How Should Political Parties Conduct Themselves in Relation to Local Government?

Our previous post has concluded with the affirmation that the Liberal Party is a primary cause of the serious crisis that has now befallen the Borough of Queenscliffe. Of course this is a serious accusation. Can I back it up?

Many of my fellow citizens in the Borough will ask: “What crisis?” My answer, along the lines of the previous post, may well bring forth the following rejoinder:

Well what do you expect? They are after all, all politicians!

So, what am I to say when that is said? Am I to walk away, shrug my shoulders and let the matter drop?

Actually, there is something political I can say there and then – it may at least give some cause to pause. I could say:

And our Mayor’s election platform insisted that he wasn’t a politician!

To highlight this fact is not to indulge a “cheap shot”; this is an important clue to the crisis we face. Our contradictory political situation needs analysis and this contradiction should be front and centre as we carefully unravel the various responsibilities that have formed, and are shaping, our political lives – this anomaly is central to political beliefs that are basic to this crisis.

Readers will also notice I have avoided names. The names can easily be found by a diligent search of the web. I have spoken to the person concerned and told him I am willing to discuss the matter with someone else present. But here I prefer to talk in terms of offices, positions of public responsibility. It is a crisis and it is shared; the mistakes that have been made which have deepened this crisis are not solely the errors of one person acting alone, no matter how unencumbered politicians of Liberal persuasion view themselves to be.

_ _ _ _ _

Readers who have followed the discussion on this site since late 2016 will know I have identify various “offices” contributing to this crisis:

1. The Borough of Queenscliffe Council
2. The Returning Officer for the Council Election
3. The State Electoral Commission
4. The Victorian Parliament
5. Victoria Police
6. The Ice Police Task Force in the Geelong Region
7. The State Member for the Bellarine Electorate
8. The Liberal Party (Bellarine Peninsula Branch).

In this post I simply wish to make a point about what I consider to be the deep failure of the Liberal Party, the 8th on my list. And when we have understood their failure in this matter, we might have begun to develop a new idea of what a political party might be and how it should conduct its affairs, and be seen to conduct its affairs, in relation to LGAs in this polity. There is one step that should be taken immediately by the Liberal Party; I leave that till the end of this post.

I narrow the focus to the Liberal Party even though I believe the Borough Council seriously erred when it failed to raise an objection to the suitability of the person who is now Mayor, not only to be Mayor, but to be a Councillor. The failure to disclose party affiliation during the election campaign was bad enough, and I grant that it may have been an oversight. But to then simply do nothing when, one week later, the incumbent of the Mayoral Office is appointed President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, simply confirms the Council’s deeply disrespectful attitude to the Borough’s electors. Everyone in the Borough who has looked into it knows that the successful Candidate’s subsequent appointment as Liberal Party President disclosed an electoral deceit. By failing to address what is still a scandalous state of affairs (that, by the way, has not been redressed by the President’s subsequent resignation from the party post) the Council has undermined public trust in itself. The Council owes a public apology to the electors of the Borough.

The nomination of the Senior Sergeant in the Geelong Police – who is head of the Police Ice Task Force for the region – must have been endorsed by the Borough official who had to verify the eligibility of candidates. The State Electoral Commission must have also given approval and has still not made any public comment about the election of the said candidate and his failure to disclose his political affiliation as part of his election campaign. The Victorian Parliament, it would seem, has legislated or gazetted changes to regulations that allow serving officers of the Victoria Police to stand in local Council elections. At the very least the political parties have not helped electors know why this has been allowed. We have also heard nothing from the State member as to how the Victorian Government views the deceit as perpetrated upon the Borough’s electors. We have not heard from Victoria Police as to why it is that the Police Code of Conduct has not been violated by that failure during the election campaign. There seems here to have been a significant blurring of what constitutional jurisprudence would call “the separation of powers”, the separation between law making and law enforcement. Do not the police have a code of conduct provisions that forbid gaining office by deceit (even if it were an unintended oversight)?

There may be an explanation from these offices that will shed light on what is a complex and messy business. And yes, people in public office can make mistakes. So, can people in their running for public office but we also haven’t heard an apology yet from the elected councillor.

Electors will know that members of the police force, not least members who are front line with respect to the problems of law and order in relation to drug usage and the illicit supply thereof, are subject to peculiar tensions. But this is precisely the point at which I wish to discuss the Liberal Party contribution – what it has done and what it has failed to do. It has acted publicly in a way that simply cannot pass without comment.

A Liberal Party that was sensitive to the seeming intractable problems that pertain to the interface between drug use and law enforcement, would never seek to gain political advantage by an opportunistic blurring of the distinction between law-making and law-enforcement. If a Senior Sergeant has joined its ranks, it should welcome him and forego the temptation of using him for election purposes. Their contribution as a political party would be much better served by encouraging said new member to simply take his place among the party membership and offer his advice about public policy when it is relevant to do so. And given this particular police officer has regional responsibilities for the Victoria Police Ice Task Force, should they not be persuading him to concentrate on that very important police work, without distracting him with managing party political business?

I would also suggest that the Liberal Party, as part of their adherence to appropriate constitutional and jural principles, should positively discourage any police officer, and especially senior police officers, that have become members of their party, from trying to gain election to local councils while still serving – even if as in our case regulations do not prohibit it. It should be part of their party’s overall political philosophy that law enforcement should not be blurred with law-making. And that’s the principle they have seriously violated by their effort to piggy-back on the (compromised) election of one of their members. Instead, they opportunistically tried to add to that important police officer’s load by trying to engineer him into the front-line of an attempt to unseat the sitting member (who is police minister) at the next State election.

Their actions actually show a party unfit for public office. And let’s have no more ambiguous nonsense that LGAs should be apolitical!

Let’s hear the truth from the Liberal Party in an acknowledging its own contribution to the deceit that was perpetrated in the Borough election and that as a party it is committed to truthfulness at all levels of our public governance!

Remarkably this disreputable political party, which has treated one of its own paid-up members in such questionable ways, is proposing next week to hold a “law and order” forum nearby in Drysdale. The advertising invites us to “come and have our say”. “Only the Liberals will make Victoria safe again”.

Of course there is a “law and order” problem facing us. But the Liberal Party’s wheeling and dealing speaks too loudly of a political ethic that borders on wall-to-wall disrespect, and that is not irrelevant to the ethos that spawns law and order concerns – there is the Liberal Party’s disrespect for the separation of powers principle that one might have thought was part of the Liberal’s view of public governance; there is in this sorry saga elements of disrespect for the Victoria Police, disrespect for the integrity and good standing of the Borough of Queenscliff. There is the Liberal Party’s continual ducking and weaving when it comes to speaking truthfully.

The Liberal Party has completely avoided dealing with the flawed LGA election in 2016 that had significant consequences for one of its own members. As I said, that failure may have been the Candidate’s  mistake, but if it were a mistake to fail to mention party membership, why should the party reward him with the regional party presidency and thereby further compromise the Borough Council’s standing?

As long as this Liberal Party fiasco continues (see p.2), such actions as we have recently witnessed in the Bellarine Peninsula from them simply suggest that they are beating the “law and order” drum to distract attention from their party’s lack of political principles, from their party’s persistent pragmatic manoeuvring, a failure as a party to be seen in the inadequate support and advise rendered to a new member, and a total failure to insist upon a measure of political discipline by one of its prominent members who, as a senior police officer, is obviously keen to make a contribution to life across the Bellarine.

The electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe deserve a full and frank apology from the Liberal Party for their unscrupulous destabilising of local government.

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.

BCW 10 June 2017.

 

 

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

Local Government and Public Justice

There is a long-running and very widespread political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics. Even to state it like that in its simplest terms, in one sentence, is to begin to see how absurd such a political viewpoint is. As a political view it is simply ridiculous; it is illogical and contradictory. But try arguing against it with neighbours in your Borough or Local Government Authority (LGA) and you will soon find how politically entrenched it is. You might also find that it is more of an aspiration for many people, an ideal that at least at the LGA level political life can find mutual compromise and avoid the cynical self-interest ascribed to State and Federal Governments. Nevertheless as a political view it is politically incoherent.

Coming to terms politically with that political incoherence, however, will require ongoing engagement. And it is not just intellectual, but political. It will mean pointing in a different political direction. If that means people will stop listening, then ways will have to be found to counter those wilfully deaf ears. And it will not be easy. nevertheless, for most citizens LGAs are remote and as riven with similar tensions and arguments that are found at State and Federal levels. Perhaps it is just the inherited complexity of social life these days that prompts so many to avoid thinking about “local politics”. And yet it still will have its everyday impacts upon them from garbage removal to local health services, to Meals on Wheels for the elderly, to planning laws that restrict your neighbour from building a multi-storey townhouse next-door.

We have recently discussed how local politics in the Queenscliffe Borough, in which NJ’s editor lives, has been deeply corrupted and also by political actions that appeal to this a-political viewpoint. And it would seem that those perpetrating this most recent corruption use this a-political viewpoint (Local Government is not about politics) as a cover for what is nothing other than their own political deceit. Queenscliffe has 3,000 voters on its roll and at most 2,500 permanent residents – probably the smallest LGA in Australia, certainly the tiniest in Victoria. Compared with the City of Greater Geelong (currently under administration) which has 250,000 residents it is but 1% of the size of this LGA neighbour. The fact that it is still an LGA entity certainly suggests wheeling and dealing and in future posts we will explore some of the ongoing political and social ambiguities that arise from this. But let us return to the corruption of the electoral process that pertains as at this moment.

I suspect that the person involved who became Mayor, who had been a member of the Liberal Party for 18 months prior to the election but never revealed it during his campaign, simply assumed that since the Liberal Party’s policy with respect to local government is the aforementioned a-political viewpoint, he didn’t have to mention his party affiliation on the hustings. If that is so, it indicates a level of political naïveté not only in the successful candidate but also, most worryingly, among the persons who voted for him. “I am not a politician” he told us; not once but repeatedly. And so he presented himself as someone who aspires to be “above politics”. Then, upon being elected, the body of elected five Councillors convened and since he had a quota (600+/-) from first preferences, they decided he should be the Mayor. They didn’t have to do this, and certainly the LGA election is not meant as a Mayoral election. But they did it and, as it happens, simply compounded the political problem as it has subsequently unravelled.

A week later, the Bellarine Liberal Party announced that this same man, who had just assumed the public office of Mayor, was elected unopposed as President of the Regional Branch of the Liberal Party. The electoral stump speech “I am not a politician!” certainly seemed like it had been a carefully worded diversion keeping the true state of affairs from the electors, at least until they had voted. Shouldn’t the electors have been made aware of this Candidate’s political affiliation before they cast their ballot? But because the election campaign proceeded without this fact being disclosed, the Borough electors had not been properly informed and the integrity of the entire election seems in retrospect to have been compromised.

What the Liberal Party did by appointing him as their President, and what he did in accepting that appointment, was nothing other than delivering a mortal blow to the trust electors in the Queenscliffe Borough could have in their Council. There’s no other political way to see it. Trust, central to our political system’s claim to embody a genuine representative element, has thereby been broken.

The subsequent action of the Liberal Party seemed oblivious to this fact. It certainly casts doubt on the way in which they – the self-proclaimed “movers and shakers” of our Federal polity – had grossly mis-read the political situation. An appeal to the alleged principle that “local government should be above politics” simply compounds the issue. This is deceitful politics that would make Machiavelli blush.

Local sentiment from those who bother to reflect about political life is that the Borough Council has now broken trust with the Borough and has allowed itself to become a de facto sub-committee of the regional branch of the Liberal Party.

What does this story tell us? Before I go on we might note that the said person has since resigned from the Liberal Party Presidency. Why? Was it because as Mayor there might arise a conflict of interest? No. At least that is not why he said he had to resign. The incumbent of the Mayoral Office resigned from the Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because as a Senior Sergeant in the Victoria Police Force (heading up the task force on ice across the Bellarine Peninsula) there is a risk of a conflict of interest with the Liberal Party machine as the State Opposition gears up for the next election with a law and order campaign.

If you are bamboozled by all this, then join the crowd of confused electors across the Bellarine and in particular in the tiny Queenscliffe Borough. The Liberal Party has decided to go all out to attack the sitting Member for Bellarine Electorate, the Police Minister in the State Labor Government! We do not even know whether she will stand again next time around!

What a complete mess! So to return to our question: what does this tell us? There are the obvious questions we have previously asked about this: about the apparent compromise of the police’s code of conduct; about the silence of the Victorian Electoral Commission on the compromised election; and on the fact that a Senior Sergeant in the police force can even run for public office without there being a compromise of the separation of powers between law-making and law-enforcement. Admittedly it also happens elsewhere. So my guess is that this is not just a matter of one LGA, but indicates something that needs to be clarified across the state.

 Moreover, true to their form, the political parties have failed to make any clear statement about this matter. Electors are still waiting to be educated politically about the propriety of a police officers running for and taken up public office when also serving in law enforcement. And the Police Minister, the local member for Bellarine, has not actually gone out of her way to address this issue.

Somehow we will have to make some sense of this deeply political failure. Even in the tiny political community of the Queenscliffe Borough our politics is no better than what is found in larger, more impersonal LGAs. In subsequent posts we will explore other dimensions of the way in which our political community is out of step with its neighbouring political communities. There are ongoing consequences in all areas of our social life and these need to be explored.

And as well as all this we are now confronted by a national political situation in which the political parties themselves have shown that they are up to their necks in crooked dealing. The simple fact that we need to get into our political heads is that our system of public governance is mightily compromised.

How is this political situation to be addressed politically? To ask the question in terms Nurturing Justice has been asking for some time: Is the political party over? A Christian political option, if it is ever to emerge in the Australian polity as more than a Nurturing Justice aspiration, is going to have to deal with that question, root and branch, all the way down, and it will not be able to avoid promoting public justice at the local government level however “local” is configured.

We will continue this discussion next time and extend our discussion of the “constitutional crisis” of the Borough of Queenscliffe by analysis of the crisis in community health care. Stay tuned.

BCW 8 June 2017

 

 

 

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

 

When Public Trust is Broken …

The article from this link confirms any intuitive suspicion we might have that a lot of “fake news” is already under construction to increase the credibility of the US President. What are we to believe when our political leaders speak up and commend the US President for ordering strikes on Syria? We already have well supported evidence that tells us that the Iraq invasion of 2003 was accompanied by a strategic propaganda attack dispensing “fake news” to electors back here in Australia.

And so, it may be just a little tiring to even ask whether we are reliably informed about he whose metanarrative is well and truly within the realms of all post-modern incredulity. But here we go again. This article is probably indicative of many that will be reading in the days ahead …

And let’s face it, we probably find it hard to know how to read the speculative reports that Steve Bannon is now in the sights of the US President’s daughter and her husband because they are wanting “closest advisor to the President” status for themselves. Problem here is that even if the President says, “You’re fired!” to his “chief strategist”, we simply do not know whether he is simply throwing up and smokescreen to suggest he is on the path the Murdoch press suggested last week – in the wake of the US strike against the Syrian airforce base, the pundits were telling us he had turned the corner and was become a “normal” president. But the same incredulity arises: Isn’t this simply more “fake news”? Haven’t the pundits ignored the underlying behaviourism of the incumbent of US White House?

Could not the media whisper about Steve Bannon the strategist be merely a carefully devised diversion, “fake news” that is sent out as part of a strategic effort to counter the widespread incredulity – within the US and around the globe – directed to the US President? Meanwhile, there is ongoing implementation of a strategy. And so, why should say that now it is a “strategic impatience” that leads the way in US action in Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea?

The crisis of the compromised liberal-humanistic way of political life has been intensified since Donald Trump’s accession to the White House. But the mis-mash of point-and-counterpoint, of thesis-and-antithesis, is as it has been for decades. Those with an interest in keeping the political game going – maybe their careers are in the balance – continue to try to view our citizenship as a “choice”, taking a position somewhere on a spectrum between political extremes. And so we hear about how important it is to see the world in left and right terms. And when many begin to consider this a false choice advocates from both ends of the spectrum begin to change the debate and say:

Don’t listen to them because they are consorting with extremes! We need a politics of the middle ground!

But such “middling” opportunism simply confirms that the choice has become something else: one either commits oneself to one side or one quits paying attention.

It is the self-evidence of a political system that enhances individual “choice” that is evaporating. Instead, politics based on enhancing individual choice is no longer credible. And so, new forms of “certainty” come onto the political horizon.If we listen to what is called “news” we will also hear of that “certainty” that has affixed itself to the misguided fools who think that terror provides the path to life. Indeed, there are those who are sucked in. Nihilistic, psychopathic fascists sell their fantasy of a divinity pleased that they could blow themselves up into a billion splattered droplets by a cruel and mindless act, taking as many others as possible with them.

This is serious. A Christian political option is going to have to face this confused and highly compromised state of affairs. It is a question about how we are to live as Christian citizens. It has street-level, community, local, state, federal, regional and global dimensions. We are going to have to find ways of working on this concertedly and  prayerfully. We should also take heart. We are not on our own. We have a service to render in which we love our neighbours publicly with justice.

How to View a Disastrous Presidential Election

The following article has appeared at the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics site. The Kirby Laing Institute is located at Cambridge, UK.
It appears at http://klice.co.uk
It is an important statement that identifies the deep political problem at the heart of the Trump presidency. The accession of Donald Trump to the presidential office raises important questions about the future path we will have to walk as those advocating a Christian political option. We certainly avoid the obsequious accommodation of those so-called Christian leaders who have been mentioned in this article who see Trump’s presidency merely as confirmation of the sinfulness of public governance per se.
KLICE Comment is written by James W. Skillen is founder and former President of the Center for Public Justice(Washington, DC) and James R. Skillen is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Calvin College (MI).

BCW 10.1.2017

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The Trump Presidency: Everything Up for Grabs

As Donald Trump begins his presidency, very little is clear about the course it will take. Dominant characterisations are ‘unpredictable’, ‘confusing’, ‘divisive’. That is true not only for Americans and foreign observers but also for the president’s own cabinet secretaries and members of Congress.[1] As House Speaker Paul Ryan keeps saying, Trump was an unconventional candidate, and he is an unconventional president.

During the long election campaign, anti-establishment populists heard in Mr. Trump’s demagoguery and outlandish promises the voice of a leader they were ready to follow – a strongman from outside Washington who would smash barriers that have held them back from fulfilling their dreams. That strongman confidence was on full display in his inaugural address and it continues to mark his tweets and executive orders. The people he admires, including himself, are great, smart people, the ones who get things done by not bending to the status quo. The creative dealmaker is one who leaps over losers and pushes doubters aside as he charges forward, singlehandedly if necessary, to make America great again.

Yet Mr. Trump is ignorantly self-confident and without apology. Not long ago he explained that others ‘are surprised by how quickly I make big decisions, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things . . . . The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience’.[2] One investigative journalist offered the following summary after interviewing a range of Trump Organization executives: Mr. Trump ‘is not “magisterial and decisive”, as advertised, but erratic and often ill-informed. His slapdash decision-making and short attention span are not a management style so much as a pathology . . . .’ [3] It is difficult to convey in standard prose the new president’s character, egophanic energy, and limited store of knowledge. His actions and speeches make one think of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’ and Joseph Schumpeter’s description of capitalism as ‘creative destruction’.

This president requires no history lessons, can do without regular intelligence reports, and believes he knows what the majority of Americans want. All of this was particularly evident in his order on January 27 to ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. In drawing up and announcing the order, he bypassed almost every official and congressional leader that should have been consulted about it beforehand. The order lacked clarity, was illegal on several counts, and caused chaos at many airports. Though arguing that he was acting to protect Americans, he offered no argument or evidence for how the order would do that. Many officials and commentators argued, to the contrary, that the president’s impulsive action is almost entirely counterproductive.[4]

Unprepared and Unqualified for the Office

What we are witnessing in these first weeks is the presidency of an officeholder who has little or no regard for the office. He recognises few if any boundaries between any of the offices he holds – as father, businessman, citizen, and now president. They are all simply means – his tools – for making better deals all around. This is a man who refuses to acknowledge any conflicts of interest between his responsibility as president and his continuing business involvements. Why should the Constitution’s ‘emolument clause’ inhibit him – a man who can get America ‘winning again, winning like never before’? And why should he consult with agency experts on immigration and national security who would likely provide more accurate and nuanced accounts of security threats? He promised in his inaugural speech to ‘eradicate [Islamic terrorism] completely from the face of the Earth’, and he acts as if bureaucratic processes will only slow or undermine progress toward that absolute victory. Perhaps this is why, as of February 1, forty-one law suits had already been filed against him, primarily in response to his executive order on immigration and his conflicts of interest.

Mr. Trump’s complete lack of government experience and blindness to the distinct types of responsibility that belong to government, business, family, and more, help to explain why he has chosen so many people to head cabinet posts and other top positions who are as politically inexperienced as he is. Many of them were chosen to undermine the very purpose of the departments they will lead if approved by the Senate. Many of them have come from Wall Street, large corporations, or the military. A disproportionately large number of them are billionaires. As a consequence, business, finance, and military experience will most likely supply the norms by which they make judgements about affairs of state, when what is desperately needed is commitment to norms of public justice for the sake of the common good.

Nowhere is this problem more evident than in Mr. Trump’s dependence on Steve Bannon, a senior White House adviser to the president who has now been appointed to a seat on the National Security Council. His relevant expertise? He served in the Navy many years ago. Most recently he led the Breitbart news organisation that promoted white nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-Muslim causes. At least two other former Breitbart employees have also been pulled into the White House. Bannon appears to be the driving force behind the president’s rapid-fire delivery of executive orders and multiple untruthful statements that are causing so much chaos and confusion.

Reality Can Bite

Despite all that President Trump imagines and declares, and regardless of how often he and his staff insist on ‘alternative facts’, we believe there are limits that already constrain, and will increasingly constrain, him in office. The question is whether he will come to recognise those limits, which include the Constitution, members of Congress, federal and state judiciaries, state governments, the decisions of other countries, and public opinion. That is, will he take his office seriously and become a wiser, more transparent, and constitutionally bounded leader? Or will he continue to strain and push from within his own well-entrenched habits and instincts to act in ways that could very likely cause great harm to this country and many others. Consider the following limits and constraints.

Quick Action – President Trump’s flurry of executive orders and tweets in the early days of his presidency purport to fulfill his campaign promises, many of them ‘on day one’. Yet most of his executive orders (excepting the immigration ban) are directives that require the action of Congress and/or executive agencies and will be slow to produce results. He and the Congress may have much less time than they imagine to produce results before disappointment and anger begin to grip ‘the people’ whom Trump declared to be America’s rulers. The sprawling federal bureaucracies, with over two million employees, are not like one of Mr. Trump’s businesses. They resist sudden, wholesale shifts in operation and culture. When almost 1,000 Foreign Service and other officers of the state department signed a letter criticising the president’s immigration ban, Sean Spicer said simply, ‘They should either get with the program or they can go’.[5] But that is not the president’s call, and we hope he will learn that he does not control the executive branch as a business venture.

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare –

President Trump and congressional Republicans have long promised an immediate repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), which has provided health insurance to more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans. Yet as of this writing, the president has not shared with the relevant congressional leaders and cabinet members his own replacement plan, and congressional Republicans can’t agree on a replacement plan or on how many steps to take and how quickly to take them to repeal and replace Obamacare. In fact, some congressional Republicans are now using the word ‘repair’, which sounds very much like they are already backsliding.

The Wall, Jobs, and Globalisation –

President Trump’s hateful demagoguery during the campaign against illegal Mexican immigrants and the ‘disaster’ of NAFTA for American workers was regularly accompanied by the promise to build a solid Wall that would help restore American sovereignty and prosperity. But The Wall will add little to the protection of Americans from criminals and terrorists. Moreover, trade with Mexico supports more American jobs than it has displaced. The loss of American manufacturing jobs is due more to the rapidly expanding use of robotics and other technologies in workplaces than to the outsourcing of jobs. And Mexico’s president has stated firmly and repeatedly that his country will not pay for The Wall or cooperate on Mr. Trump’s terms in trade talks and on other issues.

Relative to international commerce, China has also made clear that it has no intention of negotiating with the USA on Trump’s terms. Not everything is ‘negotiable’ for China as it apparently is for the new president. European leaders are also quickly reacting to the US president with warnings and criticisms. And at home, important Republicans in Congress are already indicating that they will not support a bill to authorise funding of The Wall. Furthermore, outside the bubble in which the president seems to live, most people recognise that the expanding global networks created by technological advances, climate change, trade, terrorist organisations, and failed states will not be reversed by Trumpian bluster, although there is reason to worry that his decisions could spark trade wars and even real wars with unknown consequences.

Environment and Climate Change –

Based on President Trump’s rhetoric, one would think that the only obstacle, beside bad trade agreements, to 4 percent economic growth in the USA is government regulation in general and environmental regulation in particular. In his early barrage of executive orders, Mr. Trump instructed federal agencies to cut two existing regulations for every new one introduced, and he has begun to roll back environmental regulations, such as those protecting streams from mining activities. Reducing regulations, the president promises, will jumpstart vital American energy production, especially coal and oil shale development. When Chris Wallace asked him in a television interview who would protect the environment after drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Trump answered, ‘We’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses’.[6] Viewers were left wondering whether the president meant that he would leave a little bit of regulation or a little bit of the environment.

Clearly, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric ignores the nature of the complex, global economy. The decline of coal production was driven in large part by rising competition from natural gas, and reduced regulation isn’t going to reduce that source of competition. The push to reduce carbon emissions was certainly reflected in things like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but it was not something caused by that set of regulations. Pressure for carbon emissions reductions is coming from the grass roots in many states and continues unabated in international negotiations. In short, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are going to find that regulation is not the only variable in economical productivity, and reducing regulation will not have the direct, inverse relationship with economic growth that they promise. What is more, in their haste to trample all things regulatory, they are likely to discover that Americans do value some level of federal regulation to protect their health, safety, and recreation.

The Russian Oddity –

Seemingly disconnected from all that the president has thus far said and done is his opaque relationship with Vladimir Putin. The brash and confrontational American president who hurls caustic epithets at the press, who speaks and acts like a bully toward anyone who offends him, and who has repeatedly attacked the American intelligence community as untrustworthy (until he declared his 1,000 percent support for them the day after his inauguration), has persistently and obsequiously spoken generously of the Russian president. Indeed, on February 5, Trump repeated his admiration for Putin in an interview with Bill O’Reilly. When O’Reilly protested that Putin is ‘a killer,’ Trump quickly relativised this immoral behavior by saying, ‘There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?’ How odd is that? So odd, in fact, that it is highly suspect. What don’t we know here? What has Mr. Putin promised or threatened Mr. Trump with? Did Mr. Putin help fund Trump’s reelection campaign as well as interfere in it on his behalf? Will FBI and CIA investigations soon unveil the truth? How will the president react to any revelations that expose him as duplicitous or perhaps even traitorous? These questions will not go away until the air is cleared, and congressional Republicans are losing their will to defend the president in this area.

The Need for Wisdom and Sound Judgement

Those of us who are conscience-bound to live as Christians in the exercise of all our vocations and responsibilities should desire to gain the kind of wisdom expressed by Job when he spoke of his work as a public official – a judge and counselor in the public square (29:1-25). He put on righteousness and justice as his clothing and received thankful praise from those he served. Political life is not simply a means to the end of economic prosperity, or military might, or national pride. It is not, as the president seems to believe, a matter of ‘winning’ in contests for wealth and power. The greatness of any nation will be found in the just ordering of life for all who are part of it. Just governance requires the fair and equitable distribution of public rights, benefits, and penalties for all citizens. To the extent that President Trump tries to negotiate ‘deals’ without reference to these overarching norms of justice and equity, he will all but ensure unjust outcomes between winners and losers time after time.

It is of course a sad fact that Americans, including American Christians, are not in agreement on what just governance for our republic means. Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress in Dallas, Texas, for example, has repeatedly indicated that the model Jesus provided has no place in government and that parables like the Good Samaritan have nothing to say about government responsibility. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, insisted that the Bible is not relevant to Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants. These views, which carve out a vast chasm between the life of Christian faith, on one side, and the ‘profane’ work of government, on the other, are unfounded biblically and potentially dangerous for America and the world. To be sure, the Bible does not provide a policy guide to immigration policies for contemporary states, but it provides manifold witness to principles and practices of justice, to which Christians should be attuned when making judgments about the work of their governments.[7] At this moment in American public life these concerns should be at the forefront of our attention and in our prayers for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

James W. Skillen  and James R. Skillen.

[1] See Kurt Eichenwald, ‘America’s Grand Experiment in Government by Twitter Begins January 20’, Newsweek, January 13, 2017, and David J. Lynch, ‘Trump’s Unpredictability on Foreign Policy Keeps the World Guessing’, Financial Times, January 19, 2017.
[2] Quoted by Evan Osnos in ‘President Trump’s First Term’, The New Yorker, September 26, 2016.
[3] Jeff Shesol, quoting from Michael Kruse of Politico in, ‘Will Trump be Reaganesque in All the Wrong Ways?’ The New Yorker, December 22, 2016.
[4] See David Gardner’s fine commentary, ‘Donald Trump’s Travel Ban is a Gift to Jihadis’, Financial Times, January 31, 2017.
[5] The Washington Post, January 30, 2017.
[6] CNN, December 8, 2016.
[7] See M. Daniel Carroll R., Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Brazos 2013); and on justice more broadly, James W. Skillen, The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction (Baker Academic 2014); David McIlroy, A Biblical View of Law and Justice (Paternoster 2004).

Pragmatic Party Politics as the Root of Parliamentary Mayhem

Nurturing Justice has been featuring “readings” of Luke’s Gospel. This is an exegetical exploration of how a reading of the Gospel that gives full respect to the political context of the teaching and action it describes, allows a decisive light to be thrown on our political path, how we should proceed on our political path today. Such a disciplined re-reading of the Biblical revelation has to be a pre-requisite for any Christian political option for the South West Pacific and for that matter anywhere else of this earth. We offer it to our readers with that in mind. Without such sustained re-reading of how the Bible is a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path we simply run the risk of not knowing what we are getting ourselves in for.

But some readers seeking some political perspective may well be somewhat bemused by this trajectory of our blog. Have we not seen the descent of our Parliaments, especially our Federal Parliament, into mayhem and legislative uncertainty in recent years? Shouldn’t any blog wanting to “nurture public justice” be given this our concerted attention? Of course, we confront significant political turbulence, and it is not just in the Federal parliament but at the State level and in local government administrations too. We hear on all sides complaints that we are being over-run by arrogant political actors who are said to be in it solely for the own self (business, power) interests. Even if some candidates run for office with a coherent and principled political stand, it seems that once they get elected they are tainted, they soon become compromised. There may be some truth in that widespread cynical observation, but Nurturing Justice would also observe that the wiseacres proffering this interpretation of politics (“Oh that is just politics, what do you expect?”) rides on the back of a widespread refusal to engage in political self-criticism and a scrupulous, cynical avoidance of the need for careful study of the demands of public office.

Whatever games the recently elected  American president may be playing, as he continues to hide the true state of his understanding of  American and global politics, drawing attention to himself by trying to close things down until “we can know what the hell is going on”, we have not heard him advocate the need for a reformation in the disciplined study of political science or of increased emphasis upon training for public administration for those who will have to take on the complex tasks of public office. Likewise in this country there are no such political efforts by the major political parties that suggest that the corruption of politics, the judiciary and public administration needs to be countered by a new emphasis upon adequate training to discern what is just and thereby to enhance the skills of those seeking to serve in the wide realms of civic and public service.

Whether or not our readers agree with our diagnosis that the transformation of political parties into public relations firms is a central cause of our political crisis, they will yet recognise, if they have been following us, that we are committed to the view that political parties – as associations bound by political conviction – should be a positive and vital part of parliamentary politics. They should be playing their part in a thorough root and branch reformation of public governance, not only here in our polity but elsewhere across the globe. And international alliances of such parties should also be active in public education concerning international law and justice in international relations. Without them doing so, we fear, we are simply heading down a path towards further authoritarian  denial of what we once thought was an inherited system of democratic parliamentary law making and governance. Political parties should be major public education associations that facilitate the political discussion between citizens, even when such citizens have diametrically opposed political views and incompatible world-views.

Internationally our global aspirations are in the balance. But then, as we have pointed out with respect to a blatant case of the corruption of the “separation of powers” for local government, the possibilities of local citizens having an impact upon the decision-making in their own communities are also seriously attenuated when political parties refuse to reform themselves. In the above-mentioned case, the local Liberal Party has shown itself, (we would say once again) to be an unprincipled, pragmatic rabble that is simply wanting to increase and concentrate its presumptive power at the expense of the democratic space that should be ascribed to all citizens. It is, to a very large measure, such corruption of a principled political viewpoint in our political parties that has brought us so decidedly to today’s political cross-roads.

And yes, Nurturing Justice does not deny in the least that we need to carefully assess the dangerous “America first” antics of the much over-loved American president whose abdication now might well cause less mayhem at home and abroad than his dogged egoistic resolution to see it through.

Nurturing Justice has only some affiliation with a loose connection of Christians of “reformational” persuasion around the world in Europe, UK, Africa, South America, Mexico, North America, Korea, Japan and Indonesia, as well as the South West Pacific.  It would seem that a concerted effort in Christian sociological theorising and political reflection is called for. Could not such a global “community” develop insights vital to a renewed understanding of the positive and normative contribution that political parties should be making wherever citizens can associate to bring the understanding of public justice to public notice? So how is it that political parties world-wide have degenerated into public relations firms? And then how should a Christian political option be developed to avoid the implicit denigration of political parties that we can witness in the public and legal wreckage of once noble institutions as a result of our taken for granted western, materialistic and individualistic pragmatism? There is significant political educational work to be done. If it is not a task to be undertaken by political parties how are citizens to ever understand the various approach and ideologies that contribute to public governance? How are we ever to understand public justice if political parties do not work at expounding its requirements in an ongoing way?

We have pointed out in a previous post of Nurturing Justice, that before he even entered politics, Mr Malcolm Turnbull was giving voice to the view that for him party unity was the sine qua non of Liberal Party politics. Unity must be maintained at all costs. But such a commitment is simply a convenient avoidance of the difficult question that needs to be answered in all efforts to be politically engage. What is public governance? How is government to justly do its work in maintaining public justice? When I asked Malcolm Turnbull why the Liberal Party, with its alleged commitment to “the economy” was not developing a coherent policy on all bio-ethical issues, his response was that to do so would be to threaten party unity. For him, clearly “the economy” can isolated from ethics, no matter how ethical he maintains his own action and how much he advocates ethic behaviour. The problem for Malcolm Turnbull’s view of (liberal) politics is this: you can’t have a coherent political commitment to “the economy” without articulating a clear and and also unambiguous viewpoint of the central institutional nexus of “the economy”. This central institution is not the “free market” and it is not the banks and finance. It is “marriage, family and the household”.

And so that was back at the time when Turnbull was Director of the Menzies Centre (2002-2004). And so the “hard yards” of developing a public policy that integrated the Liberal Party’s commitment to marriage, family and household has simply not been attempted. The result has continued to be a mealy-mouthed appeal to “traditional values”, but when difficult bio-ethical issues arose there just had to be a “conscience vote” – which actually was implemented to get the former Liberal PM, John Howard, off the hook after he reneged on his pre-election promise before the 2000 election concerning embryonic stem-cell research. (We have referred to that “tipping point” ad infinitum in Nurturing Justice since then and readers are invited to explore our archives on this.) The Labor Party could not call him to task for that and his Treasurer, and heir apparent, simply did not require him to hold to his pre-election commitment to his electors. (So much for the then Treasurer’s aspirations for getting the top job.)

The other day, we also heard how that other former Liberal PM, the one Turnbull replaced, now with a back-bench barracking role on the Government side, wants a referendum to be held to allow as he says “elected Governments to govern”. Such is Mr Abbott’s pragmatic opportunism, he doesn’t seem to recall his hectoring of the Rudd/Gillard Governments – and he hasn’t realised just how much he is driving a tractor into the Liberal Party’s house. To try and create a political principle he seems to be wanting the Australian Constitution to give a “rock solid” commitment to the view that majorities in the Lower House should be allowed to govern. Note that he says little, if anything, about how this view of the functioning of Parliamentary democracy in this country should be reflected in the Liberal Party’s own constitution. It is that constitution that needs reform first, and then, if he and his party have the courage they should put it out there in next election’s party platform – that is that the Liberal Party is committed, on the basis of its own principles, to allow elected Governments (i.e. who command a majority in the House of Representatives) to govern and hence will not block supply. Oh really? Wasn’t that a founding principle of his beloved Liberal Party, that is until his parliamentary predecessors decided that their party was to be run, not by the paid-up rank-and-file members as Menzies and F W Eggleston (1875-1954) had envisaged but by the privileged elite who had got themselves elected. And so in 1974, under Billy Snedden’s leadership, the Liberal Party (the party of good old Australian values) violated its own party’s constitutional principles with the threat to block supply. This departure from its own constitution became the party’s own faux precedent under Fraser another 18 months later. And as they say: the rest is history. It is that “constitutional crisis” that the Liberal Party along with its own political opponents the Labor Party, have never truly addressed. The “good old Australian values” that the Liberal Party has confirmed therefore goes something like this: you can make an electoral promise to get into office but really parliament’s members, when elected, should do all in their power to use their seat in parliament to ensure that they, and their side, gets onto the treasury benches next time.

And so that is where we are. The Liberal Party, and their Labor opponents, are now merely rival public relations firms having unhinged their commitment to appropriate electoral accountability. They refuse to look again at Proportional Representation, intent upon maintaining their elite control of parliament with 40% of the primary vote (60% of the seats) and their parties financed to a large degree by public funds that they accrue from elections. Accountability to electors means being willing to be voted in next time. One can almost forget the party’s manifesto, except of course when new and controversial legislation (witness how the Victorian Government appeals to the fine print  of the party’s manifesto last time to justify controversial school’s initiatives).

Yet when it comes down to it, all they have to say about their policies concerning political parties in our system of public governance is that they have to be bound by their belief that they should be bound – a broad church it is said – because if that unity fractures then the “enemy” (on the other side of Parliament) will be let loose to wreck havoc on the country. The fact that the Immigration Minister can talk in these terms simply confirms the analysis I have put forward. We don’t have parties – we have electoral machines that use policies as sticks with which to whack electors in order to safeguard the incumbency of their members.

This is the tipping point in our system of democratic parliamentary politics. It is such underlying now indeed “traditional political values” (i.e. since 1974) that brought us the Palmer United Party, One Nation and the most recent attempt by one disaffected Liberal Senator to launch his own new party without resigning his seat.

The doyen of Australian federalism, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919), often referred to as the Liberal Party’s historic inspiration, provides a good example of how elected members should see their representation of their electors. Deakin’s won his initial election to the Victorian legislature in 1879 by a mere 79 votes but since:

a number of voters [were] disenfranchised by a shortage of voting papers, he used his maiden speech to announce his resignation; he lost the subsequent by-election by 15 votes, narrowly lost the seat in the February 1880 general election, but won it in yet another early general election in July 1880.

This was the man who subsequently served as Prime Minister for three terms. Those thinking of trying to wangle their way into parliamentary leadership, especially those claiming to be “Deakinite liberals”, should be giving this some serious reflection. Their party is a long, long way away from such principled representation of electors. It is surely time for the Liberal Party to stop fooling itself about what it stands for. It is politically bankrupt and should, with its apparent ability to read the signs, face facts.

And a Christian political option in this polity, at whatever level, needs Christians citizens – inspired by a Biblical view of justice (i.e not a liberal-humanistic view, no matter how much both the Liberal-National and Labor public relations firms claim that they are “broad churches”) who will work hard at understanding the system of public governance we confront, the confused political traditions we necessarily inherit, and our need to keep trust with our fellow citizens as they too seek to promote policies that will deliver public justice for all.

BCW 8 February 2017