussion about a Biblically faithful understanding of “marriage, family and household” issues. But to do so will also mean that the full gamut of “body politics” issues (abortion, IVF, euthanasia, medical science and much more) have to be dealt with. But the focus upon “marriage, family and household” has everything to do developing a comprehensive political understanding of human birth, growth, maturation and decline. It  involves a full and elaborated view of how new human life is given to be nurtured by parents, how social life should aid and contribute to genuine maturation. And much more.

It is within that Biblical view of marriage, and all our other responsibilities, that Christians will have to develop a “way of life” that decisively side-steps the snares of mythic sexual self-liberation. And it will be from such a “way of life” that honours and respects the way God has made us that a Christian political option will arise. It will come in time. But when it does, it will also have to rely upon a sound and emancipatory Christian educational option.

In the meantime we remain at work in public policy and ethical research concerned with forming a comprehensive sociological understanding of marriage, family and household – not forgetting friendship in its authentic rainbow-rich variety.

What NJ should be trying to do, I guess, is to give wise advice to Christian parents and school teachers concerning their nurturing of a new generation. But to do so effectively we will also need a coherent and cogent historical account of what has transpired in the last 50 years.

In his response to the recent capitulation of the Church of England synod in England to a neopagan view of sexuality Revd. Gavin Ashenden discusses the malformation of pastoral care that arose from the psycho-therapy of Carl Rogers and C G Jung. See here.

BCW 25.7.17




Christianity’s Decline Amid the Crisis of the West

Eureka Street’s editor Andrew Hamilton, asks: What fuelled the crisis in the West? This is his considered contribution to the significant debate generated by Paul Kelly’s article a fortnight ago in The Australian, “Blessed be the egoistic individuals”. A post from Nurturing Justice also commented on this article. We continue our contribution here to give further elaboration to what Nurturing Justice understands concerning a Christian political option.

Hamilton’s editorial, like the articles of Sheridan and Kelly, is worth reading, as are the comments of readers  immediately after it. But I would suggest that the line of argument ignores the same issues that Kelly’s critique sidestepped although Hamilton does point out, rightfully, that Kelly has not identified the noxious root of neo-liberalism, the ideology of a system of political economy that is bowed in its piety to the sacred fiction of an “unencumbered self”. This is basic to the now ubiquitous distrust of government in the West. Here and now, representative government in parliament is undermined by behind-the-scenes capitulation to the lobbying of interest-groups and political party machinations that imply that political belief is meaningless unless elections are won. Where is the political willingness to lose elections because of political beliefs about what is good in the long-run for the public interest, for the common good? NJ continues to draw attention to how all major political parties have loosened their concern for the authentic representation of voters – party cadres form parties as public relations firms which have to win and be seen to be winning if they are to retain their jobs marketing the “party line”. Now the locus of Government power is the “party room”, the place for secret Liberal (or Labor) business.

All of this determinative political context remains outside the limits of Kelly’s and Hamilton’s analysis. Both articles, along with that of Greg Sheridan, seem to want to hold onto conventional Christian (i.e. Roman Catholic) teaching as they set forth their viewpoints. Here then is my reply to Hamilton:

Thankyou Andrew. Quite apart from Paul Kelly’s Christian-pagan longing to re-establish Aristotle as the Christian philosopher”, he has sidestepped the need for a critical exposé of how the noxious roots of economic liberalism feed the pervasive global distrust of political authority, and this you rightly point out. But Kelly’s”culture of narcissism” argument blatantly sidesteps the “corporate narcissism” generated on two prominent fronts: 1. the mass media and his own newspaper and his newspaper’s owner involvement in feeding rampant individualised celebrity as if Australians should be proud of one who renounced his citizenship in order to extend his American holdings. And 2. The disgraceful “corporate narcissism” among senior office bearers of Christian churches, exposed world-wide in recent times. Your suggestion that the resultant culture of greed “has little to do with religious belief” cannot be sustained since it is all about an idolatry, a mis-directed religious belief, that gives decisive signals of an apostasy, root and branch, of Christian churches. This should in no way be excluded from any authentic Christian political analysis of our current political co-responsibilities within the unfolding crisis of the West. Did not Rerum Novarum intimate a similar critique and Christian democratic challenge?

I suspect that my own rhetorical question: “What has Aristotle got to do with reviving Christian discipleship in the political domain?” as it appeared in the former post will cause some Christians reading this to suspect that Nurturing Justice is taking an irrational stand. Indeed such views are to be expected and here I take the liberty of paraphrasing the scholarly perspective of such an anticipated critic who will allege that Nurturing Justice has signalled support for a narrow-minded irrational dogmatism.

I was somewhat flummoxed to read: ‘What has Aristotle got to do with Christian discipleship and the task of forming a Christian public discussion?’ That sounds as if a Christian political option is not only close-minded but irrational. Can we not learn from Aristotle as to how a reasoned philosophy should be developed? Indeed hasn’t such reasoned philosophy been basic to Christian theology and for this we need to point to no other eminent scholar than Thomas Aquinas as well as 19th century Catholic Social Teaching. And after all, hasn’t Biblical studies confirmed that Platonic and Aristotelian ideas are implicit in the New Testament? Consider how the Stoic “logos” appears in John’s Gospel. So its self-evident that we need a return to Aristotle if there is ever to be a genuine and authentic return to Christian political responsibility.

Nurturing Justice is unabashed in affirming its view that the task of forming a Christian contribution to public discussion should come from Christian citizens who reckon with the inner connection between their citizenship and the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. That being said, there are philosophical and historical issues of profound weight that have to be addressed in any Christian scholarship even if they cannot be resolved here in this blog. Nevertheless, Nurturing Justice is not running away from the need for a comprehensive Christian political science in which such issues are addressed and answered. Here is my brief answer to the above concern.

Paul Kelly makes the connection to Aristotle as if every educated and intelligent reader will already know that Aristotle is the benchmark not only for rational thinking but also for thinking about the virtues of political practice. That, in effect, announces the dogmatic closure of discussion at that point and in my view he is apparently unaware of that closure. Can there be a Biblically-directed justification for the view that Aristotle is the (Christian’s) philosopher? Can this view be anything other than an appeal to a persistent tradition of Christian accommodation with Aristotle, as if that accommodation now should have binding normative authority among Christians?
To follow this assertion an appeal is often made to (what some scholars say is nothing but) a scholarly myth that John in writing his Gospel was drawing on the Stoic logos concept. And hence this reaffirmation of the vital necessity of Hellenic thinking (whether Platonist or Aristotelian) because from there the West has inherited the nostrum that human rationality is autonomous. “Reason” pertains to a self-sufficient reality and with such a scheme any proposed divine creator will have to share any status of non-dependency as a co-creator since it is the self-subsisting faculty of reason, manifest throughout reality, that has enabled the creator to create, giving form to matter. This is the basic dialectical “stuff” of the Greek philosophical tradition and hence antithetical to Biblical teaching.
Kelly and Sheridan in their views of the “crisis” mask a pre-theoretical disposition that seeks such Hellenic accommodation with the Biblical teaching of the imageo Dei. I am not wanting to imply that they be prevented from arguing in this way. I can hardly stop them. No “policeman’s hand” (fundamentalist appeal to a Bible verse) will enhance discussion by making an alternative dogma absolute.
Of course, the philosophy of Aristotle has been formative in the decisive shaping of Christian lives through traditions of such accommodative scholarship – the variations of that accommodation raise ongoing scholarly issues for investigation that philosophers, scientists, historians and sociologists should not avoid. But so has Plato, so has Descartes, Kant, and Husserl. So has Marx. So has Foucault, Rawls and Rorty. But to affirm that any one of these prominent thinkers has pointed the way to fulfilling the first and great commandment (“loving God with your whole heart, soul, MIND and strength”) is not only to suggest an accommodation of the teaching of Jesus and the apostles to Aristotle (or Plato et. al). It means that there is an active assumption that the writings of such non-Christian thinkers should be part of Christian scholarship for the purpose of giving emphasis to how their theories comply with Christian teaching. Biblical teaching therefore is equated with theology, and so theology is proclaimed as the Queen of the Sciences. This notion finds its origin in Aristotle and it has also made its impact upon Protestant thinking and theology (consider Beza and Voetius, let alone more latter-day luminaries). And it doesn’t take long in one’s discussion with Muslims to realise that The Philosopher’s conception of an Unmoved Mover continues to make an impact upon Islamic thought as well.

This discussion cannot stop here. It must be continued.

BCW 20.7.17


Public Discussion, the Decline of Genuine Political Debate and the “Party Room”.

In our previous post we expressed concern that in otherwise competent journalistic overviews, two leading journalists of The Australian (Rupert Murdoch’s Australian “flagship”) made no mention of the mass media’s contribution to the global political crisis. Instead, these two writers, notwithstanding their respected  journalistic skills, continue to write as if they are conforming to the dogma that the task of newspapers is to “stand above the fray”. Even as they try to emphasize their “evenhanded” analysis, they persistently refer to their political convictions. Public discussion is difficult and taxing. It is made all the moreso by the obsessive appeal to this dogmatic disposition that in political debate those involved must strive to keep their convictions to themselves. Such a view ensures that what is already difficult becomes confusing; and what becomes confusing simply encourages people to avoid political discussion.

One professorial journalist who makes no secret of his bias toward the “libertarian right side of politics”, has recently opined that the Liberal Party’s current problems derive from the failure of John Howard to hand over to his then deputy Peter Costello back in the early 2000’s. What this journalistic academic (another writer for The Australian) conveniently forgets is that Costello’s failure to take over the reins was consistent with the Liberal Party’s inability to maintain the kinds of political standards that are presupposed by our system of representative government. A member of Parliament does not, first of all, represent that member’s party but that member’s electors. In Costello’s case, although he made a big play of voting “Noe” in the conscience vote brought on by his Parliamentary leader’s change of mind about scientific research on human embryos conceived in IVF, his proper parliamentary response should have been to advise the Prime Minister to resign his seat and seek re-election on his (i.e. the PM’s new platform). He would take over the reins. But this step he did not take, and neither did the Deputy Leader John Anderson nor the Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz for Tasmania. Instead they accepted this change to the standing of the Member for Bennelong in his own electorate, a principled declension from our “Westminster system”, choosing instead the Machiavellian strategy of hoping the voters would not understand or if they saw a problem would merely forget.

And so, the Liberal Party’s principled commitment to a difference between “core and non-core promises” prevailed and remains to this day. In the meantime, as with Labor, the “party room” (where frank and fearless debate is said to take place) becomes the locus of our failing parliamentary democracy. And as Nurturing Justice has opined – again and again – this was the moment in recent history when the Liberal Party began its decline into what we have today – a rabble that assumes that authority for the conduct of a party in parliament does not derive from accountability to electors but to a discipline that derives first and foremost from keeping itself in power by pious deference to, as we now hear it chanted, “the party room”.

The Archives of Nurturing Justice reveal more of this decisive moment. Those wanting to search therein will also find reference to the view given to this blog’s author by the Director of the Liberal Party thinktank, The Menzies Centre (i.e. the current Prime Minister). In his view, the parliamentary Liberal Party most decidedly needed a conscience vote on the issue because to develop a coherent view of bio-politics – i.e. one that gives systematic and coherent public legal attention to marriage, family and household – would split the party! And so, the principle, if you can call it that, is keeping the party together as a united parliamentary force since this is more important than developing coherent and consistent policies that represent electors. Such issues, need to be left to the individual consciences of elected members; and in the meantime the viewpoints of electors, and the need of electors for political education on this matters is completely ignored, or at most left to the newspapers!

And so – once again – the party of Menzies’ “forgotten people” decides to forget electors, continuing down its dogmatic elitist path. The party of Menzies and F. W. Eggleston has been left behind – Don Chipp said so in 1975; some said it was 1974 – and that path has not been challenged transforming the Liberal Party into what it is today – a public relations firm for a self-proclaiming elite that manipulates the electorate to maintain its own dominance over against another self-proclaimed elite with its public relations firm. The rest, as they say, is history.  I guess many within the Liberal Party’s membership are now asking whether the Liberal Party is history or whether the Liberal Party is Over.

The immediate former PM claims that the Liberal Party is not conservative enough. The current PM contradicts this by saying that the party of Menzies was never intended as a conservative party. Today a front-bench minister says the important task is to stop arguing about what the party stands for and instead concentrate on keeping “Bill Shorten out of the Lodge”. One hears this and meanwhile the Labor Party remains quietly in the background waiting for the next poll. It is still far from clear as to what political direction either of these major parties are taking other than setting sail in a direction opposite to each other, opposite to the “other side”. And that is about all that is left.

It is ironic in the extreme that the Minister’s call to drop public discussion of what the party stands for in order to prepare to fight the next election against the Labor Party, coincides with his valiant attempt to support his leader’s London address by saying that Menzies “didn’t want our party to be a reactionary party”! Come again? Not a reactionary party? But he’s just said that the party has to cease arguing about what the party for to unite against Labor! Is he listening to what he just said? We are left to conclude that he thinks he knows what he is saying. But for all else there is confusion.

So, now the Liberal Party can no longer define “liberal”. But try formulating their views of “conservative” and “reactionary”. With that you might also throw in “party room”.

And in the midst of all this confusion we have a Liberal Senator proposing a private members bill on same-sex marriage when his party gained Government with an election commitment to a plebiscite. He wants to bring it to the “party room” to get the go ahead to bring it before the parliament. “The bill is important,” this Senator is reported to have said, “because it will allow the Liberal Party to revisit the issue of marriage once and for all before the next election.”

What is he suggesting? The “party room” is being asked to allow a “free vote” even while these MPs have been elected on a platform committed to holding a plebiscite. The Senator follows the tried and true path initiated by Prime Minister Howard, that was then confirmed by the Menzies Research Centre director. Their view is that matters of bio-politics now require “conscience votes” rather than the party doing the hard yards of ethical and legal research in order to come to a political, logical, coherent and unified policy on issues of marriage, family, household matters. The “party room” becomes the place to plot the next election. [And here is another “trickle down” and bizarre consequence of this anarchic liberal mayhem!]

Presumably this recent push suggests the political strategy that by yet another avoidance of its responsibility to electors, the party will be able to disentangle itself from its previous election promises, and with same-sex marriage legislated before the election, avoid the impending electoral defeat! QED. Game, set and match.

Let me emphasize that this blog’s aim is not to confuse. In the midst of sceptical, cynical and superficial discussion, and reporting, it is difficult to avoid political confusion. When such political incoherence is served up as “natural” the response seems to be: “well that’s politics isn’t it?” No. We need to find a new path and as disciples of Christ Jesus seek God’s Kingdom first of all in order to identify the path of public justice for all. This includes being just in our political discussions; giving political discussion its due means carefully and respectfully trying to understand the political views of those elected to our parliaments to serve us in our nation’s legislative work. But the danger these days is that the electors are being shut out of the political process by a determined effort to afford the reform of our system of parliamentary representation.

BCW 12.7.17

The Cosmetic Enhancement of Public Debate and the Crisis we Face

Here is the question I keep on asking myself: is what I publish on my Nurturing Justice blog pertinent to public debate?

Can others take up what I put forward here? Can they – when and where it is appropriate – use the ideas and concepts to enhance their own contributions to public conversation and debate?

In a global context dominated by a constant babble of alternative and dissonant stories – now flooding our post-post-modern consciousness on a daily, if not hourly, basis – is our own contribution going to be merely more “windy words”? Job’s words to his comforters can remind us how our speech can run out of control.

Will your windy words never end? Will you continue going on and on and on …? (Job 16:3)

Do we have any enduring task in all this? Should we even be seeking to make a contribution?

And even if we are not (yet) able to enter publicly into political debate, is it worthwhile to develop interpersonal conversation about the issues that face us, perhaps in our family,  with parents, with wife or husband, with people we know, those with whom we work, or people we meet “in the street”? Is conversation truly part of our human task?

That is a question a blogger should never dodge. But then, how are we to contribute in the howling gale? How do we contribute without becoming part of a conversation that loses its way? Or have we already lost our way and we keep on talking because that is how we can distract ourselves from our own confusion?

Is all this part of the story of why, these days, story-telling has become the vogue? If so, then maybe I should try. Here goes.

Yesterday, as I waited on the other side of the chemist’s check-out, as Val reappeared from the rows of pharmaceutical products with a weekly supply of vitamins and other medicines, I found myself surrounded by that chemist shop’s advertising hoarding. One cannot easily avert one’s eyes in that highly feminised environs and I found myself looking at this and feeling uneasy. (The uneasiness has me remembering my mother’s subscription to “Women’s Weekly”, the pages I turned with a young boy’s feelings of deep uncertainty and curiosity.) But as we left the store, I held myself in check. I refrained from discussing the “fake” advertising that faced me? The hoarding suggested that ongoing cosmetic enhancement will make everything beautiful for young women if only they – or perhaps it is aimed at their mothers – join up and purchase these cosmetic products. The advert was not addressing me; it was calling upon women, all women, to avail themselves of services that “celebrate the beauty of all Australian women.”

Now if some of my readers would care to read Calvin Seerveld’s “cosmetology” lecture “Philosophising Beauty” [Part 2 Chapter 4 of In the Fields of the Lord 2000 (an edited version of which is found in The American National-Interstate Council Bulletin of Cosmetology 15:1 September 1960, pp. 3-5)] you might discover a Christian corrective to any attempt to consign cosmetics wholesale to the rubbish-bin as simply a part of the devil’s devious tricks. Seerveld’s lecture shows respect for those (women) who find their calling in such an industry. But it is still a tricky business, is it not?

Consider my use of the term “cosmetic”, or even the way the term “ambassador” appeared in the advert. It has a commercial nuance as the pharmaceutical company displays its team of women, “cosmetics ambassadors”. The aim is to explain why these cosmetics should gain dominance in the Australian market-place of beautiful women.

The term “ambassador” was also used by the US president in his Warsaw 6th July address when he thanked his wife for her “ambassadorial” introduction. We will also notice (5.30 to 6.00) the backhanded compliment to hard-working US diplomats, but the intention was to elevate his wife – the First Lady – to the status of  “no better ambassador”. And who could deny that there had been a concerted effort at “cosmetic enhancement” from that highly choreographed attempt to win public approval. The President’s wife was part of a diplomatic manoeuvre designed to enhance, to give a whiff of, legitimacy to the incumbent of the presidential office who has conducted his own political affairs with such acrid recklessness.

I am not wanting to belabour this point. The aim of this post is to encourage readers to explore and think about the way public discussion is formed. In these two examples we confront enhancement by cosmetic manipulation.

Think about it. Nurturing Justice is committed to making a Christian contribution to the art of everyday conversation.

The New Testament is unequivocal in affirming that in Christ Jesus, God’s full and complete revelation, has now been restored to its rightful and central place in our lives. Through him, we have been rightfully restored to the place God assigns us. This Word of God restores human life in its entirety – and that includes our communication in all of its created dimensions. Conversation, however it is developed, can now fulfil its true meaning and purpose. Conversation is by no means merely windy words.

And that is why we need to discuss how public discussion can make its peculiar and valid contribution as we face the crises before us. And that also means the crisis in public conversation with the pervasive sense of futility that hangs over us, which if left unchallenged would undermine wholesome and otherwise healthy talk. The crisis in discussion needs to be understood and overcome. And it will not be overcome without us openly acknowledging the destructive character that dominates so much of our public discussion. We need to discuss among ourselves how to form debate that avoids whatever destroys and vandalises the good created gifts that God continues to shower upon us. Yes, the human art of everyday conversation is a skill to be learned. As just like complex diplomatic negotiation, it is part of the wonderful created reality of our social life.

BCW 9.7.17

Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care

In our previous three posts on local government, we have developed a critical analysis of a political problem that derives from the recent 2016 LGA council election for the Borough of Queenscliffe. We began this discussion about local government last year with a post that responded to the political ambiguity and instability that had come about as a result of that election. The erosion of trust is very serious. Deceit on the hustings cannot be talked away. Our analysis has identified a variety of failures in the political context of mutually interlocking social responsibilities; each of these failures contribute to the “crisis”:

the flaw (the lack of truthfulness) in the conduct of the election; the failure of Candidates to disclose their political party affiliation; the conduct of the Local Government Authority and its elected Council; the negligence of the political parties in political education; the failure of the Victorian Electoral Commission to address to electoral deceit; the State Government’s policies with respect to police officers being available to stand for election to LGA Councils; the Victoria Police’s silence with respect to the question mark now placed against the application of the code of conduct for police officers.

This is a gridlocked ethos of political irresponsibility. It illustrates a political unwillingness to view this state of affairs as a serious political problem that needs to be solved. Our system of public governance is being weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Nurturing Justice is contributing to a political debate in which many commentators are suggesting similar things about the brokenness of our political system; try here and here. Our particular contribution to this debate in this post is to identify some important local indications of this widespread brokenness.

As Australian electors, those to whom elected representatives are nominally accountable for the way we are governed, we have learned too well how to avoid long and complex political argument; as a polity we are allergic to extended discussion about complex political history. The political controversy we instinctively avoid may even be about what happened last week, or even, as we have been saying, about the LGA election in 2016, but we electors in this polity – in the BoQ and anywhere else – have learned too well the art of political avoidance. It was precisely electors with that reduced and a-historical mind-set that gave a full quota of first round votes (1/5th of 3000 electors = 600) to the candidate who announced:

I am not a politician!

Some readers may have been attracted to this post because I have added “Community Health Care” to its title. And they may well be interested to read what NJ has to say about “Community Health Care”. So let us first frame our reflection with this question: what has health care provision in our community got to do with our political responsibilities let alone with any crisis we might have with political irresponsibility at the LGA level?

One needs to follow closely because as well as the “legitimation crisis” in the BoQ there is also an ongoing political battle going on about the way Bellarine Community Health is conducting its affairs and contributing to “Health Care” provision in this local community. There is, of course, much more that can be commented upon, that what is contained in one post.

In The Queenscliffe Herald, the local monthly newspaper, readers can read “Verbal Stoush Continues Over BCH” (p.3). This latest chapter in that ongoing BCH saga not only concerns the disagreement between the State Government and Bellarine Community Health over the BCH’s recent appointment of a new CEO, but we also read an article there by 4 members of BCH Ltd making public their concerns about BCH management. They have serious criticisms about the conduct of the Company’s affairs. Consider the following statement:

The BCH Board made a decision to exit Residential Aged Care and divest themselves of these community assets without community or member consultation.

This is a serious accusation. But how is this statement to be evaluated? What kind of criteria are appropriate for evaluating the actions of BCH Ltd, a company limited by guarantee?

Part of the Board’s self-inflicted political problem is their unwillingness (or is it inability?) to draw attention to the reason they had to exit from Residential Aged Care provision. For some years before the closure of Coorabin, Government funding policy for aged care had been redesigned in order to provide services that assisted elderly people to stay in their own homes.

As a consequence of changes in aged-care funding from Canberra, decisions were made at the State Government level to re-configure the constitutions of community associations that had, up to that point, exercised oversight responsibility for aged-care facilities like Coorabin. If aged-care facilities were to remain viable in an era where government funding was to be dispersed with the aim of keeping elderly people in their own homes, and that funding for aged-care facilities was only going to be for those with special needs who could not any longer stay at home, then Coorabin would need to be run on business lines and that meant that the Queenscliffe Community Health Association would have to change its constitution to become a profit-based operation, a company limited by guarantee. That was the policy decision made by the State Government’s Department of Health and it meant changes to community health associations across the state. The Queenscliff Community Health Association was not exempt from this.  

So when Coorabin ceased operating as a residential aged care facility, four years ago, it was also at a time when the ongoing funding for aged-care was dispersed with the presumption that Residential Aged Care would have to operate on for-profit business terms. Facilities would have to be upgraded to cater for the less mobile and more needy clientele. And this change in orientation for Coorabin was already prefigured by the change in the constitution, a change that made it’s founding association into a company, and that meant a basic change in what it meant to be a member of a community health body like BCH Ltd, the successor to QCHA, as a change to its name – no longer Queenscliff but Bellarine. When that changeover took place, the constitution of the new body replaced the old constitutional provisions by which the Board had to be elected by, and was accountable to, the members of the Association for the conduct of the Association’s affairs. The changeover meant that the Board of BCH Ltd, a “company limited by guarantee”, was not elected by, nor accountable to, members in the way that the Board of the previous association had been. What had changed was the nature of membership and the structure of public accountability as this was spelled out in both constitutions.

It is a remarkable and continuing feature of this “stoush” that these constitutional changes are regularly absent from the debate as it now rages back and forth. The recent history of public policy and government decision-making simply doesn’t make it into this public controversy. As a result the public debate is gridlocked in disappointment from one-side and self-justification from the other. And these are the flow on effects to the local community life that came about from changes to Federal and State funding for aged-care.

Meanwhile the community’s corporate responsibility for aged-care seems to have evaporated. For many, I suspect, it is a mystery, but it is a mystery that can only be overcome if people are willing to think about their own responsibilities for aged-care in public-legal, historical and political terms. Sadly the major political parties are on another planet as far as rendering assistance to overcome this deficit in public understanding. 

But by having their appeal broadcast, these four BCH members have made a public their appeal to the BCH Board. It is a significant political statement. From reading it carefully our attention with be drawn to the fact that the BCH Board lacks the kind of constituted accountability to its members and to the community that the four writers believe it should have and which was a central feature of the Board’s relationship to members in the predecessor body as a community association. BCH Ltd is a “company limited by guarantee” and so it is subject to different constitutional requirements. To criticise BCH Ltd by appeal to the former constitutional criteria misses the point and simply draws attention to “the world we have lost”. The public debate as it rages on all sides manifests a serious declension from comprehensive political debate.

This ongoing “stoush” is also what remains of an incomplete political debate about the closure of Coorabin, about the appropriate public policies for the provision of aged-care. Nurturing Justice is about the seeking of public-legal wisdom in situations of political gridlock such as these..

We have been discussing how a local community’s corporate sense of responsibility for the provision of aged-care, having set up an association that would, in time, allow local residents access to their own “retirement home” in their own locale, a residence for which they already been responsible. And so, what we are discussing is such a possibility that has been lost. 

Some say, and not without good reason, that the local community’s involvement in aged-care has been vandalised. But to use the term vandalised when criticising new developments in public life, is to remind ourselves of the way public facilities and buildings left in a derelict state, with inadequate maintenance, invite vandalism. To use the term politically requires us to turn the critical light upon ourselves: could we as association members or as citizens have brought this state of affairs upon  ourselves? Could we have facilitated the vandalism – not by what we actually did but by what we failed to do? That is certainly a question that residents of the Borough of Queenscliffe need to ask themselves, particularly if they are prone to lament the decline of our community life. 

The “stoush” goes on, but unfortunately, those in charge of BCH Ltd are not drawing attention to the constitutional framework in which the company is required to do its work, and for which the Board of Directors are responsible. Somewhere in the midst of this confused situation, the accountability of BCH Ltd to the “Bellarine community” needs to be rediscovered. But to do so they would then have to face up to the fact that successive governments have redrawn public-legal the map and hence changed the prospects for local associations exercising civic responsibility for aged-care.

“Both sides” of parliamentary politics seem content to allow BCH Ltd to shoulder all  or most of the public disquiet for the resultant confusion. These privileged election machines, as Nurturing Justice regularly refers to them, are not showing any keenness to foster insightful political understanding about these community changing changes to legislation and public policy. They are merely acting as the political children of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

But there is always more to be said and the former members of the former association that had fostered Coorabin, the former aged-care facility that was a focus for local community’s sense of responsibility for the elderly, need to look carefully again at the way in which our God-given public responsibilities to care for our neighbours is an integral part of our everyday life. We stand in need of deepened political wisdom that respects our history as well as the public-legal dimensions of our neighbourhoodedness.  

BCW 15.6.17