The Mass Media’s Balancing of Our Political Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BCW 2.8.17

 

 
 

Citizenship Reformed

Everyday seems to bring a new revelation of just how compromised our political system has become. It is not just the electors who are confused. Those elected, who should know better, are also found to have been skating on thin ice and in some cases have crashed.

We have mentioned the ongoing demise of the political party in this polity. Liberal, National and Labor parties continue to form political life as if these vital associations are but public relations firms for entrenching the political privilege of this “movers and shakers” of public governance. They have traded political education for a mess of propagandistic pottage.

We have revealed corruption at Local Government Authority level.

We have discussed the attack of three Government ministers on the judgement of the Victorian courts … which only showed they needed to resign forthwith for bringing the parliament and the legislation it enacts into disrepute.

We have, of late, analysed the antics of Government members over same-sex marriage and note how they are simply avoiding the difficult task of constructively forming national political debate.

And now, following the resignation of two Greens senators because of dual citizenship which our constitution forbids. we hear of more cases – at least two – of such violations which should require resignations from our country’s parliaments. Subsequent by-elections for House of Representatives seats may well tip the balance and we could find the Turnbull Liberal-National Coalition lose its parliamentary majority.

No doubt the newspapers and mass media will embark upon the discussion about the qualifications that a Parliamentarian has to fulfil – but in that sense the discussion of citizenship will too easily be narrowed down to whether a person qualifies to stand for Parliament. Of course, this issue of eligibility has to be discussed and justly coded but the political discussion should be a broad one about citizenship and what citizenship should entail for all of us in our system of public governance and not just for our elected representatives. That broader discussion is what this country needs because we have a constitution which pays lip service to a Parliamentary system of law-making in which those taking their seats are supposed to be the representatives of electors, namely the citizens. But we know that far too many citizens in this polity are left unrepresented in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth. And we suspect that the kind of discussion herein proposed is somewhat out-of-synch with political parties jockeying with the mass media in order to win the election next time round.

But it is most appropriate to relativize that political game to focus upon how, in this political environment, to renew genuine political discussion among citizens concerning the manner in which Parliament is and should be answerable to the citizenry. How should Parliamentary seats be filled? How can Parliamentary representation be reformed to ensure that a greater percentage of the electors are truly represented in its deliberations and the subsequent legislation? How can the political parties themselves retain their identity as genuine associations of a well-elaborated political vision of the future governance of this country? How can voters be more equitably represented in Parliament by applying an appropriate “Australian” embodiment of the principles of proportional representation?

There are many questions like this. Australia will needs new and genuine political parties – fired by genuine political conviction – so long as these parties can convince their own members, let alone those who might vote for their candidates, that their political vision and their legislative programme is worth losing elections for because they have it in view ti support the long-term reformation of public governance and political life in view.

Yes the discussions among indigenous Australians in response to the call of leaders from the Uluru convention – i.e. to have a representative body enshrined in the Commonwealth’s constitution -pushes us and challenges us in this same reforming direction – reforms to our citizenship cannot afford to ignore the ongoing political contributions of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific Island citizens of this Commonwealth.

And so, as we as a polity think through the demands and responsibilities of active citizenship, of political engagement in public governance and giving due respect to various political movements we find ourselves discussing Australia’s future in the South West Pacific.

And here, another dimension of the political vision of Nurturing Justice comes into view. It is implicit in the various posts made over the last decade. A Christian political option cannot really be disclosed in Australia, as it needs to be unfolded as a positive contribution to public governance at all levels, without Christian citizens across the region of the South West Pacific coming to identify themselves as regional members one of another, and thus learning to support and be supported by each other. That means that Australian Christian political efforts need to be in an ongoing mutually supportive relationship across Polynesia and Melanesia, getting to appreciate ourselves as neighbours within this massive region of the globe (From Easter Island in the South Pacific to Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean we are a 17% part of the globe’s surface. With about 40 million (including the Papua New Guinea and certainly not forgetting justice for West Papua) we are tiny (half of 1% of the world’s population). But this is where we live. This is still our front and backyard and as citizens of this region we remain responsible for it. This is where our responsibility to love our neighbour politically with public justice is by God’s design to be lived out

And so the raising of the question of citizenship to prominence in public debate should, for Christian citizens, raise afresh the question of how we form our way of life politically to promote public justice as those who follow Jesus Christ:

For that person who would follow me it comes down to that person denying self and taking up his/her cross and following me. For whoever wants to save his/her life will lose it, but whoever loses his/her life for my sake will save it.…  (Luke 9:23).

BCW 28.7.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BCW 24/7/17

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  9.6.17

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