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  9.7.17

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 WordPress.com 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.

BCW

17.5.17

 

HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY (1)

Faith: Is it all about the language we choose to use?

THIS SERIES OF POSTS BEGAN LAST TIME WITH: HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY (1) . SINCE THEN IT HAS DEVELOPED AS AN EARLY PART OF THIS NEWLY TITLED SERIES: UNCOVERING SOME HIDDEN DIMENSIONS OF A SECULARISED IDENTITY. IF YOU PREFER TO “START AGAIN” YOU CAN DO SO FROM THIS LINK.

BCW 11.5.17

Consider the following rumination I have constructed as an attempt to put into words the kinds of uncomfortable reflections that we older “baby boomer” Christians living in Australia in 2017 may well put to ourselves, if we haven’t done so already:

I look back and remember how as a young member of a local church at age 14, I boldly answered “Yes!” to the questions put to me at Confirmation by the Archbishop. Am I now to be provoked, 50+ years later, to wonder why I still say “Yes!” to those same questions? I may have serious questions about the liturgical form in which that affirmative answer came from my lips. But am I to conclude that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ today because I chose to be his disciple yesterday? Am I to say that I am a Christian today because I refuse to deny what I affirmed yesterday? Is it that I have chosen to hold onto what I have done in the past, merely choosing to standby what I chose to do yesterday or the day before? Am I merely being headstrong and dogmatic about what I was taught and came to believe in Sunday School, and Catechism Class, while also choosing to be selectively critical about other matters that have since come to my notice in my “scientific education”.

The question arises: how am I to maintain the authenticity of my most basic choices now, today? And to entertain this question is to raise other ones: Am I being unfaithful before God to engage in such reflection? Do I believe today and maintain my affirmative answer because of the choice I made yesterday has had certain life-shaping consequences, and to now choose otherwise would simply make my life too problematic with too many new questions to answer for which I might not know the answers, too many problems created for which I have no desire or even competence to solve?

Now I may not want to adopt such a line of “self inquisition”, but whether I ask it of myself or not, it is nevertheless the kind of accusation that jumps out at me from the way our post-modern, consumerist life is lived. The way “religion” is featured by all the power-houses of the mass media would lead us to believe that people like myself are “religious” by means of a peculiar choice, because of our habit of attending a peculiar market-place, supermarket or even “corner store” that deals in “spiritualities”. Most religious people are those who have decided not to undo their “religious decisions” and “spiritual choices” despite the fact that we, in Australia, like the UK, “no longer live in a Christian country”.

Could it be that my faith is what I am continually told it is, just another commodity, even if it be one that I have manufactured by my own “Christian” choices to live within a “Christian” story? And have I not grown older and become wiser so that I can even now ask such a question and face up to its challenging consequences? Would I truly be leaving the faith were I to now concede that as I have grown older I have grown wiser as a consequence of my own choosing? Don’t I now know that to be a Christian in this post-Christian context requires me to be clear-headed and courageous about this self-evident fact? Have I not, as a mature adult, chosen God even while as an enthusiastic youth I got carried away with the delightful prospect that God had chosen me? Should I not now move beyond such presumptuous arrogance of youth?

The statement itself is my attempt to formulate the way of life I confront probably every day – a way of life dominated by a pragmatic view that assumes that human life is best viewed as problem solving and that language is the deeply mysterious device we use to solve the problem of what it is all about.

And to face up to the power and allure of such a line of self-questioning – to think through the questions that it throws out to indiscriminately challenge Christian faith – is not however to endorse the taken-for-granted way of life that is thereby assumed. Rather, it is to face up to the way Christianity has seemingly accommodated this essentially humanistic way of thinking, way of life, and in the process weakened seriously if not completely undermined its own faith.

Now I am not wanting to suggest that everyone I meet has a well elaborated philosophy of language in these terms. However, the idea that humans are primarily problem-solvers is deeply rooted in the modern and post-modern soul. It is embedded, deeply, in school curriculum and has been for decades. It has also become embedded in churches as they have adopted managerialist techniques to “keep the show on the road”.

Are we not encouraged to see the world as an intricate system of communication filled with the language we choose to use, the words by which we give voice to our inner-most thoughts? And our personal contribution – including even a blog such as this – along with millions of other spoken and written communications become viewed as an enormous self-perpetuating system giving expression to the human race’s self-creation, giving an ongoing shape to our habitat, the life-worlds we inhabit. And when we ascribe such autonomy to language how are we to think of ourselves? Are we truly constrained as this view suggests, held in a vice of unfreedom, our choices today narrowed radically by the choices we made yesterday which were in turn narrowed by choices made the day before that? And if we adopt this view then the constraints of language call forth our self-creating resistance at the very moment that the meaning of our endeavour stands on the brink of the annihilation of all meaning. We may tell ourselves that the choices to which we have given voice we have created ourselves, but the embrace of such freedom brings with it the immediate pain that it lacks any enduring meaning.

In response to all this we might ask:

How did I ever get into this muddle? Can I ever get out of it!

One way may be to turn to the Book of Psalms and sing Psalm 42:

As the deer, weak with longing,
Trembling in deep agony.
Searching out a creek of water,
So my soul will search for Thee.
Yes, deep thirst is why I cry;
Lord of my life, O when shall I
Standing firm then in your presence?
Living life with holy reverence.

But it is not merely a retreat to the Psalms that we need. We can sing that slowly and making every word count and yet the Biblical view is that we “go on our way rejoicing.” Can we truly do that in these troubled times? And can such deep yearning for God and His ways find true expression in our lives as citizens, in our political lives?

In this series of posts I want to explore these kinds of questions. Stay tuned.

BCW

30.4.17

PUBLIC EMOTIONS AND JUST DEBATE (2)

Nurturing Justice 2006 3 November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCW 31.3.17 Edited version of 3rd November 2006.

TEN YEARS ON:

How should we characterise the last decade of political life?

In this series of Nurturing Justice I want to reflect briefly upon Nurturing Justice‘s ongoing exposé of the Liberal Party, and \perhaps one of our major political contributions.

We have recently commented upon of the Liberal Party’s deceitful practises, bordering on a profound and deep-rooted corruption, in local government. I am not sure whether, in former time, such a political failure at a local level would have become a national scandal. Maybe it wouldn’t have. But it certainly deserves to be made so these days. According to Nurturing Justice, the ongoing crisis in the Liberal Party is not as the mainstream Murdoch and Fairfax media, and the ABC, and construe it as merely the irritating “deplorable” conservative tail wagging the progressive dog. None of them, as far as I can tell, link its ongoing parliamentary problems with its notorious failure as a party to develop a comprehensive policy framework by which it could, from its own party’s corporate political reflection from its grass-roots, to make its case for being a party of candidates pledged to represent electors. The declension from being a political association that actually facilitated just representation of electors, as is presupposed by the Australian Constitution, a sine qua non dimension of our own nation’s parliamentary democracy under the Crown, was made virtually irrevocable when the former PM justified his own. and his party’s willingness to play with electors, by a specious plea to a pragmatic distinction between “core” and “non-core” policies. But then of course this was a distinction that was made after the electorate had been conned by such an understanding of platform promises.

Nurturing Justice has traced this to the Liberal Party’s own constitutional crisis of 1974-5 and to the consequences that flowed for the party as a parliamentary party of political principle when in 2001 the former Member for Bennelong, as Prime Minister in the Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, found he could not hold to his pre-election promise to his electors concerning scientific research on human embryos.

And so, since 2006, Nurturing Justice has sought to explain how that persistent declension from ensuring genuine political representation in the country’s Parliaments (and now also local councils) needs to be taken into account if the beginnings of, the groundwork for, a coherent Christian political option is ever to be initiated in this context.

And no one, to my knowledge, is actually drawing attention to the inner connection between the Liberal Party’s accommodation to Faustian principles and its shift toward libertarian politics, by the Party’s on-ging endorsement (despite some token “conscience vote” opposition) when the former PM, having won the election, reneged on that 2001 pre-election promise to his electors. Since then the device of a “conscience vote” has been the pragmatic means to preserve the party’s unity, holding back members elected on its platform from splitting into various competing factions. (And the Labor Party too has played this game). And so, now it is “same sex marriage” that cannot be resolved by a conscience vote in Parliament because of an agreement to hold to the election promise of a national plebiscite.

 Well, I find I am in mortal danger of simply writing in ways that parade my qualifications as a curmudgeon, challenging the two resident “old geezers” watching whatever was going on “below” in Sesame Street.

But Nurturing Justice has actually been devised as a project to challenge any merely curmudgeonly tendency that might arise in my or anyone else’s political attitude for that matter, as I/we become “more mature”. But as a political temptation it is one to which many capitulate in the media and other facets of public life. It is not so easy to avoid the ironic curmudgeonly approach to politics. Besides, it often holds out the prospect of “light relief”. It then simply becomes a dimension of public theatre. Yet, there is a counter-tendency – equally superficial in a political sense and perhaps even more politically destructive – when powerful persons seek to maintain their niche in the media by announcing their “change of attitude”, bending to the whims of (alleged) majority opinion.

The next two posts Public Emotions and Debating Justice (1) and Public Emotions and Debating Justice (2) are republications of posts written 10 years ago.

Nurturing Justice is posted as a way of encouraging a Christian political option. And we therefore seek to deepen our understanding of what happens politically when humans imagine themselves to be autonomous. The claim to human autonomy is as alive now as it was ten years ago. In fact it was an entrenched part of Western political life and thought even before 1788, let alone 1901.

BCW 31.3.17

Proportionality and (Local Government) Politics (1)

This post is a continuation of material first raised on the 8th December 2016 “Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep”.

My general reflection on political responsibility has had to confront a strange anomaly. So many of the people I talk to have said, quite openly, that they no longer want to discuss politics – they usually mean by this that they have given up listening to news bulletins or reading the newspapers – and yet at the same time there is this general sense of a growing nationalist political sentiment at home as much as elsewhere around the globe. My concern is with what will happen when some of the root causes of this serious political malaise are laid bear and made public. Does not the act of making the results of this analysis public through this blog (yes this blog too!) simply add fuel to the nationalist fire?

Below readers can find my initial effort to identify an intractable problem that has emerged in the local government of the tiny Queenscliffe Borough where I live. The more I reflect upon the problems that have emerged, the more the ambiguities and contradictions stand out. We seem politically incapable of rejecting political deceit when it is staring us in the face.

I am therefore wondering about how this contribution should be made to properly and justly open up this political problem as it needs to be discussed. This series of posts is oriented by the “principle of proportionality”. I have come to consider this principle even though it is usually referred to as part of arguments setting forth criteria that need to be scrupulously adhered to for the waging of a “just war”. To rephrase the conventional wording of that criterion would read:

   … the principle of proportionality applied to just political debate would mean observing the principle that the costs of exposing deep and complex structural issues do not exceed the good that is intended and that the means employed in argument are consistent with the end being sought.

I shall explain further why I have deferred to this “proportionality principle” as my analysis is unfurled below. But to put the issue succinctly: can a just political exposé of the deceit perpetrated during the last council election (see 8th December blog linked above) and its consequences be set forth which points the way to appropriate resolution?

The serious issues raised in the December 8th post have still not been publicly addressed by the Borough Council. In fact, the Council’s silence on the matter in no way allays concerns of electors that the electoral process has been seriously compromised. The legitimacy of the Council itself is now in doubt. There is a serious, erosion of public trust in the Council, and this is made all the more difficult by the fact that the integrity of local government across the State, if not across the entire nation, is under a serious cloud. And it is more than likely that the confusion that reigns in the minds of electors is also to be found among the Borough’s councillors.

To recap: in the Borough of Queenscliffe election of 2017 the candidate who subsequently received most first preference votes and became Mayor failed to disclose his political affiliation during the election campaign. His political affiliation became evident a week after being sworn in as Mayor when it was revealed that he had been elected as the Chairman of the Bellarine Liberal Party. The announcement of his Chairmanship was in terms of him being the best person to lead the Liberal campaign to challenge and defeat the sitting Labor member at the next election. The fact that the sitting State member of Parliament for this state electorate is also Police Minister adds further complexity to this issue. And we must not avoid mentioning that this person who holds the positions of Mayor and Chairman of the regional Liberal Party is also a senior police officer with the important task of heading up a police task force to investigate the serious drug usage (ice) among the region’s youth. On top of this he is the proprietor of a local restaurant and is regularly seen on site running the operation.

This post, as a follow-up to the previous post, has been provoked by a Council request for submissions on a proposed pay rise for the Mayor. This increase has already been endorsed by the Council.

A local media report on the question of the pay rise deepens the problem faced by Council and the Borough’s electors. The article quotes the Mayor as saying that the pay rise is justified because of his own personal loss of  earnings. The incumbent’s personal financial situation cannot justify the pay rise. His personal loss of earnings from his police work are not actually germane to the issue under discussion: how should a Mayor be justly remunerated? The fact that he has not been able to work in his restaurant and has had to put on staff is likewise a non sequitur. If he did not know about these constraints upon his earning ability before becoming a candidate, let alone after being asked to assume the Mayoral office by the vote of his fellow councillors, then one can justifiably ask whether he has the appropriate level of understanding necessary to properly carry out the demands of the position as it is currently constituted. If a public office needs structural reform the time to say so is before and during an election campaign, not after one has been successful in winning office. There is, among electors the considered view that the Mayoral task requires the incumbent to work at it in a full-time capacity. But our system of local governance is still beholden to a complex and demanding way of operating that assumes it is a part-time job at best, and that the payment for services is actually more like an honorarium than a salary.

But how are electors to respond to such a meeting? Council has effectively put a question mark against its own legitimacy by failing to address the election deceit. Electors – citizens and residents – would be quite within their rights if they refused to attend since the meeting is not being held to discuss the deceit but a matter that is made all the more complex because of the deceit.

This is why such a meeting in this context is highly problematic. The Borough of Queenscliffe is already too tiny to justify more than a part-time Council, let alone a full-time Mayor. The proposed new Mayoral pay-rate is $61,642 a rise of $7000 well above CPI increases. But the underlying assumption here, is that people who are elected to the Council should expect to be able to maintain the wealthy life-style to which they have become accustomed and therefore we have the bland assumption that this Mayor can hold onto and fulfil his Council responsibilities while deriving an income from his restaurant, as well being paid at Senior Officer rates for his work in the police force. And at the back of all this is his Chairmanship of the Bellarine Liberal Party that apparently sees no problem with such conduct of local government affairs.

Moreover, the Liberal Party would seem to endorse the view that it is quite appropriate for its members to refrain to acknowledging their membership of the party when they stand for public office at the Local Government level.

Well then, this gives some context for the ongoing unwillingness of the Council to publicly address the other, more basic problem. To convene a meeting to discuss the Mayor’s salary is simply a further avoidance of the issue. There is every indication that any discussion that focuses on the Mayoral payment will “keep to the topic” and avoid looking carefully at the the erosion in the public trust which this and every other local council requires for effective representative governance. But the problematic facing the Council has everything to do with the conduct of the last election, the conduct of the candidate who received the highest number of first preference votes, and the council’s own election of this person to the Mayoral Office.

Just as the the role of Borough Councillor is different from that of members of the Ice Task Force convened by Victoria Police! And are we to simply allow the role of a Borough Councillor, let alone that of the Mayor, to merge with the Liberal Party’s electoral programme for the next state election?

We here are considering the public conduct of a senior police officer. He did not disclose his political party affiliation in his election campaigning. After being elected it took the public announcement by the Bellarine Liberal Party that he had been appointed its Chairman to alert electors to the fact that he was a member of this political party.

So what did those police senior to this officer in Victoria Police have to say about this? Does this not reflect poorly on the ethical standards that are to be upheld by those entrusted with the State’s law enforcement?

And what are we to say about the Liberal Party’s seeming turning a blind eye to its new Chairman’s failure to disclose his party membership to electors during the election campaign? Have they simply flagged through that as a deceit that was necessary to ensure election? He got away with it and attracted the highest number of first preferences, so is not this the kind of political candidate Liberal Party supports and applauds? Apparently the Liberal Party by its silence on its Chairman public conduct wants the country’s citizens to believe that success, however achieved, is basic to its political philosophy!

Then there is the failure of the other (4) elected Councillors, their unwillingness to object to his election, let alone raising objections to his remaining in the Mayoral office when a week later the Bellarine Liberal Party made its appointment. Does not the Council’s unwillingness to object to this councillor’s election leave electors in doubt as to the legitimacy of the Council itself?

The political question is: how do we NOW raise such questions since to do so is also to call into question

  1. police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party and taking aim at the Crown’s Police Minister;

  2. police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;

  3. policy development under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time in understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service including the police force);

  4. the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing in order to raise questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents;

  5. the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31).

  6. the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it has failed to act on the matter that has been public knowledge for months.

  7. the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them.

And all of those questions can be asked and should be asked to avoid any too easy narrowing of blame upon Council for its particular contribution to this erosion of public trust in its work – sure Council has been seriously neglectful of its public trust duty but it is a neglectfulness that functions in a context of public governance and a political context much wider than the Borough of Queenscliffe.

Perhaps it is not just the lack of Council action that has seriously undermined itself but to raise such questions as I have done is to put a serious questions against the future of the Borough of Queenscliffe as an LGA in its own right. Once again the Liberal Party reveals itself as the dogged opponent of genuine and principled public justice, the harbinger of a revolution of self-interest. But then of course, its major Tweedledee opponent is not so far behind and is in constant catch-up mode.

This matter is not going to go away. it will not be easily resolved. The discussion will continue in subsequent posts.

Bruce C Wearne
Point Lonsdale
7.3.17