When Do We Want It? Now!

The recent BBC report detailing latest survey results on Australian opinion about marriage and parenting is an effective endorsement of the observations made in our blog yesterday. In this instance the report simply gives yet another example of the prevailing neo-liberal modus operandi that dominates reporting the mass media by claiming simply to give the “facts” of what is “trending”. The presumed ethical imperative of the report is that since there is now a new “middle ground” of support for “marriage equality” all parliamentary opposition should simply fall away and it won’t be long before the Australian Parliament will “join the club” of polities and embrace such a “progressive” recognition.

Go back and look at the survey that has now been referred to in the article. It is a discussion of the The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia report delivered by Professor Roger Wilkins of Melbourne University. From what the BBC reveals of the “facts” and “what is trending” (note not only the heading but also the sentimentalist photograph of those who are obviously excluded by a cruel fate), it might just as easily be concluded that the “facts”, and the “facts of the trends” as reported, tell us that the Australian citizenry is now no longer qualified nor capable of a coherent  public legal understanding of what is at stake in “marriage equality”.  The survey as reported by the BBC has as much credibility as a survey on whether public ice-cream should be made available for all primary schools. Yes, the BBC is an integral part of the political crisis we face.

And so, the international mass media, led by the NYT and the BBC, are adding their agitprop to the aether to get the Australian Federal Parliament to …. what? To endorse their longer-term agitprop for “progressive legislation”? We can begin to see how this crisis is upon us in ways that have been hitherto hidden and hence unexpected.

But just for the record consider the following “profound shifts” that have historically preceded the BBC’s “profound shift” in Australian views. Let’s try and list a few of these earlier shifts simply to identify how this chant:

“What do we want? Equal love! When do we want it? Now!”

sends echoes of a serious historical lack of awareness.

1.  When the Australian Parliament finally decriminalised homosexuality in the 1970s it was on the back of a Royal Commission that examined human relationships in toto. Crucial to the material considered by that Royal Commission was the submission by the leading “gay rights” organisation Campaign Against Moral Persecution that same-sex relationships were not to be judged as illicit de facto marriages but relationships of their own family and household character.

2. Since the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1970s, the two major “sides” in the nation’s parliaments (Labor and Liberal-National) have repeatedly and concertedly tried to safe-guard their own share of electoral support by the effective privatisation of (what Nurturing Justice continues to refer to as) “Marriage, Family, Household” the central and most productive sector of the national (and international) economy – even as it carries, as it must, an unpriceable market value. More and more the political parties have simply avoided losing votes because of what are seen as potentially unpopular policies and policy-frameworks. And so we have seen the increasing reliance upon “conscience vote” which might safeguard, in some distorted sense, the integrity of an individual Parliamentarian, but which further unhinges and disconnects that elected representative from his/her electors. Across all electorates therefore a persistent political fact that a significant sector of the citizens who have a non-libertarian way of life are effectively wedged out of political debate (ironically, even when the individual voter him/herself may have voted for the “winning” candidate).

3. There has been for a century “popular culture” and philosophical views that have systematically denigrated the marriage institution. One popular expression of this since 1978 has been the Sydney Mardi Gras. Presumably, even with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the “marriage institution” and in particular, those advocating public-legal respect for marriage, was “fair game” for public ridicule and has been ever since. And now despite what has in retrospect become merely an initial “ambit claim” that same-sex relationships were not to be considered as marriages, we have a persistent claim that they are marriages anyway and need to be recognised by a legislated “equalising” redefinition of the institution itself. And so when the Leader of the Opposition refused to support a plebiscite (quite apart from the fear of “marriage equality” supporters that such a vote would not obtain the necessary votes, given Donald Trump’s election, the Brexit vote and New Zealand’s failure to change its flag) we had the highly selective moral outrage of Mr Shorten and his crew that sensitive young people would be put at risk by such a publicly funded plebiscite. So where is the moral outrage at the persistent denigration of the marriage institution that has been regularly endorsed by the now ritual attendance of wind-vane politicians.

4. Nurturing Justice has been persistent in observing the ongoing consequences of the former Liberal Prime Minister’s failure to abide by his pre-election guarantee to his electors in Bennelong that he was opposed to embryonic stem-cell research. Since that time in Australia, and in fact from before that time, human seed and human eggs have become “commodities” for pseudo-Messianic bio-medical and pharmaceutical research. The consequence of Mr Howard’s failure on this matter – he should have resigned his seat, allowing his deputy to take over, and gone back to his electors to be re-elected. He didn’t and, as we have pointed out repeatedly, the Liberal Party has since become merely a public relations firm that now Mr Turnbull is trying to hold together but cannot do so even on his own terms that party unity must prevail because to take a policy stand will be to split the conservative forces and allow Labor to take the reins of Government.

5. The idea that marriage is a right is basic to this chant. However, the global movement for “marriage equality”, with its “When do we want it? NOW!” mantras does not address the question of why first the UN hasn’t been petitioned to amend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or even International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Could it be that that way of proceeding simply would not pass in any vote? Moreover, would it not demonstrate, and bring to the fore just how much this movement is a neo-colonial moral crusade?  Australia, as a leading polity in this region, has an international obligation to its neighbours but that matter is never raised.

6. Finally, with all the restrictions imposed by the alternative public relations firms (political machines) upon the public dissemination (sic!) of coherent public policies for marriage, family and household, we face a situation in which (read the above BBC article again carefully with respect to child-bearing) human seed (sperm and ova) is simply consider a de-regulated commodity. What are we to say about the new emergent forms of human slavery that have to be considered in this context?

The Melbourne University report has, as we have suggested, a wholly unintended consequence: its results can just as easily be read to conclude that the Australian public is now neither qualified nor capable of making a public-legal judgment upon legislation that would have a direct bearing upon the public and legal definition of the structures of “marriage, family and household”.

And Nurturing Justice is suggesting to the Australian Christian Lobby that its extra-parliamentary efforts to have a petition presented to the Senate to allow a plebiscite on same-sex marriage as per the Liberal Party’s election platform, is now politically misconceived. Giving Christians an opportunity to “vent” by saying “No” in such a petition is fair enough; but a plebiscite whatever its outcome puts off until another day the need for political parties to actually reform themselves and hence re-jig their own view of what a party is. And that task means finding a way to properly represent in our parliaments those electors across the Commonwealth who will never agree to what is implied in this misconceived, historically ignorant, mass movement for “marriage equality”.

We should be constant in prayer that in time, the Lord God in His mercy, will enable us to see more clearly what is being dissolved in the structure of our citizenship and how this impacts marriage, family, household and friendship. Can we face up to the worrying fact that we are preventing ourselves from seeing politically what is now staring us in the face? Yes it is persistently obscured and befogged by a thoroughly compromised mass media. And “marriage equality” is indeed one prominent issue that is turning Parliamentary Democracy away from just representation and a public justice mentality for public governance. It has capitulated to the results of what are now “winner take all” public opinion surveys. Parliamentary accountability to electors needs to be rediscovered and that will also have to be part of  the difficult task of working toward a genuine Christian political option over the next decades.

BCW 3 August 2017

Party Unity and Winning Elections

Those advocating a Christian political option need to assess what is going on in “the news”. To appreciate the distance between our system of public governance, and parliament’s place and contribution therein, and what is presupposed by our constitution, we only need to listen carefully to the “best and most” reliable, the “educated” news sources (e.g. those that avoid the ranting of the shockjocks – in Victoria ABC 621, 774 and News Radio). It will not take long before we notice how even publicly funded broadcasting is thoroughly embedded in the political crisis that our major parties are presuming to make their own. It is the character of this inner crisis that all too often is all too conveniently ignored in the reporting of “news”. All appeals to “but we are committed to balanced reporting of both sides” simply fall away in such critical circumstances.

The reliable reporting is apparently all about “balance”; and so to report normatively on an ongoing crisis might then tip the balance and become “unbalanced”. Why does this appeal to “balance” hinder genuine normative judgment? The actual and factual (not fake news) political crisis is being played out in the reports that “mainline news reports” continue to present. Take as an example what we will call the current “Twittered rumour” from Liberal Party back-benchers that they are threatening to cross the floor in order to have same-sex marriage legislated by this Parliament before the end of its term in office. It is a good example of the ABC (and others) capitulating to agitprop; the demand is made in the context of the Liberal Party’s fear of losing the next election and some in marginal seats have their hearts set on a political “career” – a parliamentarian’s “career” is a notion somewhat foreign to the underlying presuppositions of our Federal constitution’s understanding of parliamentary representation and was certainly abhorent Alfred Deakin. These “Liberals” obviously believe that the other “side” has captured the SSM vote. Further, they feel stranded by the platform commitment last time that got them elected – their own side’s attempt to resolve the issue Tony Abbott’s way via a plebiscite – and so with insufficient members in the Senate to pass the enabling legislation it has had to lapse even as it is still said (by some) to be policy.

And so, when we hear this report we hear that these Parliamentarians have said that there must be legislation in this Parliament. What are we hearing here? Is it Parliamentarians of the Liberal Party addressing the Parliament? Is it Liberal Party members addressing the Government? Is it Liberal Party members addressing their own party, requiring the party to demolish its own platform upon which these parliamentarians were elected on the Government side of the house? The fact is that these questions are completely ignored by “balanced” and “factual” reporting and that fact confirms that we are mid-stream in a crisis – not only of public governance but of public reporting. And clearly, in terms of Australia’s system of Government, as presupposed by our Constitution, these back-bench parliamentarians are reducing government to what is convenient to their party’s prospects at the next election.

In these probes, these thoroughly opportunistic politicians completely disregard the platform upon which they were elected – they are obviously agitating for their own election next time, seeking already a share of the SSM vote – and so are forgetting the many who voted for their party precisely because of its platform.

Here we note that an ethic of parliamentary accountability has been lost. It needs to be re-discovered. These parliamentarians and those who voted for them – like the rest of their parliamentary colleagues on all sides – need to understand that politics involves waiting, waiting until next election before one gets elected on a new platform. Just because Julia Gillard as PM received approval from the Federal Labor Conference to change her party’s uranium export policy, so that she then could come  back to the parliament with enabling legislation to send the stuff to India (was Mr Tony Abbott MP in his role of Leader of the Opposition leading criticism of that decision – ha!) is no constitutional basis for Labor’s opponents to jump on the populist bandwagon. And just because it was mineral exports doesn’t mean it wasn’t a populist sidestep of due process. And, by the way, it is the Liberal Party agitators and not just their opponents who need to remind themselves that the Constitution does not recognise the Federal Labor Conference as a part of our system of public governance.

I’m not – as I have said previously – indulging in cynicism but it is very difficult to avoid that accusation when you point to the embedded cynicism that is confirmed by our “news media’s” failure to reckon with the departure from what is presupposed in our Constitution by parliamentary democracy. If it weren’t enough to have the imposition upon the nation of ongoing political traditions by which the two major “sides” continue to dominate, cramp and misconstrue in their own interest our system of public governance. Our citizenship responsibility which, we thought, was about the accountability of those making the laws to those who have elected them (ha!), is simply being nulled by these careering careerists. Our system of public governance is a train wreck that hasn’t understood that it is already running off the rails.

But what is indicative of the depth of our political crisis is the persistent lack of normative judgement by the “reliable media” when it comes to instances of agitprop like this recent one. The inner tensions between party unity on the basis of a party platform and efforts to maintain party unity by changing the grounds of a party’s parliamentary representation in order to win the next election are presumed to be the normal and normative way of politics.

Donald Trump, as David Brooks of the NYT has opined, has seemingly been good for NYT’s subscriptions. But to travel down this path by silence and failure to comment openly about naked populism, eschewing judgment because it is merely a “fact” means “news” which avoids editorial censure, an attempt to dodge ongoing responsibility. And  in fact such a view is destructive of our system of parliamentary representation, and continues to deepen the crisis in its own journalistic way. It simply dispenses with all ordinances of self-denial in order to report upon the dispensing of political self-denial as if the latter is simply to be expected. And hence we see a further wedge driven into our failing system of parliamentary democracy, and parliamentarian’s accountability to the electorate is dissolved in public opinion surveys by vested interests.

We are in deep trouble.

The non-fake news is that the failure of the ABC and other allegedly “reputable” news sources and media is fully part of our political crisis.

The emergent political strategy in this agitprop is obviously aimed to get the matter off the political agenda. It will no longer be an issue such advocates assume because if the law says so therefore it must be right and true, therefore it must be “normal” therefore it will no longer be an issue. Presumably we will then “get on with the rest of our lives”. This means little more than concentrating on making sure our materialist and individualist (if not narcissistic) success ideology gets front and centre attention by our parliaments so that the people of this country can get on with their lives in terms of their goals for success.

Given the combination of a lack of respect for electors with a lack of coherence in platform policies concerning marriage, family and household (the full bio-politics kaboodle), it will probably be not too far off before legislation for “marriage equality” is passed. But will such legislation be mainly a symbolic parliamentary endorsement, a point in our nation’s legislative history that can be pointed to in order to advocate further “progressive” measures?

A Christian political option needs to avoid getting caught up in flag-waving exercises, and those wanting to see public justice will need to engage in a truly root and branch rethink of Government’s relation to marriage, family, household and friendship. The task of forming public policy takes decades and to now promote genuine public respect from the perspective of a Christian political option will not be easy. It will have to be long-term.

But the way will not be found by accommodation to the populist inner tension now so evident in the mass media’s reports of “both sides” of politics. The maintenance of a political party’s unity is assumed to be the same as gaining electoral success. Such a dialectic needs to be scrupulously avoided; it is merely an endorsement of the crisis we are now going through.

BCW 1.8.17

Discussing and Dissenting From Legislated Mistakes

There is an article about the Australian Football League that can be found on the New York Times web-site – it raises serious questions about how the homosexual identity of footballers. The article seems to want to suggest that there might be many who have not yet “come out”. The problem with the article is that it assumes that such shyness will be overcome if the AFL publicly affirms the validity of homosexuality as part of this sport. The argument goes that AFL (what we and our mums used to proudly call “Aussie Rules”) should now become part of the seamless moral rainbow carpet under all the nooks and crannies of public life in all domains of popular and corporate culture is to be lived out … Not only should the executive of the AFL condemn “homophobia” they should now be following the lead of Qantas and publicly affirm the absolute necessity of a change in the definition of marriage to ensure “marriage equality”. Equality is the current trump card.

The article is interesting for the journalist’s deft ability to bring together the previous effort to oppose racism as a forerunner to this latter-day extension of human rights that would make this change because marriage is considered to be a human right (even if it is not yet listed among those rights in the UDHR or other such documents).

We can expect that the international commentariat with strong links, to the media in this country, have been happy to see this NYT article published. In it one advocate of marriage equality put his views in these terms:

“If the A.F.L. was a parliament, we’d have marriage equality now,” said Clint McGilvray, who works with the Equality Campaign, a national effort to expand Australia’s marriage laws. “We wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Presumably this means that male footballers who would like to be known as husbands of their husbands should be able to “come out” with the full backing and support of the AFL – the family-football competition! The article itself may be worth reading if only to confirm just how systematically human relating is thoroughly blurred by this “rainbow ideology”.

But on the face of it this kind of throw away comment is deeply problematic. Is not this suggesting that the purpose of legislation is to ensure that discussion is no longer necessary because … well why wouldn’t we have a discussion about the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage if legislation changes the Marriage Act to put marriage within the reach of same-sex couples? Will such a change be the end of discussion? Has it been the end of discussion about the proper meaning of marriage (let alone the proper boundaries of family, household and friendship) in jurisdictions where “marriage equality” laws have been legislated? Of course not.

Will legislation put an end to the discussion about what it means to be human? Of course not.

Did legislation that presumed that aboriginal people should not be counted among Australia’s official population stop all discussion about the injustices inflicted upon the descendants of those who have lived in this land for thousands of years? Thankfully not.

Admittedly, Mr. McGilvray was being quoted, but his comment even if we don’t have the full statement, or his own elaborated account, still suggests a serious misunderstanding about the duty of citizens who believe the law is wrong, to maintain their stand even if that means for decades or longer. Ironically Mr. McGilvray in reflecting upon his own championing this cause may claim that that is what he has been doing. Well in that case he ought to know that just like he wishes to expand marriage law to include the legal possibility for same-sex couples to marry, so there will be those who will believe that any such expansion that denies what marriage is will continue to be discussed in ways of life that will resist the Government’s legislated mistake! The populist rhetoric of Mr. McGilvray, like the nonsensical Liberal Party “let’s legislate to get this matter off the agenda”, is cause and consequence of a deeply flawed political way of life.

But Mr. McGilvray, as much as the “rising star” of the Liberal Party we featured in our recent post, as much as the makers of the election television advertisement that warned those who did not agree with same-sex marriage to “get out of the way”, should reflect upon the fact that the current legislated definition of lawful marriage has not put an end to discussion. 

As we continue to say, the fraught issues of “human body politics” cannot be avoided; they will be discussed in everyday life and when government gets it wrong in legislation that too will be under discussion.

But now, the major political parties have locked themselves out of responsibility to shape public political debate. For decades both sides have scrupulously avoided comprehensive policies with respect to these issues in order to avoid losing votes, and parliamentary seats. Now they are simply incapable of giving leadership in public debate about such vital matters. They may speak out on these issues but in a furtive way, when they sense it is safe to do so. And if they propose to follow the rhetorical direction suggested by Mr. McGilvray they should understand that they are ignoring the need to legislatively protect parents who will discuss the matter with their children even when they teach them to avoid the mistakes that are made by Government legislation.

Elected public servants, parliamentarians, have a task to frame laws and form policies that promote constructive public discussion, that protect those minorities who in their discussions may have to formulate dissent from what is presupposed in legislation. Nurturing Justice is not the first to have observed that the rhetoric of “marriage equality” advocates too often fudges and blurs the need for opened up discussion.

These are matters about our future on this planet because they have everything to do with procreation and bringing a new generation of children into the world and giving appropriate attention to our human nurturing responsibilities.

The way in which the “marriage equality” movement makes its political claims, ascribed with the media-endorsed aura of populist power it now commands, has had everything to do with the inability of the political parties that dominate our parliamentary landscape to develop comprehensive policies of “human body politics”. We might also say that a fundamental shift has occurred in the public sphere with respect to how ethical and moral debate is now shaped.

The term “LGBTI community” is common parlance. The media regularly refers to this community giving prominence to those claiming to be its spokespersons and with reference to this community’s members. But to ask: “What are we to understand by the use of this term ‘community’?” will, in all likelihood, be viewed as an avoidance strategy, an obscurantism that is blind to what is assumed to be self-evident.

Presumably, in this world-view, Government is given to us so we can make laws for ourselves that allow us to do what we want to do, so long as we are not hurting anyone by doing so. And so the media ascribes hero status to two elderly gentlemen who want to be considered as lawfully married before they die. They become a sentimental point of reference, as the ABC and other news outlets give expression to the extent to which neo-liberal libertarianism dominates the romantic mentality of its journalists. We tend to forget that an earlier generation of such couples sought acceptance on the ground that they were not a marriage and put their claim that they shouldn’t be rejected as if that was what they were wanting to be. Somehow such historical facts get lost in a later generation’s enthusiasm for what is popular and fashionable. Those kinds of anomalies are rife in the history of the movement and we have identified some of these on other occasions.

In terms of developing a Christian political option, there is only limited value in focusing attention upon such anomalies in the history of the movement for “gay rights”. What NJ should be trying to do instead is to give wise advice to Christian parents and school teachers concerning their nurturing of a new generation.

What we have unfolding before us is not so much the start of something, but the cumulative consequence of a cultural movement that began in earnest perhaps 50 years ago with what we now call “sexual liberation”. [Revd. Gavin Ashenden in his response to the recent capitulation of the Church of England synod to a neopagan view of sexuality has discussed this as an historical outcome of pastoral care formed by the psycho-therapy of Carl Rogers and C G Jung. See here]. We now confront the elaboration of a philosophical viewpoint in which sexual identity is assumed to be discovered by self-examination – it is not only assumed that human sexuality is an autonomous power. Hence: young adolescents, on their way to adult maturity, are being induced to ask themselves: “Who do I really prefer to have sex with?” In other words we are dealing with a subtle propaganda campaign that arises when consideration is no longer given to the definitive exposition Israel’s Messiah gave of the 6th commandment:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks covetously at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Christians make a big mistake if they insert the word “another” into their reading of this. And, I dare say that in our post 1960s mentality, shaped as it has been by popular culture and the increasingly subtle camera techniques of film and advertising that feed off sexual instincts, proclaiming this as “natural”, we find it very hard to understand how adultery could be committed within monogamous “heterosexual” marriage. But when Jesus says “but I say unto you” he suggests that the law as God’s good provision is violated if marriage partners treat each other, or allow themselves to be treated, as sexual objects for gratification (i.e. also violating the 10th commandment along the way; covetousness that is mutual does not cancel itself out). The positive side of Jesus’ teaching is that he affirms that it is within marriage where a husband and a wife seek Divine approval to disclose the “sexual identity” of the other. This is not gender-bending or anything so perverse; it is simply suggesting that what Jesus taught was in line with what Genesis 1 taught. Our human identity, male and female, is what we have been created to be and to disclose in our Creator and Redeemer’s image. We are those who carry in our bodies the distinctive signs of membership in God’s own family.


BCW 27.7.17


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




The Rearrangement of Parliamentary Deckchairs and the Crisis of the West.

In trying to commend a Christian political option one will often meet accusations like the following:

Why are you so cynical? Why do you have to be so negative?

Over the years, my attempt to respond to such views with civic respect has led me to reply:

Well actually, I am opposed to political cynicism. But we need to discuss the cynicism we can all taste; it is a bitter part of our public life and it seems to be imbedded in all our political debates.

Neither am I wanting to be negative. I am trying to point in an alternative direction, to suggest how a greater measure of public justice might be achieved.

Of course, entering the political fray is not about “winning arguments” and I concede that often my views leave the “other guy” confused. On many occasions greater insight comes from turning my “hard hitting” rhetoric back upon my own views (Luke 6:42). And the literary effort to write Nurturing Justice blogs since 2005 has confirmed me in the view that “politics” is not a career but a dimension of all of our lives  as adult citizens. Those who claim to be seeking a career in “politics” get it wrong. “Politics” is not to be defined by what “politicians” do and achieve. “Politics” is an opportunity to respond to the God-given reality of the call to love one’s neighbour with public justice. That misunderstanding – i.e. that politics is what “they” do – may be at the root of our widespread and embedded political cynicism.

The newly installed super-minister of the newly super-merged Department of Immigration and Border Protection (embracing home affairs) is obviously revelling in his recent elevation. This weekend he has put himself forward as the promoter of bright ideas.  He claims that a postal plebiscite will get the issue of same-sex marriage resolved before the next election. But in our view his approach is evidence of deep cynicism, and a misunderstanding of Parliamentary responsibility.

What does “before the next election” tell us? Is it significant that he doesn’t say “once and for all”? Obviously, conservative defections in Liberal and National ranks are on his mind. Is not this his attempt, as a rising star through the ranks, of keeping the show on the road, the fragmenting party united. The Liberal Party’s electoral problem is that the promised “marriage equality/same-sex marriage” plebiscite hasn’t happened. He has let it be known that he believes same-sex marriage is inevitable. But he stands astride the barbed-wire fence on both sides because he is opposed to same-sex marriage. So then Peter what do you propose to do about electors, across the Commonwealth, who do not believe that a same-sex friendship can be marriage, who believe that such “inevitability” is flying in the face of reality?

Obviously Mr Dutton is not addressing that issue, and he should be. Instead he’s putting himself forward on both sides at the same time. He has been in parliament for how many years? How many times have we heard that simply getting the legislation through will solve the problem? But then what is the problem? Is there no problem with marriage, qua institution, in this polity? Or are we being presented with a fudge, a fudge that resolves the Liberal Party’s ongoing existence, or more precisely of Liberal-National “unity” on the Treasury Benches. For all intents and purposes their major political purpose is no longer what they stand for but rather safeguarding themselves and ensuring that their “side” stays in power as government?

No, this will not get the Liberal Party off the barbed-wire fence. The Liberal Party is already committed to fudging any residual political commitment it may have to marriage, family and household and has been so committed since the fudging was set in concrete, pardon the metaphor, when it gave full rein to the former PM, John Howard, to reneg on his electoral promise to his electors 16 years ago of “no legislation to enable embryonic stem cell research”. Then of course such a fudging was dismissed because it was only a “non-core promise.”

It is not only Peter Dutton MP but also that other former PM on the back-bench, as well as the current PM, who are forgetting that that fudged viewpoint is now set in concrete as an implicit part of the Liberal Party’s evolution, it is basic to its electoral modus operandi.

Mr Dutton’s attempt to show “leadership”  has an echo – “So that we can get this matter off the parliamentary agenda and get on with the rest of our parliamentary responsibilities.” What Mr Dutton and his party colleagues are ignoring is the political character of parliamentary representation itself. What about the parliamentary representation of electors who may reject this “inevitability”? Do they count? They certainly cannot rely upon Mr Dutton to represent them, not least because they do not live in his electorate. But his solution is highly questionable anyway – he wants to get the issue “out of the way”. It is an historical reprise of what the former PM said in his public resistance to the legislative opportunities of the 1992 Mabo judgement that arisen in the 1997 Wik case:

If [those opposing the “10 point plan” in the Senate] want this thing off the agenda of Australian politics, pass it before Christmas and then we can all get on with the future” (The Age 22/11/1997).

This is the Liberal Party’s view. Resolve the uncertainty and then we can all get on with the future.

This is nothing else than maintenance of political nonsense, put forward as sagacious political wisdom. When did, for instance, the needs of Australia’s indigenous population ever “go off the agenda” of public justice? Has not the needs intensified since 1998 after have of the 10-Point plan was legislated? Or, in this case, when will the Liberal and National Coalition, (not forgetting the Labor Party), face up to the fact that it is their respective failures as political parties that has contributed to the crisis in marriage, family (think of the rise in family violence), household. These are supposedly associations that have their standing in our political community because they have the public resources granted them to develop comprehensive and coherent (?) political ideology about the political future of the Commonwealth. These issues of public justice are systematically avoided by the political machines, the public relations firms of “both sides” and they are not going to go away. The way in which we already converse, as a polity, about marriage, about procreation, about sexual relations, will simply be further confused by any legislated mis-representation of marriage based upon an empirical error that says that a same-sex relationship is a marriage – this confusion will continue anyway in this polity whatever our Parliament decides and whatever some or all other “Western polities” may decide. Ironically, we are now back to the issue of our former posts on the “crisis” in the West. (Moreover, this week, will not Twitter accounts be chatting like never before as the Vatican No.3 takes his stand in the dock?)

“So we can all get on with the future” – this is nothing but a mantra of the parliamentary self-interested who no longer know how to formulate a coherent and comprehensive policy for marriage, family and household justice for its “side” of politics. Instead the aim of politics is to stay in power. The problems will be still around and exacerbated because, as the insightful juristic analysis shows, any legislated “marriage equality” is not going to remove the deep legislative and public policy confusion and ambiguity that pertains to marriage and family and household life across our Commonwealth.

If we were to have a plebiscite because the “two sides” are simply incapable of developing coherent policy on marriage – however the votes were cast – might it not be better to ask the preceding question of the voters: Should Australian law henceforth consider marriage merely as a matter of civil rights? This is an issue NJ has raised previously.

As it stands, the efforts to make Parliament into the public advocate of same-sex marriage is already lost (here and elsewhere) by persistent libertarian attempts to redesign reality by the imposition of a “politically-correct” symbolism. Mr Dutton’s suggestion is more a case of a suggestion for yet another round of Liberal Party deck-chair rearrangement.

But as far as deck-chair rearrangement goes the Liberal-Coalition “side” does not have it on their own. Almost on cue, the Labor leader sends a signal that would seemingly remove some of the uncertainty and instability about our political system by suggesting four-year terms. Yes, this is a good idea. And the PM knows it. Good ideas are needed in this context of crisis and uncertainty. BUT will it make any difference to the declining public trust in our system of government? Are the major parties going to set out on a new course and become parties again, and even willing to lose elections out of political conviction? Or will the proposal for 4-year parliamentary terms become yet another “public relations” stunt? Could this good idea dissolve into yet another example of corporate narcissism, as the major parties equate the national interest with their dominance over parliament?

BCW 24/7/17

Who is Fit to Make Public Comment?

Recently, three Federal ministers attacked the judiciary in Victoria, and for their trouble they received a well-deserved bollocking from that State’s Chief Justice. A retired magistrate and economist has this to say on the matter. His is sage advice to all of us, but as published it also functions as “a word in the ear” to the three ideologically-inspired and ignorant Federal Ministers:

Interfering with a case before the courts, under the Common Law, is clearly improper. Attacking the judiciary undermines the separation of powers in the constitution, so better not to do it.

Their unprecedented attack upon the Victorian state judiciary simply adds further evidence that many of those elected to public office fail to understand the public-legal principles they have, on oath, sworn to uphold. Politics in this polity too is in danger of running out of control

Here is my own comment responding to the same problem, following a piece, “No minister is an island” published a few days ago:

That the court has determined that there is a prima facie case that the statements were sub judice should have been reason enough for these three parliamentarians to resign their seats. They have not done so and thus show themselves to be unfit for public office. They and their party ignore their constituted role as elected representatives which demands wise political conduct that protects the integrity of the courts. That they have not resigned after this statement by the court shows continued contempt and unwillingness, and the continued contempt and unwillingness of their party machine, to discipline themselves according to principles of democratic governance which they, and we their electors, are bound to uphold. There are many other examples of parliamentarians – with Liberal Party Parliamentarians leading the way – assuming that election to parliament gives them permission to “vent” in the way they have done. They may retain their seats but they do so by further eroding public trust in our parliamentary system of public governance, avoiding basic principle in order to continue to blame their opponents for blurring the line of separation between parliamentary power and that of the courts.

Here again, Nurturing Justice repeats what we have been saying again and again in recent posts. Our system of public governance is in deep crisis. The crisis did not arise from Donald Trump’s election, even if his Presidency is a cogent symptom of it. The crisis did not arise from the Ministers’ attack on the Victorian judiciary, but even so that attack is a cogent symptom of a failure to understand the character of parliamentary office and the separation of powers. The inability of the Liberal Party and Queenscliffe Council  to prevent the ongoing erosion of public trust from last year’s LGA election is but another symptom of the same polity-wide, if not Western, if not global, political crisis.

In this context, it is somewhat predictable that a Government minister might have his “hairy-chested” views of marriage equality leaked, and so we hear of yet another storm within Canberra’s fragile governing coalition. He has subsequently “apologised” for those comments. Nurturing Justice will not add oxygen to this media frenzy by quoting his initial comments or his servile apology. His conduct does not advance open debate at all. The Coalition’s moves inch by inch, with an eye to media speculation and public opinion polling, toward a policy that will match their political opponent’s promise – the question now is when not if the Coalition will give a “free vote” in Parliament, but that will be after the next election. after they have attempted to prove how principled they have been by holding to the platform on which they were elected. But actually the platform promise to hold a plebiscite was made necessary simply because they have inherited decades of neglect with respect to coherent and comprehensive marriage, household and family policy.

We have previously drawn attention to the 2014 paper “The Territory of Marriage: Constitutional Law, Marriage Law and Family Policy in the ACT Sane-sex Marriage Case” by two qualified jurist Patrick Parkinson and Nicholas Aroney, This is how they sum up the current legal situation.

The future of marriage is now firmly with the federal Parliament. The High Court’s definition of what is within the scope of the marriage power says nothing about what marriage and family policy in Australia ought to be, and there is now no societal consensus on the issue. Australian law on relationships is currently in a complete muddle. In various places around the country, there are marriages, civil partnerships or civil unions, registered de facto relationships, and unregistered de facto relationships, all of which end up being treated in almost exactly the same way as marriages at least once certain thresholds are met (and subject to proof if the existence of the relationship is contested).

Accordingly, Australian law accords almost all the rights and obligations of marriage to any consensual union formed between natural persons without the need to formally enter into, or exit from, that status by means of a ceremony or a court order, and whether or not the relationship was intended to endure. There are almost no eligibility requirements to be treated as being in a de facto relationship other than a prohibition on a few relationships by consanguinity or through adoption. There is no minimum age (although the age of consent may make sexual intercourse within a de facto relationship illegal in some circumstances), no impediment if one is already married to another person,96 no requirement that the relationship be monogamous.97

One of the major problems with the current law is that marriage-like obligations are imposed upon same sex and opposite sex couples irrespective of their intentions, without their consent, and often without their knowledge. When couples break up, one of them may well be shocked to find that he or she is treated for the purposes of property division and maintenance as if he or she had made a commitment to marry – with all that this entails – when this was not what was intended by either of them. One of the issues that needs to be considered very carefully in any principled revision of the law of relationships therefore is the freedom not to be treated as if one were married.

One has to wonder whether our parliamentary representatives have read and understood the competent description of the legal state of affairs by Parkinson and Aroney. Their analysis confirms our suspicion that the political accommodation on all sides to the demand for “marriage equality” has now become a struggle over which “side” will win the contest which is largely symbolic in nature, symbolic in the sense of which party can hold onto power long enough to be able to claim that it was their efforts that ensured “marriage equality.” Few are willing to address the obvious question: what of the rights of those who believe that a legislated “marriage equality” is simply another Governmental mistake and should be treated as such?

But is this not evidence of a glaring political hole in the “marriage equality” banner? Consider: would long-term campaigners for genuine extension of human rights to say citizenship by removing a racial or blood criterion from the legislated definition of citizenship, remain silent about a prevailing juridical muddle concerning citizenship that could already be found alive and well, actively confusing people about the reality of their situation throughout the polity? Why isn’t the muddle with respect to the application of constitutional law, marriage Law and family policy being addressed in systematic public philosophy terms by the politicians who are so keen to see the definition of lawful marriage changed to meet the changing fashion on display in other polities? Well it certainly suggests a prima facie case for our judgment that such politicians are not really interested in such political debate at all, especially when political debate does not hold out the prospect of a greater share of “millennial” votes at the next election. No, the emphasis is well and truly upon sending signals, attending Mardi Gras, wearing lapel pins, aligning one’s search for more votes to reigning pop symbolism.

But there are ongoing public policy issues whichever way the Australian Federal Parliament moves to misidentify marriage to align with the global campaign.

And those who are committed to a Christian political option should be hard at work now to articulate a just set of comprehensive policies of marriage, householding, family life and family nurture for future generations in this polity. This will also need to be formulated with an eye to supporting the peoples of the region, their family structures and their children, as well.

And now the world-wide aspiration for “marriage equality” (backed by corporate dollars, celebrities and “wind vane” Christian clerics, bishops, theologians and scholars), has eclipsed the vital political question of how public justice is due to marriage. Christian leaders who advocate “same-sex marriage” are not talking about justice for marriage. They are not known for articulating what Christian discipleship means for the married couples as citizens. They have been married in their churches, but now the Christian community in many places is further broken by this accommodation to what is a neo-pagan hyper-individualistic ideology. And Christian young people, seeking clarity about how to live in this context are left high and dry.

So, those wanting to see marriage given its due, as part of a Christian political option, will have to reckon with the hard fact that this is a public legal matter. It not only requires an understanding of how marriage law stands at the present time, but involves articulating a comprehensive political view of what a Christian way of life involves. This is an urgent need for public policy development for Christian citizens, churches and schools, business and associations, political parties and unions. These all need to deepen their understanding of how they are part of a Christian way of life. This will involve renewed appreciation of human responsibility, for marriage, householding, family life and nurture. We may say these responsibilities are “God-given” – we need to face up to the fact that our citizenship is one such responsibility, part of the Christian way of life into which we have been called. All indications are that a Christian political option is currently on the road to further marginalisation. Is there any emerging concern among Christians and their churches about the egregious accommodation to same-sex marriage. Is there any growing concern about the public and political implications of Christian discipleship (including therefore a Christian view of marriage) and how they will need to be justly represented in parliament? In fact the ecclesiastical accommodation seems consonant with the view that our parliaments no longer need to hear any political insights that arise from a way of life signposted by the Bible.

But here’s the thing: if we are to make public comment then we have to get fit for doing so, exercising ourselves in unstinting fashion as citizens involved in the task of giving expression to public justice, then we will have to work at it with all we have.

We will do our utmost to present ourselves to God as those who will be approved by what we are doing, having no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)


29 June 2017

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