in service of the
What exactly do we need always to remember?
We do need to remember the valour and sacrifice of men and women who have given their lives and service in the name of peace and freedom. Both my grandfathers fought in WW1 and my father in WW2. We need to remember that freedom is indeed hard won; but harder to honour in peace time, when much effort by many people goes into self interest, greed, domestic violence and the avoidance of civic responsibility.
What we also need to remember is that wars are grotesque, futile, mistake ridden, and the cause of enduring sorrow. Lives are not only lost in war, they are lost in its aftermath as damaged lives find it very hard to adjust to civilian life. Arguably the only war worthy of Australian engagement was WW2. Nazi Germany presented an impossible threat to the peoples of the world.
WW1 was a war in which national and personal hubris dragged countless thousands into a needless conflict of unimaginable suffering and death. The aftermath of the war led to WW2 and in addition it has had enduring consequences in the Middle East a century later. Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories were created and carved up by Britain and France with their interests, not Arab interests, in mind. Half promises were made which could not be fulfilled, but which have set peoples with different hopes and expectations against each other. That Iraq and Syria in particular are caught in a seemingly unsolvable cycle of conflict can be attributed in large measure to outside interference that dislocated the fragile balance of centuries, at the commencement of both the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Vietnam War, The Gulf Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan have not contributed to a more stable secure and just world, in fact the contrary. The rise of ISIS or Daesh can be attributed in no small measure to the aftermath of the Iraq war when the Sunni population lost its voice and representation in most areas of the country’s power and administrative structures.
We need to remember too that war is a financial bonanza for one of the largest industries on the planet – the armament industry. The armament industry does not distinguish between friend and foe, a sale is a sale. Saudi Arabia remains a partner with the West in the arms trade, notwithstanding the reality that Saudi Arabia has funded some of 21st century’s worst terrorism.
It is a myth that Australian nationhood was forged at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, many other factors have been at least, if not more decisive. That war and its aftermath was a cause of considerable tension in the Australian community. Australian nationhood has been forged through its vibrant and enviable democracy; the federation of its fiercely independent states; migration; the principle of equality that emerged out of the struggles of the early settlers and the emancipation of the convicts; the courage, endurance and enterprise of the rural communities; and the regular triumph over natural tragedy of fire, drought and flood. All have contributed to the nation that Australia is today.
So why is ANZAC day, by default, Australia’s national day, far more significant than Australia Day, Easter, Christmas, or any other day? Perhaps, despite the continual reference to ‘Australian values’ by the Prime Minister and other leading politicians, the reason is we really do not know what Australian values are and fallback on ANZAC Day as a default position. ‘Mateship’ is thrown around as the great Australian value. But is Australian ‘mateship’ any different from the commitment Indonesians, Turks, Kurds, Greeks or Italians feel for one another. I doubt it. What about a ‘fair go’. I have learnt that in Islamic culture care for the needy and stranger is taken for granted. If there is food in the house, it is there for all. I am not sure that a ‘fair go’ is any more Australian than it is a character of other peoples.
My memory of growing up as a child in the UK is that scattered throughout the year there were many days that celebrated different aspects of our history, culture and values. No one day dominated above others. Remembrance Day was important, but not more so than other days of religious and civic significance.
21st Century Australia needs a variety of days to celebrate values, hopes and aspirations. We should have a coordinated day across all states which celebrate our multicultural and migrant past and present. Our multiculturalism is arguably our great strength; celebrating it with vigour should bury the prejudice, fear and intolerance of popular right wing politics and celebrate what makes Australia qualitatively and successfully different from virtually every other nation on earth.
We need a national day which celebrates the rich culture and history of our indigenous peoples. What has happened in the past is shameful, but we need to move on. There is so much to share and gaps that need to be bridged. Most Australians are shamefully ignorant of the challenges and disadvantages suffered by Australia’s indigenous and equally ignorant of the rich heritage we can discover through and with them.
We should have a day which celebrates the richness, diversity, beauty and fragility of our landscape. The continent is our greatest treasure; it is also our most vulnerable. A sustainability day could see trees planted, parks dedicated, green space celebrated, resources audited and national policies aligned to a sustainable future; the greatest legacy we can bequeath to our children and grandchildren.
Of course we should continue to celebrate ANZAC day, but it alone cannot focus our values hopes and aspirations, indeed it may contribute to a values vacuum based on a myth that Australian youngsters look for at Gallipoli as a rite of passage, while the real issues that will determine their future remain unattended.
The media feeds us on a diet of rather depressing news, indeed it appears not to be news unless it is depressing! Weather events, climate change, terrorism, the shenanigans of the White House, Mosul and Aleppo, drug taking, paedophilia in the church, the exploits of politicians and the housing crisis – is there any good news? Is good news too good to be true – is it fake news?
It can be argued that the Church and Christianity is in part responsible for fake news in the Western world. Apparently 40+% of Americans believe God created humans less than 10,000 years ago. If 40% of Americans can challenge evidence driven science on something so basic; then space is created for ‘alternative facts’ in any dimension of life. Many of the assertions of POTUS (President of the US) are clearly false, and yet remain seemingly acceptable to a vast number of citizens because he is allowed to claim what most would consider reliable facts, to be fake. If a culture is developed in which opinions, or assertions have the same value as facts, then anybody’s opinion is worthy of trust and subsequently of great disappointment.
So what of Easter; is it a myth concocted by a small band of disaffected men and women at the commencement of the modern era?
Space does not permit an examination of the many explorations of the evidence, of which there is plenty: most compelling of which being the extraordinary power to transform, this belief demonstrated in the lives of the early disciples. However, I would like to take a dive into ‘so what’?
One indisputable fact of life is its ending – death. An increasing number are fortunate enough to escape its arrival for four score years and more, but arrive it will. Because death is inevitable we human beings live in a transitory world coloured by death’s expectation. We accumulate resources as if ‘our life depended upon it’. We value that which is useful to us, often to the exclusion of others, then throw it away. We viciously compete for the domination of our ideas, our race, our religion even to the extent that we will go to war in the hope of gaining an advantage for the miserably short span of time we are here. We are victims of the ‘tragedy of the commons’: we will use and if necessary trample on that which is common to us all, for fear that if we do not then someone will get there in front of us.
These are traits with which we and all who have preceded us on the planet are tragically familiar.
But what if death is not the final word, what if it has been replaced with resurrection? This is not a thought redolent only with hope for the future (pie in the sky when we die), but a reality to transform the present. Resurrection teaches us that material and spiritual are intertwined with a shared destiny. Resurrection says that nothing of value is ever lost. Within the providence of God everything matters, every human life matters, but so does every plant, the earth itself, the air and the sea, indeed anything that we can conceive matters.
Easter is the ultimate celebration of life. Easter should make the thought of violent action impossible to conceive, for violence denies another human or another part of creation the flourishing that is their destiny.
Easter makes aggressive competition unseemly, for resurrection is life’s intended destiny for rich and poor alike; indeed claiming space for oneself that is denied to others, diminishes the prospect of this destiny. We cannot strive for a greater prize than what is already on offer – resurrection. It is the same prize for all.
Jesus is resurrection’s first fruit: resurrection is shared life: to be united with all living through him is to be truly alive, to be separated, like a pruned branch, is to die. Resurrection denies all duality.
The good news of Easter is not simply about an event 2000 years ago, it is the re-writing of history’s narrative in which death is not the final word: life and its celebration is. The Deuteronomic writer anticipated this Easter message when he declared “choose life”. This choosing must occur in matters large and small many times every day. To be generous, forgiving and hospitable is to choose life. To consider how one might add to the life of another is multiply life
To go to war is to deny life
To take advantage of another is to despoil life
To avoid responsibilities for the common good is to be dazzled with fool’s gold whilst surrounded with abundance.
To choose life is to love God with heart mind and spirit and to love ones neighbour as oneself.
A very Happy and Blessed Easter.
The Palestinian activist Bassem Al-Tamimi was issued a visa to come to Australia on 4th April 2017. While he was in Amman, the next day, waiting for a connecting flight to Australia, it was cancelled. According to a statement from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection his visa was cancelled on the grounds that: “The Department has recently been made aware of information that indicates there is a risk that members of the public will react adversely to Mr Tamimi’s presence in Australia regarding his views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East. Therefore, there is a risk that his presence in Australia would or might pose a risk to the good order of the Australian community.”
Al-Tamimi was ten weeks old at the time of the Israeli invasion of the West Bank in June 1967 and hid with his mother in a cave during the conflict. As a grassroots activist, he organized weekly demonstrations to protest the seizure of the village's well by the nearby Israeli settlement of Halamish, established in 1977. The protests regularly lead to clashes, with Palestinian youths throwing stones and Israeli forces firing on protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Since the end of 2009, 64 people (13% of the village's population) have been arrested.
Prior to his 2011 arrest, al-Tamimi had been arrested by Israeli authorities eleven times, at one point spending more than three years in administrative detention without trial. In 1993, he lost consciousness for eight days after being shaken during an interrogation, and required surgery for removal of a subdural haematoma. His home has also been designated for demolition by Israel's Civil Administration.
Al-Tamimi is an admirer of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and believes that armed conflict against a more powerful Israeli opponent will only bring disaster Al-Tamimi states that he advocates nonviolent resistance, telling a reporter in 2011, "Our strategic choice of a popular struggle—as a means to fight the occupation taking over our lands, lives and future—is a declaration that we do not harm human lives. The very essence of our activity opposes killing."
If Talmimi is unacceptable to Australian authorities it is fair to ask, who would be acceptable? Peter Dutton needs to explain how his decision is not discriminatory at best, and at worst, based on racial discrimination.
Why wouldn’t Talmini be exactly the person Australia should welcome with open arms because of his espoused commitment to non-violent resistance? Wouldn’t he help Australians generally to have a better understanding of the plight of the Palestinians? Perhaps that is exactly what the Australian government does not want us to have? It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the current Australian government supports violence and oppression of others if it suits what it perceives as ‘national interests’ and condemns it in other circumstance. Netanyahu was given an almost unprecedented fawning welcome by the Australian Prime Minister. Netanyahu has just announced the building of an entirely new settlement for 2,500 homes on Palestinian land, in flagrant violation of the December UN Security Council resolution which condemned such building. Australia has been typically mute in condemnation of this announcement.
What does Peter Dutton and the Australian Government expect Tamimi and his fellow Palestinians to do? – Applaud the taking of their land and the demolition of their homes? What would anyone anywhere in the world do – resist. That he is committed to non-violent resistance is much to be applauded, not shunned.
Shame on you Peter Dutton. Shame on the Australian Government. We claim we are an open liberal and fair minded democracy. Australians might well be, but clearly in the Australian Government we are served by Ministers who are far from decent, preferring to do deals with ‘friends’ who profit from others misery. Undoubtedly small numbers of right wing Israeli supporters, (this description does not include the middle ground of tolerant Australian Jewry who are appalled by Netanyahu’s aggression), would “react badly to Mr Tamimi’s presence’. But if this is the basis for such decisions, why allow Benjamin Netanyahu, or Geert Wilders, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Rodrigo Duterte, a visa?
In the Christian community we are trained to rehearse the multitude of reasons why we should live a life of thankfulness, when in reality one reason should be enough.
On rare occasions a situation presents itself as the mirror opposite. An idea, event, strategy, or vision emerges, so alien, that it must be resisted. Many reasons for this resistance can be mustered, but one would be enough. Such is the situation with the proposed Adani mine.
The more we learn about the mine and the consequences associated with its development the more horrified we should become. Indeed, horrified enough to engage in legitimate civil disobedience. Civil disobedience should rarely be invoked, but it is a legitimate right of protest when legislation legitimises harm to the community.
The mine presents a tangible threat to the health and well being of the Great Barrier Reef, a world heritage listed treasure that is already under considerable strain because of factors related to global warming. This danger should be enough to stop the mine.
Tourism is arguably the most significant employer of people in central and northern Queensland both now and into the future. Jobs associated with tourism are always going to be greater than even the grossly inflated approximation of jobs issued in the propaganda associated with the mine development. Any threat to these jobs should be enough to stop the mine.
Adani has asked for an injection of 1$B in tax payers money to build the necessary railway link. 1 billion dollars invested anywhere, in anything, will generate jobs. Investing 1 $B of tax payers money into a privately owned enterprise, without which it presumably is not viable should be enough to stop the mine.
It has been revealed that the Adani family have a complex network of funds and trusts, finding their way into the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. It is clear this enterprise will minimise the value of a common asset for the common good, in Australia or India, while maximising the benefit for one very wealthy and powerful family this should be enough to stop the mine.
It has been recently revealed that the Queensland government has inexplicably granted Adani unlimited access to water. This water will be partly drawn from the surface when it is available and partly from the Great Artesian Basin. This news has sent shock waves of horror into the farming community who will necessarily have their water security put at risk; and by those in proximity to the mine, who risk being effected by vast quantities of contaminated water. How such an arrangement could have been made is inexplicable and this should be enough to stop the mine.
It is accepted by environmentalists, scientists, economists and many in the business community that the age of coal is over. Coal will continue to make its contribution for decades, but will decline in significance as transitioning to a low carbon future accelerates. Now is not the time to commence a massive enterprise based on 20th century technology that for its viability needs to envisage its life decades into the future. The planet simply cannot take the added density of green house gases that this and other fossil fuel enterprises generate, without severe consequences. It is morally reprehensible to commence one of the largest fossil fuel projects in Australia when the mine’s potential contribution to global warming and its attendant costs is well understood. This should be enough to stop the mine.
The poor of the world must be empowered. Readily available energy is a significant component to this empowerment. Australia’s ballooning power prices should be enough to demonstrate that providing coal to a multi-national company, or cartel, is no guarantee that the poor will be able to afford the power connected to them in this manner. The poor need to be able to access and control their own energy production. Various sustainable energy technologies give the poor this capacity, as I know first-hand from the life of my sister in Ethiopia’s Danakil desert. The poor can enjoy many of the benefits of 21st century’s digital economy through simple, low cost renewable energy technology, over which they maintain control. This should be enough to stop the mine.
The Adani mine proposal is a very serious breach of trust. Its potential to misuse public resources in the present, let alone contribute to a far more dangerous future is enormous.
It is my contention that this proposal will harm Australia, its people, our environment and contribute to the destabilising of life on this planet. For this reason I advocate that it is morally appropriate, even a moral imperative to engage in actions of civil disobedience in relation to the mine’s development, should it finally be given the green light, as long as those actions do not put life in danger.
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.