The Political Tipping Point of Public Governance

Liberalism’s Limits:

Beyond Individualism’s Parliamentary Dead-End

Out of this current political mess – will there be a plebiscite? will there be a voluntary postal vote? will parliament have a conscience vote? – Australia’s polity is faced with its now perpetual inner weakness. Our system of public governance is in trouble. It is not so much the Commonwealth Constitution and it is not only what we have inherited in our system of parliamentary democracy as that has been morphed into its current neo-liberal mould since the 1970s.

The Constitution has to some extent served pretty well to maintain a workable federal system of antipodean representative democracy since the Colonial Governments federated in 1901. The subsequent life of the Commonwealth of Australia has witnessed a viable experiment in co-ordinated, federated state-crafting of these far-flung British Colonies have come together politically on this massive , ancient desert island continent, with Tasmania and other islands too. Yes, it took far too long to extend justice political rights to the descendants of those who have peopled this turf for thousands of years. And there is still cumulative injustice built into the structures of our polity requiring continued legislative redress. Australia is a regional power although, despite the Mabo judgement of 1992, still a long way from proper political acknowledgement of our South West Pacific location as a polity that is also Melanesian! We rarely think of that even as the Torres Strait Islander flag has flown officially, also from local council offices across the nation, for 25 years!


Council Offices of the City of Greater Geelong

Yes, there is the emerging question of whether the mentality of “white Australia” has somehow reappeared, morphed into a mythic nationalist “society”, as loud and belligerent defenders of “Aussie values” find difficulty in explaining what those values are and fail to explain in cogent political terms how our system of government should respond to our political community’s amazing kaleidscopic diversity. There is continued “home affairs” nonsense about the need for migrants to be fluent in English even as most of us continue our day-to-day lives in blithe ignorance of the first Australians who speak in many different languages, and some of whom would not pass an English test. The anomalies can stack up once we go looking for them.

But now? As we wrote yesterday, one initial step to genuine political reform is for those who have aligned with the two major political “sides” to face up to the political reality they have given us. The  Parliamentary difficulties we now face are due to a continued failure of the Liberal and National coalition and Labor parties to justly form public debate in the public interest. Their failure makes genuine Australian state-crafting from here on problematic. We are increasingly susceptible to what may well be a populist demagoguery. These parties of the “two sides” are broken cisterns that no longer hold water to slake the political thirst of citizens on a political landscape that has been subjected to their self-interest “scorched-earth”, winner-takes-all politics.

But it can’t just be the “coming out” of individual members of these “electoral machines” or those who vote for these elite public relations firms, publicizing their dissent, crossing the floor, quitting to form new micro-parties or whatever it may be. It is the parties themselves, as political associations, that need to reform themselves by stepping back from their ongoing misshaping of our polity. How are they to do this? How are they to enact an ordinance of political self-denial and stop pretending that the future of this country’s parliaments is in the direction that they continue to set, from their politically privileged position, even as they career along, taking the country with them into … ?

The first political step of these parties is to reckon with the fact that the Commonwealth of Australia does not actually need their political machines as they continue their false claims to represent all Australians. (This first step is actually reminiscent of the difficult task of bringing genuine reformation to a thoroughly compromised Christian church! Not so very different – similar difficulty with dogmatic religiosity.) This first step will need further explanation, which subsequent posts will explore and then set out further possible steps.

Suffice to say that it is a political step requiring courage and the sad thing is that there is every indication from the Parliamentary leadership of both sides that such a step is unthinkable, simply not on their horizons at the present time. They present themselves to their electors as two fellows who are simply unable to see what is happening to them. Theirs is a politics of obsession that Australia “needs” them, that somehow their public lives will be gross failure if they change course.

 The children’s story “Bill and Ben” has more coherence than the joint sounds of the aria being sung by “Both Sides of Politics”, with lead singing from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men of “both sides”, with now a middle-ground competition to see who can displace Weed – Will it be Greens, One Nation, Xenophon or others? – growing up between them.

It will not be an easy for the political parties to take such a step since they identify themselves so rigidly with this “both sides” dogmatism. They need to be reminded that “both sides” are not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor are their parties. But once the step is taken and the political shambles faced – to the mess that they too have brought us to as a polity – then we can begin to address the deep political issues that confront us.

This will mean discussing politically the significance of other political views diametrically opposed to our own. It will mean examining the detail of well-elaborated legislative programmes that arise from the diversity of political perspectives, those that arise from our political opponents, and finding ways to reckon with their just points and dissenting carefully and forcibly when we are convinced they are wrong.

It will thus mean a recalibration of what it means to embark upon political compromise in legislation, taking seriously the ways of life that differ from our own and the ways of understanding political responsibility that are antithetical to our own understanding. It will  include, we hope, a coherent Christian political option that seeks a legislative programme of justice for all. It may take decades but this then would be what Nurturing Justice has in mind for a Christian political option among the various political options that are evidently present in our polity today. With such an approach to our political responsibilities we can hope to then set about the task of reforming our system of parliamentary representation in order to extend due respect to all citizens. We need to refresh our commitment to a thorough and fair system of proportional representation in parliamentary representation.

Unfortunately, our state-crafting responsibilities are now hostage to the perceived electoral fortunes of “two sides” dogmatically incapable of reckoning with other ways of organising Parliamentary representation and the making of laws. They have effectively given up the task of state-crafting and instead have assumed that they are the ones to possess sufficient elasticity of political principles to speak for everyone (which they obviously cannot). And do they not present themselves with an arrogance to the citizens who elect them, that we should only ever give form to our part in the God-given state-crafting task when either of them are in control of the Commonwealth’s legislative apparatus. This view needs to be dispensed with.

Our subsequent posts will speculate on further steps that these two “sides” should take. The political reality staring them in the face is evident in their lack of comprehensive legislative programmes and policies to put to electors. They both need to appreciate that their future contribution is not in winning elections but in showing the way to genuine political contribution for political parties and for justice for all.

BCW 10.8.17



The Mass Media’s Balancing of Our Political Crisis

The difficulty we face in confronting the political crisis that has gripped the West (and perhaps we would have to say it is a crisis that has been running with foot flat to the boards for well over a century) is also manifest in an ongoingly corrosive way in the mass media.

   Like Alan Storkey, readers will appreciate the desire of “post-academic” and “retired” bloggers to be perpetually provoked by “local” contexts. And so, dear reader, you have Nurturing Justice. Thanks for your toleration.

   In yesterday’s post I tried to identify the deep problem of the neo-neutralist journalism of the major mass media outlets. It is a post-postmodern view of “millennials” who find themselves employed in jobs that require them to maintain “balanced reporting” in what they write (as well as trying to dispense with the former “essentialist” critique of objectivity).

   What we now experience is a persistent reliance in media analysis upon a presumption that “balance” in reporting means finding an “objective middle ground” among all the competing (subjective) opinions so that fairness can be ascribed to all views. And then what happens as we read the reports? What is ascribed as the normative subjective standard for “balanced”, “professional” journalism by the journalist, actually finds its way into the analysis by the dogma that public governance is actually and always subject to a similar balancing act (i.e. in the sphere of politics rather than the sphere of “just reporting” on politics). And we might say the rest is … ideology. We get what we receive – the “news” is all about how public governance is now, as ever, subject to the major agents of political machination who, all in their own ways, either seek to find middle ground or, presumably rejecting “balance”, claim to recast the entire polity by careering ahead with their own marginal agendas, and regular Tweets. And hence the “extremists” are classified as those dispensing with “balance”, except the people concern counter by saying they are dispensing with what “powerful interests” merely say is “balanced”.

   The “extremists” are very often in deep reaction to the “balancing act” of those seeking to capture the “middle ground” which they say is nothing other than self-interest. And they, for their part, from the “extremes” claim to be claiming to create a new middle ground. And so journalism that gives a “balanced account of the political crisis” from its own presumed “middle” needs to maintain credibility by continuing to construe alternatives in terms of extremes, and balance alternative balancing acts.

   And from there appeals to a normative standard of public justice are reduced to merely subjective appeals by those with opinions – so, the important thing for assessing opinions is that they be rightly “centred”, located on the middle ground, in other words “balanced”. And how is this middle ground discovered? Principle is whatever is “emergent”, whatever will give a new angle, or ensure a new cache of votes; at least it can be said to be a principle until the next election.

   In this context elections have become a kind of nation-wide mandated public opinion survey. Presumably they are necessary to ensuring our ongoing role as citizens. What we have to worry about politically is whatever is “emergent” in the revelations of popular opinion in response to a left-right (mythic) cosmological principle, and opinion polling is now in please to measure and orchestrate social and public issues because it is by changing people’s opinions that reality is restructured according to human demands.

   But as much as we can see this at work in the “mainstream”, it is a view that is present, and almost impossible to shake, whenever we engage in informal political discussion with our neighbours. It is not just the mercenary and greedy mass media. The appeal to what is “immanent” in public opinion is widely considered to be the true route to human fulfilment on the corporate scale. Such an appeal is also present in a recent Christianity Today analysis claiming to assist reader “understanding” of trends among post-Trump evangelical millennial women.

   Whatever normative maybe, what is measured as normal becomes the principle for how public governance in all of its dimensions is going to unfold. An earlier form of this “immanence” was that political parties by their electoral majorities determined what is normative for public governance – election winners had the permission of political sentiment to “transcend” mere opinion and elevate their platform into (hopefully timeless) legislation. The hope was that it time it would become the norm for normal, balanced life.

   With the corrosion of political parties we see the transformation of the rule of the myth of the “centre”, the “fulcrum” from which “balance” (and hence public justice) is to be discerned. This says: market research rules! Political parties, and Christian-evangelical reflection that runs on these same tracks, is headed toward a populist obeisance to little more than the advertising of public relations firms that have produced “results” for their “political side” (or in CT’s case their journal’s market niche) in a competition to bring right worship to the idol of “balance”. (And then after this blog was posted we read the latest “market research” on people’s opinions about marriage and parenting and the results are that the “middle ground” is now certainly in favour of SSM – and now it is the BBC that lends its hand to maintain the balance …).

   Could it be that we are currently experiencing the judgment of the Almighty which, in the words of Alan Storkey, comes not from God’s vindictiveness, but “because we get things wrong and face the consequences of our false normativity”? Is not that error stalking the earth at this time?


BCW 2.8.17



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


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

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

Local Government, Public Justice and the “Separation of Powers”

How can a serving policeman stand for public office. When did that change to our system of public governance come in? Why? 

Last time Nurturing Justice discussed the current “constitutional crisis” which has enveloped the Queenscliffe Borough Council. The term “constitutional crisis” may appear to some readers to be too strong, somewhat sensationalistic. Part of the crisis, I would maintain, is that though everyone knows that the election was compromised by the electioneering deceit of the candidate who won the most votes and subsequently became the Mayor, there has been only concern among electors that the election was compromised and among Councillors, State Government politicians and major parties it would seem that things just go on as usual. And that only deepens the crisis; our Borough’s constitutional crisis includes a widespread malaise and even if there is some concern about what has transpired in the Borough’s coffee shops, there is little evidence of a political effort to find a remedy.

As I pointed out last time, those who consider that local politics must be “above politics” will simply continue to see the Borough’s “situation” in such a-political terms. They probably won’t even see it as a “crisis” at all. The Liberal Party continue to ignore the impact of the crisis upon their own standing in the State electorate of Bellarine.

The Liberal Party machine is so politically incompetent – it is almost as if this is the distinctive characteristic of their political contribution to the entire system of Government at all levels; it is a persistent feature of their political contribution that they continue on, despite the scandals as if being blind that their own party’s crisis is part of their own party’s ongoing political contribution. They do not see themselves as part of the ongoing structural crisis in public governance in which they have been instrumental since 1974. They do not see their party in this way possibly because too many people are members who simply see the party as a path-way to their own status enhancement in the community. They do not seem to appreciate that their too-smart-by-half strategic attempt to use the Queenscliffe Mayor for their own electoral advantage had to back-fire.

As for the Mayor, or more accurately the person who occupies that office, he may well have resigned his Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because of  potential “conflict of interest”. But what “conflict of interest” was it? Was it not because he is a Senior Sergeant in the police force and such a Presidency means he has to face an Opposition going ballistic over law and order issues. He has shown no sign whatsoever of appreciating the deeper “conflict of interest” between his public duties as a policeman and his standing as a Council candidate! To raise this will probably meet the same old “that is a cheap shot” accusation (his words to me in a phone-call in relation to my Geelong Advertiser letter) but the issue is not about “personalities”. To imply that it is, is a red herring.

The issue is about the constitutional presumption of a separation of powers in our system of public governance. The arm of law making is separated from that of law enforcement. To say it once again, the question is: how is it that a Senior Sergeant can be allowed to stand for public office in an LGA election?

Now what is obvious here is that the Liberal Party’s political opponents, the Labor Party,  have not actually drawn attention to this issue. They should have. Their silence is appalling. We should not thank them for their failure to speak up and explain. And so we have many people in the Borough, and across the State electorate (within which the Borough is located), now bemused and confused by this situation. Resident after resident continue to put it in these terms:

I would have thought that a serving policeman cannot stand for public office. When did that change come in? Why?

With that question on the lips of many, many citizens another dimension of our national political crisis is disclosed. I am referring to the fact that the citizens no longer know how our system of Public Governance has changed. We no longer know basic facts about the system for which we remain responsible and accountable. We have not been adequately informed about how the regulations governing our hard-working, even over-worked, law-enforcement officers, have been tweaked to allow “community involvement” to include standing for public office in an LGA.

And why are we ignorant? Here we confront again the brokenness of our public governance – and the major political parties have to take responsibility for this. They continue to stave off bankruptcy by fighting yet another election with all the electoral rubbish they send into our letter-boxes – paid for with public funds – they have the hide to convene raucous and inflammatory public meetings stirring up public fears about law and order as if their own time in Government has nothing to do with what they are complaining about and try to blame their opponents. And yet their involvement in political education is non-existent at local levels. Political understanding of how our system is formed withers. The lack of political education programmes at local levels by these bloated electoral machines tell us their operations are designed to keep us ignorant. And at the same time we will hear hollow talk about the responsibilities of electors to whom the elected members are supposedly accountable.

This is another root of our deep political crisis. We are dealing with the consequences of a way of “doing politics” that has dissolved the primary accountability of those elected to their electors. Public governance, at all levels in our Federated Commonwealth, is being swept along by a politically ignorant, populist and elitist class lurching to an unbridled authoritarianism. We may sneer at what has engulfed the American polity in recent times. But one root of our own political crisis is the political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics.

As the current Mayor tried to tell us during the election last year: “I am not a politician!” This is nonsensical. And much of our political crisis starts on our own front door step because we refuse to acknowledge our own responsibilities for the way we are governed, and instead give free reign to such political nonsense.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area. But first we will pinpoint with greater precision the very serious misuse of political power by the Liberal Party in the above-mentioned crisis.

BCW  9.6.17

Blogging as a Selfie?

“Oh, what genius! What a headline! All the hard work over many years and Nurturing Justice is finally on the brink of global fame! Doesn’t this make it all worth the effort? This NJ heading will give many hits and more followers! My blog on the verge of fame, a regular post for so many around the world!”

Well, before readers get their interneted exercise by jumping to conclusions, the above is a blog version of the self-referential nonsense Jesus warned about in his parable of the wealthy landowner.

There was a rich man whose land bore fruit in abundance. “What am I to do?” he asked himself. “I have not the space to collect the harvest. This is what I shall do,” he then exclaimed. “I shall pull down my storehouses, building larger ones, and into them I shall collect my corn and my other goods! And then I shall be saying to myself, “My good man, you have many good things laid by for many a year to come. Take your rest now; eat, drink and enjoy yourself!” Yet God spoke to him thus: “Foolish man that you are! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Well then, the things which you have made ready – to whom will they belong?” Indeed, this is how matters stand with the man who stores up riches for himself but has none in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:16-21 Heinz Cassirer translation).  

Isn’t there a problem with Blogging – isn’t it simply a means of sending elaborate arguments which are, in the final analysis, self-promoting?

In my former life I have been an academic, a tutor and lecturer. To gain promotion, or perhaps a permanent, tenured position, it was taken-for-granted that we had to produce a curriculum vitae and that meant a list of publications. And when the universities were transformed around the world as educational enterprises that had to be run on profit-making lines, that meant one’s avoidance of self-promotion had to be dispensed and lists were required as part of yearly assessment. Writings were to be classified in various categories with different weighting – published books from university publishing houses, commercial books, peer reviewed journal articles, other articles in other journals, book reviews, other writings like letters to the editor and so on. All categories were given a weighting and the results these days can be found from the web-sites of academics. They are a requirement from university management. Academics not only have to engage in research and teaching; they have to indulge in self-promotion and this requires an ongoing, peculiar and persistent accounting in which everything written and everything published and all papers delivered at conferences and all guest lectures be assiduously itemised. Can we say it is a kind of professional Facebook page!

There’s no escaping it. If you want to survive you’ve just got to sell yourself. That’s the name of the game. That is the art of the deal.

That’s the mantra: self-promotion. Is that not the spirit motivating the “selfie”? This not only creeps into everything an academic does; it creeps into everything. Such intellectual entrepreneurs are but the products their own selling – and that is the ideology which, more and more, is driving universities the world over these days. My experience of universities and university teaching (1978-1998) knew this motif, was shaped by it in its own way, but it did not have the government-backed managerialist “enterprise-university” power behind it that it now has. And my academic experience came before the onset of the “Twitter Revolution” but in looking back I can perceive the trend, the trend that saw academics cajoled, this way and that way, into various kinds of self-promoting entrepreneurship.

These days prominent public figures, and those elected to public office, seem bent on using their mobile phones and I-Pads to solve any worries they might have that they are not adequately representing their electors. They are making sure that their statements gain as much popularity as possible. And so they are in the “political business” showing ongoing sensitivity to the “political market-place”.

And here I am, the steward of my own blog that goes back to 2006, keeping an assiduous record of all my Nurturing Justice “posts”. And yet, given the structuring of this blog – all due respects to notwithstanding – the internetting technology that I am here employing might suggest that this is but a elaborated and wordy form of what any “Tweet” conveys as it makes it contribution within the constraints of its word limits. Best to keep is short and sweet.

All of this has come to mind this morning when one of my correspondents sent me a link to the May 16, 2017 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by David Brooks.

When the world is led by a child – reports that President Trump betrayed an intelligence source reveal the dangerousness of an immature man.

As I read this, I found myself tempted to indulge in self-congratulations – had not Nurturing Justice already opined (19th January) that the candidate elected to the US presidency last year was bent on mimicking Bart Simpson the “I didn’t do it” kid? And at that point my question that I need to ask myself, let alone any critical point I might direct at Brooks when endorsing his comment, is whether I am avoiding the kind of foolishness Jesus told his disciples was how God looked upon such vacuous self-referential praise! Moreover, how does one read Brooks without it simply feeding a hunger for diversionary “entertainment”, even as the political soap operas of our experience these days are filling us with the two emotions of boredom and deepened anxiety. Does not a little “serious reflection” tacked on to a review of “upcoming entertainment”  assuage any work ethic feelings of guilt that too much time is spent and wasted on “entertainment”.  Given the “show” David is commenting upon his op-ed piece has the form of a film critic seeking to challenge our world-view. Admittedly, Brooks is a journalist who has long been seeking to do more than just comment upon politics but to encourage his readers and listeners  to look again, to reconsider, what is taking place.

There’s something here in his piece that Nurturing Justice as well as those seeking to nurture justice should take to heart – if this “show” is demonstrating that the US has elected an immature, petulant and self-absorbed child as its President, what is this doing to the political education of 9 year olds? Now there is something to get our public policy teeth into – there is something that invites to to develop a comprehensive Christian sociological elaboration of the way children are nurtured politically. Not just in general terms; but what does Mr Trump’s election and the burgeoning populist nationalism that it represents (around the world) tell us about the manner in which a younger generation are being educated politically.

No, blogging is not a selfie BUT by asking ourselves the question we come face-to-face with our political responsibilities to the next generation and the one after that! This will require a deepened commitment to journalism that confronts the political economy of our global society in ways that demonstrate an enduring love for our our neighbours, at home, abroad and those seeking asylum from tyrannous governments and exploitation. Such journalism will have to provide genuine political education – not Tweets, not sound bites, but clearly articulated arguments and policies. Therefore we would conclude that, yes, blogs can degenerate into “selfies without word limits”. But this is no reason to stop writing and persuading and publishing to commend a Christian political option.