in service of the
Strange how fairy tales contain so much hard hitting truth! Two years ago Margaret and I took ‘selfies’ beside Hans Christian Anderson’s statue in Copenhagen. His best known fairy story about the tailor who tricked the emperor into believing his new clothes were of the highest quality while in fact they were nonexistent is hard hitting. Seldom has this fairy tale been more apt than in its application to the nonexistent Australian Federal Government energy policy.
It has been clear for at least a decade that like the industrial revolution and the digital revolution we are in the midst of an energy revolution which was initially being driven by environmental concerns, but which is now also being driven by the market and its inability to invest without clear policy One of the costs of energy production is pollution. A failure to cost pollution has seen Australia’s energy market living in a la la land of stagnation. It is clear that for the sake of the planet energy needs to be harvested from the bountiful solar resources available every day, not from solar energy stored over millennia. It is also clear that technology that enables this harvesting is now and will increasingly be cheaper than 20th century technology based on fossil fuels. Talking about clean coal is like talking about dry water.
Why are politicians so incapable of enacting policy that will enable this revolution to serve both the environment and the economy, swiftly and efficiently? An obvious answer is the fractious and conflictorial state into which politics has fallen. When one side of politics proposes the other side automatically opposes. This is not how the Westminster system is supposed to work. Governments and Oppositions are not supposed to automatically shoot down the proposal of the other, but to hone proposals so that they serve the best, or ‘common interests’ of the citizenry. While this trend has many parents, there is no doubt that Tony Abbott accentuated this race to the bottom, both as leader of the then Opposition and then as Prime Minister.
Another reason why policy is so absent is because the energy revolution is challenging a sacrosanct fortress-like neo-liberal capitalist view of the world. The revolution will enable thousands, indeed millions of people to generate their own energy and not be dependent upon large stock market listed companies to deliver energy for them. It will enable groups of people in a street, suburb, or locality to share energy between one another. As we are seeing in South Australia it will enable a State to go it alone without dependence upon the Federal Government to enact policy, or the national grid to deliver it. Privatisation will begin to take on an entirely different meaning. Rather than meaning someone producing a product to sell to someone else, it will mean ordinary people capturing the energy of the sun for their purposes in a similar manner to the way we capture oxygen through breathing.
It has been clear for some time that the normal capitalist approach of privatising everything does not work in relation to energy for two reasons. The first is that energy is an essential commodity that lies above and beyond the right of any institution or company to have total ownership or control. South Australia is right to have decided to take public control of a gas fired power station to ensure that public interest within the State is secure from profit gouging in emergencies. The second reason is that privatisation is about profit, not about service. As we saw recently in South Australia, in an emergency a company will look to its profit bottom line in deciding how to respond to an immediate need, not to the public good. Energy is an essential service, not just another product.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the now unstoppable energy revolution will contribute to the enhancement of human life, not return it to the Stone Age as those on the right of politics have tried to scare us into believing in order to sure up greedy profiteering in 20th century technology.
It is also the reason why all stops should be pulled out to stop the Adani mine in the Galilee Basin. It is clear that this mine will do immense harm to the Australian environment not least potentially the Great Barrier Reef and for what gain? Yes there would be jobs in the construction phase, but we are going to put 1Billion of tax payers money into the railway and the Adani family are going to put all the money into the Cayman Islands. Let’s put those jobs into tourism and the renewable energy revolution.
It will not be very long before every new house in Australia will be constructed with enough solar energy generating capacity and storage to be self sufficient. Nor will it be long before people are fuelling their cars from electric energy produced in their own homes. That this is a frightening thought for large profit gauging companies is not a matter over which most of us, or the governments nationally or regionally, should shed too many tears.
On the 6th March an article appeared in the Australian Financial Review purporting to have been written by the high profile indigenous leader, Warren Mundine.
Read more: http://www.afr.com/opinion/columnists/jews-are-the-first-peoples-of-israel--with-a-right-to-exist-20170306-gurkqg#ixzz4ag0n6lro
The article is either written with an appalling knowledge of Israel Palestine, the history and culture of its peoples’ or it is written with the explicit intention of promulgating a ‘fake narrative’, a perspective linking the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Australia with the ‘struggles’ of the Jews; whom the article would have us believe have the right to claim they are the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Palestine, to the exclusion of others. The article is so appalling that I cannot believe that Mr Mundine wrote it. I assume it was written by a person from within the powerful Israeli lobby who sought the ‘imprimatur’ of a respected indigenous Australian.
The indigenous people of Palestine are Semites, those who speak a Semitic language, and have an unbroken link with the land over many generations. Some Jewish families are indeed in this category. However with the benefit of census data in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century we know the majority of these people, Muslim and Christian, are Arabs. Many of these people trace their ancestry back to groups such as the Phoenicians and Philistines who occupied this land prior to recorded Israelite history and whose current descendants have never lived anywhere else. Those who are definitely not indigenous are middle class Jewish illegal Settlers who have taken up villas in settlements across the West Bank and who have come from places like Sydney, Melbourne and Manhattan. These settlers and their ancestors have long lived in other, often western, nations throughout the world.
To link Jewish settlers with Australian indigenous people is awful from another perspective. In Australia we still have a long way to go to address the wrongs of the past and achieve appropriate acknowledgment, recognition and reconciliation. However we are on the road. On the other hand Israel’s behaviour towards the indigenous Palestinian population can be likened to the behaviour of white settlers towards the Australian Aboriginal people in the 19th century. Land is summarily confiscated without redress, olive orchards are bulldozed and livelihoods destroyed. Those who protest such privation are thrown into gaol. Yes Mr Mundine, there are acts of violence from Palestinians towards Israelis, as there were from Aboriginals towards the white settlers; violence that cannot be condoned. But the violence done to Palestinians, including Palestinian children goes mostly without censure, as it does in your article.
Whoever wrote this article for Mr Mundine should I suppose be congratulated for their cunning, but Mr Mundine should have been far more astute before allowing his name to be used in this way – presuming this is what happened. If Mr Mundine did author the piece himself, one might ask what his motivation was; and would he now accept an invitation from the Palestinian community to live with them in Palestine for 10 days or so to gain an understanding of their plight, who is responsible, and what responsible action from the international community might look like.
The article is mischievously misleading in other ways. Let me touch on one more – the recognition of Israel. It is true that the military wing of Hamas does not and will not recognise Israel’s right to exist, in the same way that a significant percentage of senior Knesset members are on record as saying Israel will never allow one inch of historic Palestine to become a Palestinian state. However all the peace talks since the Oslo accords of the 1990’s assume the existence of Israel and the recognition of its right to exist by Palestinian authorities.
What the Mundine article mischievously ignores is that Israel no longer simply demands recognition of its territorial rights, but that it is recognised as Jewish State. This new demand is obviously difficult to accede to for those non Jews who live in its boundaries, let alone for the Arab population of greater Palestine. Israeli citizens of Arab descent already have 40+ restrictions upon them that do not apply to Jewish residents. There is no single Israeli passport, travel papers, such as they exist for non-Jews, do not protect the traveller in the same way or even provide the same right of return.
England may well be for the English or France for the French, as Netanyahu argues to support his case, but no citizen of either country is discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity; under law all have the same rights. Israel cannot expect to be treated as a modern liberal democracy while it insists on the right to implement discrimination on the basis of race, nor can it expect respect as a civilised country when its actions against the Palestinians show all the signs of an apartheid strategy.
Trickledown economics was wonderfully parodied in Thursday’s Fairfax cartoon which depicted a rotund cigar smoking executive relieving himself out of the window of his multi story executive suite.
Those who promote the ‘free market’ as a universal and necessary force for good, look back to Adam Smith and his Wealth of the Nations, in which he argues that “self interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity”, as their ideological and philosophical corner stone. Smith argued that it is the self interest of the farmer and the butcher for their personal economic growth that provides the consumer with their dinner, not a desire to relieve their hunger. There is of course considerable truth in this statement.
Smith argued that ‘charitable activity’ could not serve the common good, common good was better served by self interest out of which economic growth would expand and all would benefit. Whether Adam Smith’s theory was right for his time is one matter, whether it is right for ours is quite another.
Nearly 230 years since his death, the world is a very different place. Smith’s theory relates to products and not so easily to services, it cannot operate in a situation of monopoly, or indeed of oligopoly such as we have with the four major banks. Nor does his theory work in a situation in which human well being is measured as much through access to education, health and communication as it is through creature comforts. These essential ingredients in human life, not to mention a wider need for security and environmental sustainability, must be shared in common and must be provided through some common legislated agreement - taxation.
There is sufficient truth in what Smith argued for us to agree that protecting and enhancing personal ambition, effort and reward is necessary. If this is called ‘capitalism’, then capitalism is a worthy tool.
However unregulated capitalism, championed by those on the political right for whom the individual is everything and society is nothing, can (and has) become a monster which treats wealth as sacrosanct and people its sacrificial servants. Smith would see this as a perversion of the outcome he intended.
Many of the wealthiest in today’s world do not in fact produce anything. The market has morphed from a ‘produce market’ to a ‘finance market’ where vast sums are made out of wealth, not production. Moving money around with certain margins, gambling on the ups and downs of equities and bricks and mortar, indeed of currency exchanges and interest rates, is not what Smith had in mind when his arguments gave rise to his title ‘the father of the Free Market”.
And so we come to ‘penalty rates’. The unregulated market has produced gross inequity, a situation which threatens to collapse the national economy. It cannot be right, fair or in any ones interest for literally a handful of people to have wealth equal to the poorest 50% of the nation. It cannot be in the interest of the nation for the chief postman to have an annual salary and perks in the multiple millions and it is certainly not in the nation’s interest for those who own property to purchase much more of it and for those who own nothing to be destined never to live in their own house.
The issue with penalty rates is not the rates themselves, but what they symbolise. The poorest paid are faced with a further reduction, while the economically advantaged continue to have their ‘entitlements’ protected: thus contributing more to the inequity that threatens to undo us all.
While Labor is playing a very dangerous game ignoring the findings of the independently established ‘Fair Work Commission’, the government is continuing to legislate for the protection of self interested wealth at the expense of the ‘common good’ upon which the very fabric of sustainable national life depends.
Now back to Adam Smith, was his argument soundly based or was there a fundamental flaw? Considerable debate swirls around Smith’s religious belief and commitment. While Paul Oslington wrote Adam Smith as Theologian and speaks positively of faith inherited from his protestant mother, I am less convinced of his grasp of the Christian gospel. The Christian gospel makes clear that blessing, contentment, even happiness is not delivered through the pursuit of self interest, but through being a conduit of blessing to others. We are hard wired to belong and our belonging is deepened through the blessing we are to our family, to others and indeed to the whole created order. The contemporary economic order is in urgent need of reform so that self interest does not prevail; indeed that it gives way to common good. The counter intuitive reality for all human beings is that our wealth and security does not reside in what we have privately siloed, but in what is communally and equitably enjoyed.
Benjamin Netanyahu – Hero or Villain?
Benjamin Netanyahu is about to make an historic visit to Australia. Should he come and how should he be received? Having just guided legislation through the Knesset ‘legalising’ the illegal: settler outposts on private Palestinian land; he has seemingly set in motion an unstoppable movement of theft which, taken to its ultimate conclusion, could deprive Palestinians of every inch of their ancestral land and establish Israel as a pariah state, a state devoid of morality or conscience. No wonder his President and Attorney General advised against it!
How does one get into the mind of the most extreme right wing figure ever to hold the reins of power in the State of Israel?
Born in 1949 he is the first Israeli Prime Minister to have been born in the State of Israel. Aged 17, in 1967 he fought in the six day war and was involved in many subsequent Israeli military operations. Clearly this experience has formed the person we see today. He believes in pre-emptive strikes. He looks upon negotiation as weakness. He understands military force to be the primary mark of the nation’s strength. He appears not to trust anyone or rely on anyone. It appears he uses military force as a political tool and relies upon the inculcation of fear in an ‘existential threat’ to gain the support and ongoing loyalty of his citizens for the extreme measures he takes. (see speeches in the lead up to the 2015 Israeli elections). What are the outcomes?
1. Peace talks. Peace talks since the 1990’s have as their foundation the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. These talks set the rough parameters for an eventual settlement of difference, outlined the issues that needed to be resolved and established a tentative timeframe. Netanyahu opposed the Oslo accords from the outset. While it is true that Palestinians shared misgivings about some of the details, Netanyahu was and remains trenchantly opposed to an outcome which cedes to Palestinians territory which might resemble autonomous statehood. He has said he supports a ‘two-state’ solution but refuses to enter talks in good faith that could bring about a just and peaceful solution. The pro-Israel lobby continually bleats that the Palestinians have been offered peace but have never accepted it. While it is true that Palestinian leadership has let opportunities for progress slip, Netanyahu’s attitude to the Oslo Accords makes clear that this accusation is false. Under Netanyahu’s leadership (he will soon become the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister in the nation’s history) there has never been open good will shown towards a just outcome. This situation also makes nonsense of insistence by the Australian government that the only way forward is for the two parties to enter direct negotiation. How can the Palestinians, conflicted as they are in their own political leadership, negotiate with an oppressor who views negotiation as weakness?
2. International Law The majority of the world has insisted, through the United Nations, that Israel abide by international law and that international law be the basis upon which eventual peace is secured. Israel is in flagrant violation of international law on three counts. First under international law the occupier must not move their own civilian population into occupied territory. There are now about 700,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories. For Colin Rubenstein (Executive Director AIJAC) to argue that “the settlements are not the issue” is mind blowing in its audacity. While it is true that the settlements occupy a small percentage (of the remaining 28%) of Palestinian land the reality is that they alienate almost 60% of this land. The connecting infrastructure which criss-crosses the whole of the West Bank is a no go area for Palestinians. The settlements also take Palestinian resources especially water. The plush new settlement condominiums are very well appointed and protected while the Palestinian towns and villages are left bereft of the very resources required for basic living. Israel controls the delivery of services and chooses to restrict Palestinian access to basic resources while enabling settlers to enjoy what might be called first world standards of living. Secondly under international law the occupier must protect the civil rights of the people occupied. This is not the case, in fact the reverse is true. The military occupation safeguards and protects the advantages and privileges of the settlers. A most grievous example is the manner in which Palestinian children are treated. Frustrated by their situation, children throw stones. They are summarily arrested, taken from their homes, often to imprisonment in Israel away from their families and lawyers. They, like all Palestinians are treated under military law not civil law and basic rights are denied. Last year a petition was passed around the Australian federal parliament asking that this stop immediately. Almost 50 politicians signed with virtually no signatures from the Coalition. Given the espoused Christian faith of many in the Coalition, how could this be? Thirdly under international law the occupier is to withdraw their forces as soon as it is practical and sensible to do so. This year marks the 50th year of occupation. While Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza, in reality Gaza is one large gaol with unbearable living conditions in what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis brought on by the blockade.
3. Recognition It is claimed by Israel and its supporters that the main stumbling block to peace is Palestinian refusal to recognise its right to exist. This is entirely untrue. Not only has the Palestinian side recognised the right of Israel to exist for many years, it astonishingly recognises this right over 78% of what was once (1920 -1948) the British mandate for Palestine. It is true that the military wing of Hamas does not share this recognition, but instead of nurturing Hamas’ more pragmatic political wing Israel’s insistence on demonization maximises conflict. It appears to suit Israel to foster conflict, even violence, for then it feels justified in its violent crushing of resistance, no matter the appalling collateral damage as demonstrated in the various Gaza wars. What is not fully understood however is that Israel has now taken the argument one step further, it demands not recognition, but recognition as a Jewish State. As is well known approximately 20% of the citizens of Israel are Arab. To accept the definition of Israel as a Jewish State is to accept different levels of citizenship in other words various degrees of apartheid. (Currently about 40 provisions limit the rights of Israeli citizens with Arab descent). If as Donald Trump now muses, there may be one State, then under this definition it would be legislated apartheid across the whole Palestinian territories.
Australian politics is at a crossroads in relation to Israel. Bi-partisan political support for a two state solution continues. If this policy has any meaning then both sides must be unequivocal in their stand against all settlements even to the point of boycott and sanctions. If there is no stomach for this, then policy must change to face the reality that Australia is dealing with Israel as a ‘one-state’ apartheid nation requiring the same sanctions as apartheid South Africa.
The spectacle of Scott Morrison dramatically flipping his prop, a lump of shiny black coal, to Barnaby Joyce at question time in the House yesterday was less than edifying because it pushed the ‘energy war’ into what Sir Joh Bjelke Peterson used to call a dry gully. Worse, a gully in which the fossil fuel industry will invest much money to keep the debate corralled. No surprise that Gina Reinhart has apparently bank rolled the arch-climate sceptic - Cori Bernardi, and no surprise that Turnbull is letting his ‘pit bull’ off the leash in an attempt to placate Bernardi sympathisers who might otherwise leave the coalition camp.
A more helpful prop might have been a video of disabled pensioner in Morrison’s electorate sweltering in 40+ degrees without being able to afford an air conditioner, or pay the electricity bill, knowing that there will be more and more days like this every year. Yesterday South Australia faced a 45 minute blackout, blamed by Morrison, Turnbull and the government on the unreliability of renewable energy. Neither Morrison nor Turnbull made any reference to the reason for the temporary blackout; increased demand caused by extreme weather, weather patterns that are intensifying with the warming of the planet.
There can be absolutely no backing away from the need to reduce emissions by transitioning to renewable energy, nor any backing away from the provision of a reliable base load. The two are not contradictory
Unintentionally SA is a guinea pig for the rest of us in this transition, What those with responsibility in government should be doing is putting their energy into dealing with the road bumps of transition, rather than kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry. (Funding of political parties by companies and wealthy individuals must stop).
A mixture of issues can only be solved by government on behalf of the people, and government should be held accountable if they are not solved.
· If energy supply is to be entirely privatised, profit rather than public interest is going to be the driving policy. If power delivery is exclusively ‘in the hands of the market’ the needs of the public will not override company bottom lines. It can be expensive to suddenly and temporarily generate increased base load. Who has the authority to ensure that available base load capacity is turned on? Yesterday Pelican Point, the SA gas powered generator, was not turned to its full capacity. Legally enforceable regulations are required to force energy generators to plan at least 24 hours in advance to meet energy needs which are usually meteorologically predictable.
· The cost of gas in Australia is artificially high because the price is tied to the highly lucrative international market. While gas is still a fossil fuel, it is not nearly as dirty as coal and government could legislate for the very considerable Australian gas supply to be made available for energy generation at a competitive price. Gas should be part of the transition mix.
· Transitioning in Australia will take place at varying speeds across our various States and Territories. It is essential that government work with the States and Territories to ensure that the network that links them is flexible and supportive. The inevitability of a progressive transition from fossil fuels to renewables has been known for many years. Supporting legislation to ensure that the transition is achieved with the least possible disruption should have been in place for years. It is still not in place.
· Because of pressure from its right wing, funds available to speedily develop 21st century technology for a smooth transition to renewables is being withheld by kthe federal government. A sad example was on display in the Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club when he extolled ‘clean coal’ as a future technology. The speech hinted that money dedicated to the development of renewables might even be diverted for this purpose. It was laughable if it were not so serious. Even if the technology were possible the clean/dirty difference would only be marginal. No serious attempts have been made to develop a technology for the sequestering of carbon, nor will they, for the technology would render coal fired generators non-competitive.
It is clear that the cost of energy is going to increase. It is also clear that the cost of renewables is decreasing because of improved technology and increased market share. Given half the cost of energy is its transportation from generator to customer, encouraging local and regional production, making use of local capacities in wind, solar, wave, tide, hydro and thermal makes a great deal of economic as well as environmental sense.
We do not need much collaborative evidence to reinforce the notion that we human beings are quite fickle. We can be quite loyal, but loyalty needs to be rewarded. If our loyalty to bank, sporting club, doctor, or political party is not returned with benefit we can quite easily change.
Loyalty to family is usually different. That loyalty can usually withstand disappointment and hurt. That it is sometimes unable to do so is the cause of the most acute personal pain for all involved.
What about national loyalty, loyalty that is necessary to undergird national harmony and the proper functioning of a civil society? If loyalty is to be possible beyond tribalism, a foundation needs to be in place upon which all might have confidence. This confidence is provided in Western democracies through the rule of law, an assumption that fundamental rights and principles are safeguarded equally for all. The rule of law is the provision that has enabled society to evolve from tribal allegiance to nationhood in much of the ‘developed’ world. In turn nationhood has provided prosperity and quality of life which could never have been possible in a combative tribal situation. This process in Europe took place gradually over centuries. On the other hand, tribal allegiance still prevails in many parts of the world making two party democracies impossible to achieve without the ‘buying’ of votes or allegiance from other tribal groups. The Pacific and Africa (and the Middle East) have struggled to develop loyalties necessary to make national boundaries work: boundaries created to suit the now departed colonial powers.
In Australia, Europe and the US we take nationhood for granted, but in doing so it is easy to neglect the pillars upon which nationhood is founded. One of those foundational principles is the separation of powers, especially the separation of the country’s government or political arm from its judiciary. If it should ever become the case that the civilian population lost confidence in the judiciary to deliver equality under the law, especially to those at risk, civil society would be on the verge of collapse. This is what makes Donald Trump’s recent belittling of the legitimate role of the judiciary so serious.
There are various reasons why Donald Trump is taking his country down a very dangerous path (relaxing banking regulations put in place post 2008 is another), making a nonsense of his claim that he there for ordinary Americans. However, his latest incursion into the field of the judiciary is one of his most dangerous. Anyone who disagrees with him is automatically insulted, but his reference to Justice James Robart of Seattle as a ‘so-called judge’, is extremely dangerous. It appears that Trump has no understanding of the pillars upon which nationhood is built and of the extreme danger of the nation’s political arm disparaging its judiciary, not least in Judge Robart’s case, a judge who is apparently highly thought of and is himself a Republican.
Judges are political appointments, but having been appointed they are sworn to uphold the law and in this case to uphold the provisions of the country’s constitution.
Comparisons are being made between this emerging situation (interference of politics in the judiciary) and Germany in the 1930’s. It is absolutely essential that with the freedom of the press being also under threat and ‘alternative facts’ being presented as a serious proposition, that the general population become better informed about the undergirding principles of our way of life that are now under considerable threat. Sadly this abuse of power is not restricted to the Unites States of America. The Israeli Knesset has just passed a law legitimising what had been illegal Israeli settlement outposts on private Palestinian land. This legislation has been passed against the advice of the Israeli judiciary and it’s Attorney General. In Australia we have endured a spat between our Attorney General and officers representing what we normally consider to be statutory and independent bodies.
I grew up post WW2 to be afraid of the political left - of communism. Today the pendulum has swung strongly in the opposite direction. All over the world the hard right is taking advantage of populist disquiet about globalisation, an invention of the capitalist West, to lead us down paths of isolation and false and misleading hope. From the recent past’s era of slavery and the spice trade those in power have become prosperous at the hand of those without power. Those without power or voice are no longer prepared to be shut out.
The world faces a future in which either more and more walls will be built, physical, social and electronic, to try and protect those who are prosperous from those who would like a share in the world’s wealth, or a world which is more equitable just and fair, protected by a universally accepted rule of law.
The present indicators are not looking good.
Is Trump to be admired, feared or pitied? Will he achieve what he claims he is setting out to achieve or will his actions increasingly make such ambitions impossible? I speak of course of ambitions for security and prosperity – “making America great again”. Can America become ‘great again’ by walling itself in? It is so ironic that the West, which invented globalisation for its economic advantage, under Trump now wants to shut the doors. Is the fear genuinely about security, or is it that the rest of the world wants to share in the same prosperity through migration of people as well as goods? Clearly globalisation is fine as long as the flow is in one direction.
In the Church we have a three year cycle which focuses in turn on each of the Gospels. This year is the year of Matthew and at the moment we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount. Trump could not be more at odds with Jesus in this famous summary of Christian teaching. In these chapters (Mtt. 5 – 7) Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the kind of strong man brutality on display by Trump is in fact weakness and that respect and honour shown in meekness and gentleness is in fact the strength that delivers the essential ingredients of human well being and prosperity.
No one seriously doubts the world faces a security problem, but does poking it in the eye make it better or worse? It does not take a massive IQ to understand it makes it worse. Following September 11, did the Iraq war make that region and the rest of the world more or less secure? Since the invasion on 20 March 2003, the world has been a demonstrably less safe place. Will excluding citizens from countries such as Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran make the world safer? Of course not. It is beyond dispute that the greatest resourcing of world terrorism since 9/11 can be traced back to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the former being one of the US’s most important economic allies.
Trump wants a special relationship with Putin, why? Would it not make far more sense to break with convention and forge a much closer tie with its long time Middle East foe – Iran? If terrorism’s roots are in the Middle East why not seek a closer relationship with the Middle East’s alternate power? Instead of poking those who seek to do harm in the eye, why not seek to forge a new relationship.
In terms of poking in the eye:
Would Trump’s penchant for insult and obscene ‘locker room’ talk help or hinder the fight against radicalisation in an atmosphere where the supposed sexual excesses of the West are claimed to be a provocation to followers of Islam?
Would Trump’s claim that Bush did not properly ‘finish the job’ and that he might well go back to Iraq and ‘take’ all their oil heighten or reduce recruitment to ISIS: this radicalised and perverted version of Islam that feeds on the proposition that the West rapes the people and resources of the Islamic world?
Would the outcome of Trump’s executive order that has prevented Iraqis, who risked their lives in helping the Americans in Iraq, from entering the US, help or hinder a perception of the US that it now abandons without shame anyone or anything that is no longer of any use to it?
And what about Australia, where is our voice, what have we to say? While Germany, Britain, and Canada have made it clear that the US is going down the wrong path ‘Turn around Go Back you are going the wrong way’: the Australian Prime Minister remains mute while Morrison, Bernardi and Christensen, the usual suspects with confessed Christian affiliations, seem euphoric about the direction Trump is taking.
Silence from the Australian Church is also quite deafening. The Christian community in Australia needs to be reminded that silence is acquiescence. Trump is taking the world down a very dangerous path, a path that is the very antithesis of the Christian path, of the Christian heritage about which America boasts.
This coming Sunday the Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 58. It is a passage about the dangers of self serving religious observance. It states clearly that any claim to religious righteousness that has no basis in justice, equity, and the care of the down-trodden is vacuous nonsense, despised by the divine.
May I quote a small section which follows a strong condemnation of self serving religious piety:
“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house..." (Isa. 58 6-7).
Has popular Christianity in the Unites States of America, sadly with tentacles deep within the Australian Christian community, become nothing more than self-serving vacuous nonsense? It must not be allowed to be. Hope lies in voices of reason amongst the wider populace, voices that are rooted in a moral code. These voices can and will ultimately triumph over the voice of a president, if that voice continues to take the country down a path of self destruction. Surely the Christian community has not vacated this space? I don’t think so. It is important for the Christian community in Australia to understand that protests and demonstrations which have been widespread over the US in these last few weeks have frequently been led by Christian communities in partnership with members of the Islamic community. Comfort given to Trump by prominent politicians sympathetic to the Australian Christian Lobby whose leader attended the Trump inauguration, should be discarded for what they are: unless they are transparently grounded in justice for the poor and oppressed and characterised by the virtues on display in the Sermon on the Mount.
In a recent article on the ABC Ethics and Religion site, ECAJ, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, takes a swipe at me and APAN (Australia Palestine Advocacy Network) for being anti-Semitic, but more significantly nails its own colours to the mast when it describes APAN as an ‘Anti-Israel’ network. The only inference one can draw from this statement is that from the ECAJ perspective, to support the rights of Palestinians is necessarily to be opposed to Israel.
It is hard to exaggerate the significance of this self revelation from the Israeli lobby which has considerable influence within Australian politics. You will remember that Australia was recently the only major country in the world to declare its support for Israel following the UN Security Council resolution which condemned the continuous erection of Settlements on the West Bank, inclusive of East Jerusalem. APAN has long condemned the building of these Settlements which are constructed at the expense of Palestinian land, Palestinian homes and Palestinians hopes. The continuous building of these Settlements has made hopes for a two-state solution forlorn. What can never be accepted would be the illusion of two states. This would be the case if what remained of Palestine were to be a series of non-contiguous islands of Palestinian population corralled into non-sustainable, non self-governable pockets of dense population, stripped of the dignity of realistic nationhood.
Because it fails to condemn settlement constructions the Australian government is supporting them by stealth. By default therefore it is supporting the eventuality of one State. The Australian government constantly applauds Israel as the ‘only liberal democracy in the Middle East”. To be genuinely a liberal democracy the rights of all residents have to be equal. This is not the case within Israel and it is far from the case on the West Bank where the advantages and privileges of the settlers, privileges taken by force at the expense of the Palestinians, are protected by the Israeli army against the Palestinian civilian population. APAN vigorously advocates for the rights of Palestinians on an equal basis to the rights of Israelis.
APAN does not oppose Israel. APAN along with many in the Jewish community, both within Israel and in the Diaspora, longs for an Israel that is a beacon of genuine liberal democracy, where the rights of all are equally respected and upheld.
This year will be the centenary of the Balfour declaration. Much will be written about this historic statement and its place in the history of the establishment of the Jewish State. I simply want to point out here that this declaration, which expresses commitment to a Jewish State in Palestine, does so only as long as the rights of the indigenous population are protected and upheld. This is what APAN stands for.
The statement of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry seems to imply that Israel has to trample on the rights of others in order to exist, otherwise why would it say that those who speak for the rights of others speak against Israel.
I therefore contend that APAN has a higher expectation for Israel than the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. I contend that Israel can and should exist without trampling on others, indeed, because of its many strengths, it can and should be a loved and respected neighbour that others would like to emulate. At the moment it is sadly many worlds away from this reality.
The 2017 Trust barometer by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, has documented a worldwide ‘implosion’ of trust. Ominously Australia has experienced one of the biggest falls.
While lack of trust in the Church, the Unions, and the Banks is clear and deserves exposure, I want here to talk about government, especially the Australian Government.
What is the role of government and why do we need it? The reason we need it is because we are social beings whose lives depend upon negotiated outcomes in the interest of common good, in the interest of us all. My interests are valid, but they must always be responded to in the context of wider society. So it is for everyone. The role of government is therefore to negotiate outcomes that are in the public interest. Debate about what is public interest it fair and right. There will always be a variety of opinions about emphasises and priorities. What is clearly unacceptable is government that negotiates outcomes, not in service of common good, but out of personal or political self interest, or out of the interest of a wealthy or powerful support group.
Sadly that is now apparently the norm. One of the fastest growing industries is that of lobbyists. I am in the Federal Parliament building two or three times a year. What most strikes me is the time allocated by politicians to lobbyists, not the needs of their constituents. As is well known, retired politicians more often than not find a new role as a lobbyist.
We are told that just 8 people have accumulated wealth equivalent to 50% of the world’s population. Australia is no different. It is a fact of life that the wealthiest have the greatest lobbying power. Disparity of wealth on its own is not the greatest threat to the world’s harmony and peace; it is the power that is exercised with it that is the greatest threat.
Today Australians do not believe government negotiates outcomes for the common good, but perceives that outcomes are negotiated for the wealthy who lobby. The mining industry has enormous lobbying capacity, but it is clearly in public interest that their self interest is not massaged. Australia and the rest of the world need to move quickly to renewables, for environmental and economic reasons. The banks have great lobbying capacity and so far have managed to restrict reasonable requests for transparency. We do not simply have an expenditure problem, we have a revenue problem. The big end of town has been very successful in their capacity to minimise taxation and maximise ‘creative’ concessions.
Another cause of the lack of trust in government is the factionalism which besets all parliamentary parties. Clearly deals are done to satisfy factional power rather than negotiate outcomes for public good. Factionalism for the party in government is always more serious than for the party in opposition, because it is only in government that policies can become law. It is abundantly clear that the present government is riven by its factional loyalties, particularly loyalty to the hard right faction which appears to have power out of proportion to its numbers. Unless or until the government governs without giving way to the conservative rump, trust will continue to wither.
What can or must be done.
1. Financial gifts to politicians or political parties from individuals or institutions must be outlawed immediately. Funding of political parties should come from the public purse on a pro-rata basis, administered by an independent body.
2. No retired politician should be allowed to become a lobbyist for at least five years after their retirement.
3. Democratic process must take the place of factionalism in political appointments.
4. Retired politicians should not be able to ‘double-dip’ the public purse. Salary associated with appointment to a public position by a former politician should be their only remuneration while that appointment lasts.
5. CEOs should be restricted to a salary without bonuses. This salary should be set at a specific percentage of the basic wage.
Trust is the oil that enables human interaction in both private and public life. Its absence creates dangerous friction. One of the outcomes of a lack of trust in public life is a rise in populism. Populism in politics is like teenagers being given charge of the family home. Teenagers are usually quite clear about their preferred options, but seldom think through the medium to long term consequences of those preferences. Such is the danger of giving populism power.
The political right must be feeling so grateful for the intellectual tour de force on exhibition from Bronwyn Bishop over the expenses scandal engulfing Sussan Ley. It is hardly surprising that cartoonists are linking the expenses scandal with the other scandal: Centre Link’s ham-fisted approach to those considered by the national computer to have received more than they should. Putting the two crises side by side, it appears that those in positions of privilege can receive tax-payer largesse on the basis of flexible rules, while those who are struggling are assumed to be cheating, even when they are doing their best with a few hours of part-time work that the national computer calculates against them.
Bronwyn Bishop has chimed in with the intellectual gem that it is all the fault of the socialists who are out to destroy private enterprise. I presume her remarks mean that if you take tax payer money to aid your private business this is to be lauded as a legitimate exercise in the much vaunted free enterprise known as individualism, whereas if you receive support because of obvious need you are somehow destroying civilisation as we know it.
When I was a boy growing up on a dairy farm up in the 50’s the reds were under all the beds and Epsom salts or Castor oil was the cure all for all complaints, including bovine maladies! In Bronwyn Bishop’s world individuals not only have the right to prosper, but they have this right at the expense of public or social equity. She surpasses her mentor Margaret Thatcher in claiming there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Interesting to read that Theresa May, Britain’s second female Tory Prime Minister, has publicly eschewed this nonsensical ideology. To dear Bronwyn, ‘socialists’ are the ultimate enemy.
Well, I have two responses to that. First, you will be very hard pressed to find a socialist (in the Karl Marx sense) in power or seeking power, anywhere in the world. The Australian alternative government as I understand their policies; is far from socialist. Russia and China have become two examples of rampaging capitalism, not socialism. It is remarkable that Russia, China, North Korea and the US appear now to have much in common. All of them appear to laud (or at the very least accept) ambition in their leader for dynastic favour. All appear to permit, excuse, or encourage their leader to make as much money as possible regardless of what appear to be obvious conflicts of interest. All appear to denigrate (or worse) any who dare to criticise what they stand for, and all seem to thrive on fake news.
Secondly, when Bronwyn Bishop speaks out of her phobia that ‘socialism is on the march’: in the Christian Gospel sense – I would respond “if only that were true”. But there appears to be little evidence of it, quite the contrary. Church leaders at the turn of the 20th century equated socialism with the Christian Gospel. What they meant by this was not that Christianity was camouflage for an economic theory, but that there should be an attitude within society that those who have much should not have too much and those who have little should not have too little (2 Cor. 8:15). In other words, the Christian gospel assumes a commitment within society that those with skill and ability should find fulfilment in exercising that skill in a manner which simultaneously enables their own flourishing and at the same time, the prosperity of society as a whole. It is anathema to the Christian faith that those who have should walk by on the other side when confronted with those in need. And yet that appears to be what we now do. It is not simply the domestic scene. This is bad enough. The prosperous are still not being made to pay their fair share of tax with multiple means available to them of minimising it. Unconvincing arguments continue to be strenuously made that schemes such as negative gearing are assisting the average mum and dad, when it is abundantly clear that the investment market is the prime reason why property prices continue to escalate and society is being divided between those who own and those who will forever rent. All of this while responsibility for the much vaunted ‘budget repair’ falls on society’s vulnerable. On the international scene our appalling decrease in aid as a percentage of our GDP, arguably the lowest level since WW11, should embarrass and appal all Australians.
No Bronwyn, socialism is not on the march, would that it was. What is very much on the march is a sense of entitlement from those halfway (or higher) up the ladder, a sense which appears not immune from destroying rungs below, so that others may not also ascend.