in service of the
Christians and the Federal Election
Christianity and Christians cannot be neutral or disconnected from politics. Christianity is an incarnate faith. While it rightly gives central place to personal piety, Christianity is, at its roots, a way of life deeply immersed in the world for its justice, renewal and transformation. It is so because God, who took human likeness in Jesus, is prejudiced toward harmony and justice and therefore is on the side of the poor and needy, the downtrodden and voiceless. The divine agenda is nothing less than the transformation of human society into one where the first will be last and the last will be first. Christians pray: thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
For this reason, at the forthcoming federal election Christians have a solemn obligation not to vote for blatant self-interest but to vote for a person or party they believe will be most inclined to serve justice and common good, a sustainable future, not just in Australia, but throughout the globe.
Those currently in power wish to remain in power, an understandable but not necessarily virtuous aspiration. They are encouraging us to believe the direction we have been heading is the direction that should be maintained.
Let me come straight to the point. I do not believe a Christian, in good conscious, can support a political party wedded to neoliberal capitalism and self interest. My reason is simple, it is that neoliberal capitalism is a construct embedded in a flawed philosophical and quasi-theological position which inevitably leads to injustice and is incapable of addressing the 21st century crises faced by humanity.
Neoliberal capitalism is born from a post enlightenment position that contends the individual and not community is the fundamental unit of society; and on a broader scale that nations and national interest (nationalism) should shape international life. It is flawed because humans are social beings. None of us can live alone. None of us are capable of true independence. We are all interdependent. We are who we are through others. Reflecting on the catastrophic slaughter of WW1, an international gathering of Christian leadership in 1920 contended that self-interest is the basis of human violence and disintegration and the greatest of all evils is national self-interest.
Neo-Liberal capitalism is founded on a quasi-theological position because of the obvious mutual interdependence, one could say marriage, that exists between the political and religious right. But the religious right is misleading its political friends and giving them false comfort. Priority given to individual identity is an entirely novel idea imposed by the religious right on scripture and is a novel thought to Christianity. Scripture contends we are as strong as our weakest members and that while each is unique, our uniqueness lies in the contribution with which we can gift the identity of the whole body. “Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members” is attributed to both William Temple and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. If there is to be a marriage between Christianity and politics, it must be founded on the idea that our interest is developed through investment in the legitimate interest of others and that national interest must serve global best interest.
Neoliberal capitalism was given a huge kick along by Thatcher, Reagan and Howard and exaggerated to absurdity by Abbott and Trump. The philosophy has meant individual rights have triumphed over societal good. Individual rights and needs are transient, societal good endures across generations. Neoliberal capitalism wins at the ballot box through temporary hip-pocket incentives at the expense of long-term policy and reform.
This flawed philosophy has resulted in the privatisation of much that should have remained in public hands – not least the port of Darwin. We have seen the consequences play out in, amongst other areas, aged care, the prison system, and the inability of the electricity grid to be made fit for purpose as we journey towards decentralised generation of renewable energy.
We have seen this flawed philosophy play out in the decimation of the public service. The corporate memory and skill of the public service exists to serve the common good. It is almost beyond belief that neoliberal politicians and especially the Prime Minister deride ‘non-elected experts’ and insist that they, partisan politicians, are the ones to decide strategies, the merits of which can only be properly understood through expert technical, scientific, or modelling analysis.
This flawed philosophy has insisted the market makes the necessary adjustments and reforms that society needs. If this is the case, why have government at all? But at least it goes part way to explain why the current government appears to have no reforming policy on any of the crucial issues that confront us. For the three years of its latest term the government has presided over a policy void.
The market does well what it is designed to do – make maximum profit at minimum cost. But the market cannot address the appalling pay level endured by aged care workers or the inaccessibility of housing. Nor can the market determine the support that should have been given to the Pacific Island Nations. These and many other issues need value attributed to them independently of the market, values that undergird societal good.
Ironically the market can now make a major contribution to climate transition given it is cheaper to use renewables than it is to generate energy from fossil fuels. (The government, feeling stymied that its commitment to fossil fuels no longer has the support of business or the market, now abuses the very market principles it espouses by subsidising fossil fuels to the mining industry).
Finally, the extreme end of this flawed philosophy and quasi theology makes place for and gives comfort to conspiracy theories. People such as Craig Kelly and George Christensen have been tolerated, even protected, within the government. Can the Coalition parties be political platforms through which Christians can invest their energy and commitment? Yes, of course yes. But this can only be so with integrity if those parties free themselves from the flawed ideology in which they are trapped by the extreme elements in their ranks.
Wanting social equity, an environmentally sustainable world for future generations, transparency and accountability in government, compassion and empathy for refugees and asylum seekers, a voice to parliament, should be cross party aspirations. That they are not, is shameful and the reason for the rise of independent voices.
At the federal election we, people of faith must be bold enough to stand up for the divine agenda made manifest in Jesus.
Easter: A New Thing
We like to think 21st century humanity is somehow superior to past generations, possessed as they were with less knowledge and sophistication, but the invasion of Ukraine tells us otherwise. The unspeakable depravity visited upon the Ukrainian people by Russian forces completely dispels any illusion we might have held that humanity’s intellectual evolving over centuries has flowed universally to a more advanced moral civility.
If we are honest with ourselves, we did not need the Ukrainian invasion to tell us this. Here in Australia, we have held some asylum seekers and refuges in detention for almost a decade. We incarcerate our indigenous population at rates hardly exceeded anywhere in the world. We enjoy a political system which scrutinises welfare recipients, but protects incompetence, even corruption, by legislators. We know that a sustainable future for the planet now hangs on a knife edge, yet here in Australia we would rather defend and prolong past harmful activity than invest in a sustainable future.
Two thousand years ago an enigmatic figure and his donkey made a short trip into Jerusalem. This trip and its fateful destiny had become an inevitability because his vision, and the power structures of his time, religious or secular, were on a collision course. His announced ‘kingdom’ and the way power operates were, (indeed are), irreconcilable.
For a while the crowd misunderstood, they thought he offered a similar power structure, but more powerful, one that was on their side rather than Rome. When it became clear this was not Jesus’ agenda their cry of ‘hosanna’ changed to ‘Crucify’. This misunderstanding, or worse, terrible misrepresentation prevails today. In the US the right of politics is filled with the halleluiah choruses of those who see Jesus’ mission fulfilled in Donald Trump, while it is reported that the Russian Colonel in charge of troops murdering civilians in Bucha was blessed by a Russian Orthodox bishop before he left for the invasion.
The sad truth is that we are all no different, we seldom seek a different way, we simply want a power structure that is more transparently mirroring our view of the world, rather than a way that seeks a civility embracing all creation inclusive of humanity: recognising that none should “think of themselves more highly than they ought to think”.
While claiming Christian commitment, it is clear the present Australian government has completely lost its way and should be defeated at the May election, we can only hope that its replacement will be less partisan, more consultative, and more transparent.
The events of what we now call Good Friday are well known. A man who had chosen for himself the title ‘Son of Man’ was made to carry his cross and face the fate of a common criminal. All humanity is embraced in his self-chosen title. He saw himself no more but no less than common humanity, the cross of all humanity is being borne here. This is the point. Ukraine reminds us that in the pursuit of self-interest and fed by prejudice and ignorance we all live lives but a hairs breadth away from criminality. Domestic violence, homelessness, a thousand dollar an hour salary for some and twenty-three dollars an hour for those who care for us in our old age; wanton disregard for habitat, etc are all part of the same spectrum.
This ‘Son of Man’ faced both the religious and politically powerful. Before Pilate he was asked “what is truth”? All humanity must face the same question, but most of us are too afraid, or too self-absorbed. What Pilate could not grasp was that the truth he sought was being lived out right in front of him.
While over the past two thousand years many saintly women and men, followers of Jesus, have understood and followed his way, in our time some have intuitively understood, while not outwardly calling themselves Christian – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Others, less well known, have also followed the way of the cross, like the Palestinian Mohammed El Halabi who languishes in an Israeli gaol because he refuses to confess to a crime he has not committed. A false confession would give comfort to his oppressors who wish to further disempower his people.
All of this is pretty grim, unbearably so if it were the end of the story. But it is not.
Good Friday gave way to an astonishing truth – love is more powerful. It cannot be vanquished. When there is light, darkness must give way. No matter what happened yesterday, today offers possibilities of a new thing. Today is a day never lived before and can be filled with grace. Easter is not primarily about an empty tomb but about the irrepressible presence of life, focussed in the Easter narrative on the one who is its source.
Isaiah, who is traditionally read in the lead up to Easter, speaks of the promise of a ‘new thing’. What he is referring to is not ‘new’ in the sense of never having been tried before, but new in the sense of ‘renewing’ that which has the power to make new.
In the Ukraine we have glimpsed this ‘new thing’ in the extraordinary generosity and courage of thousands who have provided safe refuge. We have seen it in the Ukrainian grandmothers who have shaken their brollies at Russian soldiers and told them to go home to their own mothers and grandmothers, and hopefully we will see it in a Ukrainian nation which will seek justice but not revenge.
Here in Australia, we desperately need to experience a ‘new thing’ and to hear its promise in the lead up to the May election.
Disasters and their opportunities
Covid, flood, war, are disasters which no counter narrative can disguise. They have brought, and are bringing, untold suffering and misery on so many people. And yet, is it not also true that they have within them the seed bed of possibility, something new, something fresh, something hopeful, something life giving.
The tragedy is that the opportunity may not be grasped by those who have the most leverage to deliver it.
The recent floods in eastern Australia have been ‘unprecedented’. They have been recognised, with those with eyes to see, as another graphic harbinger of a changing climate and the urgent need for changed human responsibility. As of this moment there is not the slightest indication that the Morrison government will do anything, invest anything, to meet this challenge. In response to the 2019 fires ‘he did not hold a hose’ and in the floods refuses to walk the open streets for fear of being told home truths by the people.
It is far too early to reflect on opportunity and change available when eventually the brutality inflicted on the courageous Ukrainian people comes to an end, but we can only pray that those with political power in the US, Europe, and Russia, will have vision and courage to enable a freer and more noble European order.
I want to reflect on the covid pandemic from personal experience and consider the opportunities it has presented to the Church. I hardly need to recall that the Church and the practice of Christianity in the Western world, especially Australia, has been, and is, in sharp decline. On first look it is reasonable to assume that Covid caused restrictions on gatherings has hastened this decline. Many, perhaps most congregations report reduced numbers.
Since the beginning of covid, Margaret and I have been spiritually nourished from two sources that would not have been there if it were not for covid.
The first has been the daily garden congregation emanating from Robert Willis, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral. Without missing a day, he has given an extraordinary daily gift to thousands around the world who have joined him. How he has maintained the daily gift in addition to all his other responsibilities, not to mention the need for personal refreshment and rest – I do not know.
Partly by accident, partly by intuition, largely through Godly inspiration he has hit on a recipe that works. That he is erudite, a fine musician, theologically and biblically scholarly, helps a great deal. Like all talented people he makes what he does seem simple when it most certainly is not. He settles himself somewhere in the Dean’s Garden, variously amongst pigs, turkeys, geese, cats and flowers, sunshine or rain, with a prayer book, bible and cup of tea. He starts with the opening of morning prayer from the prayer book, reads the set psalm, and a passage of scripture and then reflects. The reflection on the scripture is both scholarly and yet easy to follow, almost always there is an insight which may not have been apparent before.
He then goes on to reflect upon events or lives from the past that have an anniversary on this date, and in doing so brings relevance and insight to our contemporary lives. He also reflects on present day events most latterly of course the war in Ukraine. He concludes with prayer, silence and a blessing.
When he retires after Easter one can only hope that somehow this gift will have a continuing life.
The second resource has been the weekly or fortnightly gathering of people in our home. When covid began and gatherings were shut down, Margaret and I offered to keep contact with parishioners who live ‘north of the river’ in our Parish. The original list has changed, but now we have between 20 – 30 folk who join us – not all on the same day. !5 squeezed in once but mostly it is 12. Interestingly, a significant proportion of those who attend have not been, or would not otherwise be, regular Church goers.
Again, we seem to have hit on a recipe that works. We sit around an extended dining room table. Margaret decorates the table according to the season or the theme for the Sunday. Everyone lights their own candle opposite their seat. I do not wear robes, but my stole lies across the length of the table. We start with some music, a reflective prayer (often from a Celtic source), join in the prayer of preparation and I pray the collect for the week. Three pieces of scripture are read (responsibility for reading conveyed by email). I lead the reflection on the readings for 8 – 10 minutes. Everyone participates in the ongoing reflection for perhaps 15 minutes (on occasions it is much longer)!! We then pray, led sometimes by one of the others at the table. I celebrate the Eucharist, using various sources, often Celtic. Each communicates the person next to them. I then conclude with prayer and blessing.
With liturgy over, the table is stripped of it candles and decorations and brunch is served. Conversations follow from the earlier reflection and cross over to shared experiences of the week etc. By the time folk leave two hours have passed – on occasions three. Folk are constantly reminded that here they are participating in the life of the wider Parish, Diocese, and universal Church.
I share both these experiences to demonstrate that worship in a conventional Parish setting is not necessarily the only or even the best way of nourishing spiritual life in the contemporary world. The need for a spiritual dimension is widely felt, but the place to find it eludes most.
We all grow through participation. Participation is made possible through hospitality - in my first example in a garden and in the second, a dining room table. Christianity is not primarily or even secondarily submission to dogma – it is essentially about following a WAY, a way that has taken human flesh. Christians are nourished through Word that is spoken and bread that is broken.
The opportunity/challenge facing the Church is to find ways of offering a range of hospitable experiences through which people can grow spiritually – for It is a terrible mistake to think that the role of Christian leadership is to ‘do God for people’, people and God do their own business. Our task is to find, or create, hospitable and open spaces where this can be nurtured.
хай живе Україна (Long Live Ukraine)
There are no words to describe the utter depravity being inflicted on the people of Ukraine, nor indeed are there words to adequately describe the heroism of the people and their president. However, there were words, wonderful words, in the United Nations General Assembly last week from the Kenyan Ambassador to describe what is at stake here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-60603232
The ambassador spoke of his own nation and its national boundary, carved, and bequeathed by its colonial master (Britain). What he said of Kenya equally describes most African countries as they emerged from the colonial era. “These are not boundaries we chose” he said. He went on to say: “people on either side of the boundary are the same people”. One could say the same for West Papua and PNG, or indeed for most countries of the Middle East. Having said that, he went on: “while they may not be the boundaries we chose, they are the boundaries which exist and define us in the present”. Trying to return to a romanticised past would only create endless turmoil and conflict. Instead, Kenya and most African countries are committed to cooperation across their boundaries through the Organisation of African Unity.
Much is being speculated as to the motivation of Vladimir Putin in prosecuting this cruel war. It appears he has a romanticised view of what he believes to have been the ancient people of Rus, from which Russia and Belarus derive their names. He apparently believes Ukraine and the Ukrainian people to be indissolubly part of this family – as perhaps he does of other nations previously part of the old Soviet Union. There may or may not be vestiges of historical truth in this romanticism. However, the people of Ukraine now live in a very different present, a present from which they have no wish to be forcibly separated.
The war in Ukraine is reinforcing awareness of the awful danger in which we place others when boundaries are not respected. We learned this bitter truth in Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan. At a personal level we know its truth when personal boundaries are transgressed through abuse. Far too many people live diminished lives because their personal boundaries have been transgressed by others. On a global scale humanity is now reaping the consequences of having refused to acknowledge the boundaries necessary for the maintenance of a stable and a self-regenerating natural order.
The other side of the truth told by the ambassador is equally important – ‘those on the other side of the boundary are the same’. It is beyond comprehension that Putin and his army could inflict so much unbearable suffering on the Ukrainian people. If he genuinely believes Ukrainian people and Russian people are part of the same ‘stock’; how is it possible that he and his army can so indiscriminately hit schools, hospitals and residential areas and confine citizens within their city with no power food or water? What sadistic madness is at play here?
Respect through recognition of commonality must be foundational to a hoped for harmonious and peaceful world. Covid has painfully reminded us of our common, and vulnerable, humanity. None are superior or inferior. Greatness and weakness have potential within all humanity’s diversity.
It was Francis of Assisi who reminded us that ‘sameness’ and relationship extend beyond human boundaries. He referred to the sun and moon, animals, and plants, as brothers and sisters. We human beings must seek commonality not simply with all human beings but also with the natural order. Since the commencement of the industrial revolution, we have seen ourselves as ‘apart from’ the natural order over which we have sought sovereignty and control. Through natural disaster, the last few years have demonstrated how foolish this ambition has been.
In similar manner, Putin is being shown how foolish his attempt for sovereignty over Ukraine has been. Even if he gains control over cities through destructive force, this will not be over. Hopefully those around him will be wise enough to say that respecting others is strength not weakness, and bullying others is weakness not strength.
In the meantime, as we lift our prayers and direct our thoughts to the brave people of Ukraine, we would all do well to remember that respect for boundaries, wherever they are, builds trust and respect. At the same time, we must also remember that on either side of the boundary people are the same. The Russian people, themselves, must take their rightful place as significant contributors to a peaceful world order.
Religious Discrimination – Time for more open Dialogue
That people should be protected from discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender or religion there can be no argument. If there is a perceived legislative gap, it should be filled. However, none should be protected from observing the values, standards, mores, expected of all citizens, especially dignity and respect to all, from all.
The chaotic mess the government got itself into last week was not primarily because of a difference of opinion in their ranks about the rights of people of faith, but because the bill put on the table was not transparently about the protection of individuals from discrimination based on their religion. The bill had been drafted to suit the specific agenda of an influential group of lobbyists – the Australian Christian lobby. That this is the case was made clear when the prime minister announced he was withdrawing the bill from debate in the senate because the ACL declared it no longer fitted their purpose.
In the minds of many politicians, and Joe public, I am sure there is an assumption that by virtue of its name this lobby reasonably expresses the voice of Australian Christians. It most certainly does not. It speaks for a significant and very noisy minority with an obsession for judgement based on sexual orientation and gender. Living in this obsession they appear to find comfort and assurance about what is acceptable to God. It appears they think Christian identity and faithfulness can be demonstrated by their interpretation of a few biblical verses on human sexuality and gender.
There is even evidence that those involved with this lobby are involved in political branch stacking in certain coalition electorates in pursuit of their public and national agenda.
Let this fact be laid openly on the table.
While in 50+ years of ministry I can honestly say I am unaware of any discrimination because of my faith, clearly this is not the case for all. For some men, and some women, religious commitment is easily identified through dress code, which makes them vulnerable to discrimination. They must be protected. Some have suffered discrimination through association. This has particularly been the case for the Muslim community. Because extremism and violence has been perpetrated by some who claim membership of the Islamic faith all have suffered, as most tragically seen in the Christchurch shootings. Australia has become a multi-cultural, multi-faith society, but its history and tradition is firmly rooted in its Christian foundations. Care therefore needs to be taken to ensure that the needs, customs, and festivals of other faiths are both respected and given space for celebration.
In the relative privacy and security of faith communities, people of faith should be able to practice whatever tradition they like, as long as they do not break common law. For example, some faiths practice a hierarchy of male only leadership. However, people of faith have no right to expect that this, or like tradition, should be practiced outside their own community. If a community of faith accepts taxpayer money for the offering of health, education or welfare, that service should be subject to the expectations values and standards of the wider community.
What is even more problematic is the articulation of belief outside communities of faith which adversely affects the lives of others. A clear example has been experienced in this season of Covid. Conspiracy theory and antivax propaganda has many origins, but sadly such origin includes faith communities. Within such communities, people should be free to propagate and enact what they believe – again, as long they are not in breach of the law. Outside that community it is a different matter. Conspiracy theory and antivax propaganda undermines the health and security of the wider population. This is not an opinion, it is a statement based in scientific fact. The politician George Christiansen has the right to espouse these theories in his community of faith, but he has no right to do so as a politician using taxpayer funding. The promotion of theories or beliefs which put others at risk warrants no protection. Dylan Alcott tells the awful story of being informed his disability is punishment from God for past sins. The speaker has no right of protection, on the contrary the speaker should have been subject to appropriate, and if necessary, public sanction.
The broader Australian population has every reason to cherish and encourage communities of faith and their presence in all streams of public life if their motivation is to “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with their God”. (Micah 6: 8). For most such communities, I believe this to be the case and Australia is the richer for it. However, the legislation before the parliament last week did not come from such communities. It came from those which have agendas of their own to prosecute, agendas that clearly cause hurt, misunderstanding, and division.
It is ironic that if I have personally felt discrimination, it is because of being slotted in, by association, with such people in the mind of the public. “You are a Christian and you believe women should have no authority over men”. “You are a Christian and you do not believe in the priority of climate change”. “You are a Christian and you believe in creationism”. “You are a Christian and you believe all who do not believe what you believe are going to hell”. etc etc. It is my subjective feeling that parties on the left of the political spectrum have unintentionally discriminated against mainstream religion because they associate it with such ridiculous positions.
No, I absolutely do not believe such nonsense.
I believe that to know God is the human vocation. I believe that Jesus is the pathway to this knowledge. I believe we are called to follow his way and in doing so to cherish the lives of all for who they are, ‘straight’ or LGBTQI+, male or female, Malawi or Rohingya, Buddhist or Jew.
To be a person of faith is to say ‘yes’ to life. ‘Yes,’ to God. ‘Yes’, to all fellow human beings. ‘Yes’, to the earth that nourishes us. ‘Yes’, to this place, this time.
What was presented to the parliament expressed little ‘yes’ and an abundance of ‘no’.
Israel declared to be an apartheid state
This week’s Amnesty International’s report, declaring Israel to be committing apartheid will come as no surprise to those familiar with Israel’s systematic and institutionalised discrimination, based on ethnicity.
It further enforces the judgement already made by Human Rights Watch, the Israeli NGO, B’Tselem and Palestinian human rights and legal organisations. Nor will it be a surprise to hear that the Israeli propaganda machine was in full swing even before the report was released, claiming the authors to be guilty of partisanship and antisemitism. Nor will it be a surprise to hear that the Australian Prime Minister quickly dismissed the implications of the report saying no state is perfect and that the report makes no change to Australia’s unconditional support for Israel.
At least he is consistent: apparently reports of alleged abuse by friends and colleagues of the Prime Minster are to be treated the same, be they abuse and potentially corrupt activity by members of his cabinet, or serious alleged criminality by a friendly state – nothing to see here. We are appropriately quick to condemn ethic violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighurs in China, but apparently championing the rights of Palestinians is off limits.
The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, is correct to say no international court has, as yet, declared Israel to be guilty of apartheid, a very serious crime. However, the case has not been put to a court. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has agreed to hear the accusation that Israel and some Palestinian paramilitary groups are guilty of war crimes. It is urgent that the very serious accusation of apartheid criminality also be referred to the court.
If Israel is confident it would be found - ‘not guilty’, it should be eager to have the case heard.
Of course, it can have no such confidence - and knows that. Israel has enacted laws which entrench discrimination, including the 2018 Israeli New State Law. Increasing numbers of Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora, are courageously acknowledging that apartheid is the best and only way of describing the policies of the Israeli government.
The pendulum is swinging. The actions of the Israeli State will increasingly become subject to opprobrium, not simply from human rights advocates, but also from those who in the past have afforded the State unconditional support. Until recently support for Israel was a nonnegotiable badge of identity for American Evangelicals. The result of a recent poll shows that support for Israel amongst young US evangelicals has dropped from 69% to 34% in the period 2018 – 2021. Commentary suggests the most important reason for this extraordinary drop is that many of these young evangelicals have come to believe that Israel is an oppressor nation, a lawless state, squarely on the wrong side of human rights and social justice. Israel is now the villain, with Palestinians as the mistreated.
“The images of Israel that dominate the thinking of many young people are vivid and almost unrelentingly negative: hundreds of Palestinian homes bulldozed, and Palestinian buildings blown up. They see reports from various human rights groups of the excessive use of force by Israeli police and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) troops”, US based commentators say.
People are already making concrete responses to Israel’s behaviour. Protests such as the boycott of the recent Sydney Arts Festival, disrupting 40% of the performances, are going to increase, with a diverse section of society involved. When those involved are accused of antisemitism, frankly, it insults members of the Jewish community in the past, or present, who suffer, or have suffered, real and cruel antisemitic behaviour.
The long list of discriminatory practices that contribute to the apartheid label have been frequently catalogued.
So, what is to be done? Is there anything to be done? Yes, the following must be done, for the sake of Israel and its long-term integrity, as for the Palestinian people.
First, the accusation against Israel that it has institutionalised an apartheid regime, a crime in international law, should be taken up by the International Criminal Court.
Second, the paraphernalia of occupation must be dismantled under the supervision of the United Nations. Palestinians must be relieved of cruelty through administration under military law while the illegal settlers who daily harass them are administered under civil law - without punishment. This disparity in administration should have prevailed for a maximum of 12 months after the 1967 war, it has continued to exist for more than 50 years.
Thirdly, the Palestinian people must have a body that represents them. This is not the Palestinian Authority – it was only established as a 5-year interim administration to oversee the establishment of a Palestinian State. It has devolved to the point of merely being an instrument in the apparatus that is the Israel occupation. The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) was acknowledged by the Oslo process as the representative of the Palestinian people, and this must be supported, reconstituted, and revitalised. Fresh elections of this body could ensure there is representation for all Palestinian people – those in Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, those languishing in refugee camps and throughout Palestinian Diaspora.
Only when the Occupation has ceased, and the Palestinians have a truly representative elected body, can there be a foundation for true peace talks. Only then will there be some semblance of power and genuine authority for Palestinians at the negotiating table – currently we are asking Palestinians to negotiate without legitimate representation and with Israel’s boot on their throats. Meaningful negotiations of course require a respected international mediator who can help nut out the future in which all have the potential to flourish.
The future cannot, must not, be a continuation of the present. In the words of the 8th century BC Hebrew prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an everlasting stream”. Then and only then peace, security and flourishing will prevail.
The Crisis that is - Aged Care
Aged Care, and in particular, residential aged care, has been in crisis for a lot longer than simply the last decade. Staff must receive a pay increase in the range of 100% - yes doubled. At $23 an hour a 25% increase would be an insult and 50% insufficient. The cost and quality of training should also be reviewed. At the current level of reimbursement, the cost of training should be free.
Now I know I am not an aged care specialist, but it was my solemn obligation for fifteen years to head a Diocese with a significant residential aged care portfolio. This portfolio has since been relinquished in recognition that, despite best intentions, the Diocese was simply not capable of delivering the quality of care that staff, clients, and families rightly expect – most of all from a Christian institution.
There are a range of reasons for this situation, but the overriding reason is that we live in a society which over rewards CEO’s and those who work in industries that ‘produce wealth’ like finance, mining, construction, and real estate, and grossly under rewards those who work in caring industries, of which aged care appears to be the bottom of the pile.
At least two decades ago, when aged care wages were between $13 and $18 dollars an hour I made representation to various senior federal members of parliament – to no avail. In exasperation I said to one senior member of the parliament whose mother was in residential aged care, “does it seem right to you that the person who comes to clear your blocked kitchen sink is paid $60 per hour while the aged care nurse who feeds, washes and generally cares for your mother is paid $15 per hour”. Now, I am not wishing to challenge plumbers, simply to make the point that our society has a very unbalanced way of rewarding value for service.
It is quite scandalous that this situation has been permitted to exist for so long. Trained Aged Care staff exist on an annual salary well below $50,000. The totally incompetent federal minister for aging is enjoying an annual salary in excess of $350.000 + expenses. Some CEO’s enjoy benefits 100 times higher than the lowest paid in their workforce.
The problem extends well beyond aged care service delivery, it goes to the heart of how real worth is valued and rewarded in a neo-liberal capitalist society. In this society, our society:
An insane expenditure is being outlaid to purchase submarines for delivery in two decades, the rationale being they are to protect our way of life. Leaving aside numerous unresolved questions such as: will they ever be delivered, what is likely to be the final cost, will they work when delivered, and by then will they serve any useful purpose; the real question is, what is the quality of life we are wishing to defend? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which gross inequity is an accepted norm? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which it is the role of the poor to serve the care needs of all? Are we wishing to defend a way of life in which care needs are largely met by those on short term visas from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific because no Australian is prepared to work for such little reward?
The Guardian reports: “The Coalition has been sitting on a major report into the state of the care workforce in Australia since September last year and is refusing to make the report public”. The National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton was tasked by prime minister Scott Morrison in March 2021 to undertake an in-depth study on the factors affecting the supply and demand of care workers.
The report set out to examine the needs of the care and support workforce for aged, disability, veteran and mental health care, looking at “near term” and longer-term needs to 2050. Submissions closed in the middle of last year and the report was delivered to the employment minister, Stuart Robert, in September.
We simply cannot find it acceptable for those in caring industries to be treated so badly, and for those who have a vocation of service rather than an ambition for wealth to be taken advantage of, especially when monies are freely spent rewarding self interest in those well connected.
Australian nurse trapped in Ethiopian war zone warns the world: Children being drugged to fight on front line
1 Feb 2022
Australian nurse Valerie Browning AM, who has been living in the war-torn Afar desert in Ethiopia for more than 33 years, is warning the world of the atrocities being meted out to women and children where children are being drugged, handed a rifle and pushed onto the front line.
Valerie Browning is desperately trying to help civilians being injured, raped, and even tortured in the civil war tearing northern Ethiopia apart.
The former Australian nurse, who first moved to Africa in 1973 as a 21-year-old and stayed on permanently in 1989, is calling on the world to assist those who are helpless and urgently needing food.
“I am directly behind the front line in the Afar and watching as soldiers as young as 14 are being drugged with marijuana and pushed out stoned to fight other young fit men from government forces,” Ms Browning said.
“The soldiers from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the ruling Ethiopian government have been in conflict for years but it is heart wrenching to see these boys, who should be at school instead are being killed or captured and their dead bodies have hashish on them - sometimes tied to their neck and spare supplies around a leg.
“Long range fire power and Western-made tanks are destroying local villages. The fighting which recently restarted in 'Aba'ala now consumes 5 districts with well over 250,000 people now fleeing in many directions and finding it difficult to reach support.
Ms Browning runs the Afar Pastoral Development Association (APDA) which works to improve literacy for the Afar people, promote maternal and child health, eradicate harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and tackle the growing problem of HIV and AIDS. APDA has trained more than 1,000 local health and education workers, and village birth attendants.
“I can confirm that a TPLF female soldier wounded in Gaali Koma was brought to Dubte hospital and shockingly had an 8 month old baby with her. There have been several reports of mothers forced to fight on the frontline with babies strapped to their backs. All this is happening while the world remains silent.
“Rumours abound in this remote countryside that the TPLF are being backed by the USA. While I cannot confirm this we do note that much of the military equipment is marked and labelled in English. There is a tug-of-war in Ethiopia, just as there is in other nations around the world, between the USA, China and Russia all trying to exert influence.
“The best way to help is to broker a peace deal, provide food and water and stop the atrocities. Women with children strapped to their backs should not be armed with submachine guns. Children should not be drugged and pushed into the front line only to be slaughtered,” Ms Browning said.
“I have seen two children blown up by the long-range artillery firing on their house and they are now in Dubte hospital with bodies utterly burnt. Women have told me of being raped.
“In the last few days a woman ran out of the town of Erebti and she told me she made it with seconds to spare with her children and as she looked back she saw TPLF soldiers capturing women and children. Two journalists (French and German) came out a day ago from 'Aba'ala and told me of seeing the massacred bodies of 6 women and their children - they were people displaced from the town of 'Aba'ala and killed in the rural area.
There are many accounts of massacres and extreme brutality - my charity – Afar Pastoral Development Association - has now found the second of the 3 people we lost in Magaale. One is still missing and there is no real news. We continue to look but we are running to assist people now walking up to 6 and 7 days with no food.
In surrounding areas people are in a extremely weak condition and the numbers are growing rapidly - there are at least 5 areas APDA must reach partly by camel to rescue some of the so far 250,000 displaced people - trying to send food that needs no cooking.
“We are in a mighty struggle now to try and rescue these people - other communities gave camels to transport goods and so on. More than 2 million have fled the area and 5 million need food supplied. Why doesn’t the West care?
The huge difficulty is that TPLF are able to perpetuate complete violence with impunity on Afar since the world is totally silent...So much infrastructure too has been destroyed - water reservoirs, clinics, schools, people's houses and so on.
“I want to desperately shine a spotlight here in Ethiopia as this humanitarian crisis explodes,” Ms Browning said.
“Everywhere I turn I see starving women and children, injured civilians and soldiers needing critical care and they are just not getting the help they need. The world has shut its eyes as rebel soldiers storm onwards killing civilians.
“Recently a young mother of 4 children delivered her baby amongst the explosive sounds of artillery in Kalwaan. The stress led her to have a stroke, leaving this poor woman paralysed on her right side with little speech. She was put on a donkey cart to flee. They did not notice her paralysed foot was banging on the wheel and she sustained even further painful injuries.
“The world, including Australia, USA, China, Russia and the UK, needs to bring financial support and stability to the region. All our health institutions around the region have been rendered unusable. We need help! Ms Browning concluded.
Australia Day: a day for deep conversation
To dream of ways in which Australia and its people can see differently, and do better, is not to be self-despising ‘woke’ citizens, as education minister Alan Tudge would have us believe as he prosecutes the continuing cultural wars of the political right.
I am a proud Australian by adoption and so grateful to be living here. The multi-cultural, multi faith nature of modern Australia is very attractive. The ecology and openness of Australia’s topography is awe inspiring and within reach of all Australians. That Australia is one of a very few enduring democracies is to be much treasured and protected. Australia’s inherent suspicion of authority and yet its law-abiding nature demonstrated through the covid pandemic is to be admired. The 60k year cultural heritage bequeathed to recent arrivals by the country’s indigenous people is a gift beyond measure. The courage of pioneers in early days of white settlement and the courage of first nations people who cannot and will not allow their history, culture and tradition to disappear both deserve admiration.
These and many other aspects of Australian life are to be admired and celebrated.
Equally there are aspects of Australian life and history that need to be revisited.
It is a regrettable political fact that beating the drums of conflict, feigning aggression in the name of national security, is an election vote winner and a means of camouflaging more serious domestic ills. The brazen remodelling of the National War Memorial in Canberra, now underway, from a place of solemn commemoration to a military Disney land, epitomises the glorification of war and the economy of armaments. War is always failure, failure to negotiate, failure of the human ideal of peace. Australians should never have been involved in WW1, the war from which the ANZAC tradition springs. This war resulted from the ‘shirt fronting’ hubris of some European leaders and had nothing to do with addressing fundamental ills which had exhausted all other options. Had there not been WW1 there probably would not have been WW2, which emerged from the inability of allied victors to facilitate restoration for the German vanquished. Following WW1, the Allies carved up the Middle East to suit their economic and strategic needs and bequeathed to Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon divisions not of their own making, divisions and conflicts that are rawer today than ever.
Vietnam, the Gulf, Afghanistan, have been conflicts which caused great loss on all sides with no measurable gain. It is not only right, but a solemn responsibility to commemorate the fallen, but it is equally a solemn duty to unveil the circumstances under which they fell and the culpability of those who, from their relative security, sent them into harm’s way, or indeed retain the capacity to do so in the present.
Dutton, Tudge, et al, belittle and demean those who question current military strategic initiatives. But what do these gentlemen really believe AUKUS or some very expensive submarines are going to do to make the world and Australian life a better and safer place in 40 or 50 years’ time. We already know that any who would seek to harm us in the future will do so through trade and through already proven capacity to shut down the electronics upon which every aspect of daily life now depends.
That white settlement was established on a lie, the high Court has decreed in the Mabo case. This was not an empty land. That Australia’s indigenous were unrecognised as citizens well into the lifetime of many of us is a fact now hard to believe. That colonial papers in the 1800’s heralded the extermination of indigenous people in the same way one might herald the extermination of vermin is a truth about which we would prefer not to be reminded.
Until at least the prime ministership of Billy McMahon ‘assimilation’ was the official goal of government, a desire that indigenous people gradually become absorbed, without distinction, within European society.
What is now clear is that the cultural ‘gene’ of Australia’s indigenous is extremely resilient and perhaps stronger than the cultural ‘gene’ of people like me of British stock! (When all is said and done what are the enduring, let alone endearing, features of British identity apart from the fast we have given the globe its lingua franca! Our gene seems to predominate in competition rather than cooperation and judges success or failure through power or ownership.
As we know, Indigenous culture and identity is forged through unbreakable connection with country. Why would the rest of us not want to be imbued with such identity?
“Voice”, code for Indigenous recognition and influence, is not about reluctant but supposed magnanimous gifting of a right to indigenous that is not shared by all Australians. It is about enabling full indigenous expression in Australian life which will mean enhancement and enrichment for us all. In our ‘culture’ we see most things through the prism of owning or possessing, therefore if someone has something I do not have it means loss to me. Indigenous culture looks through a spiritual prism, not a prism of power and possession, we are all in desperate need of seeing through this prism.
For several decades Australian prosperity was derived from the sheep’s back. More latterly it has been derived from the conversion of the landscape into a quarry. In both there has been an assumption that wealth could be stripped without thought to the ongoing sustainability of the landscape.
In relation to agriculture, recent years have seen a veritable revolution in farming practice. Restorative farming is now widespread with evidence already in that not only can the land be rejuvenated - if it is given the space -, but that long term profitability follows.
The same cannot be said for mining. Even sceptics know that Australia is the most climatically vulnerable continent on the planet. Wealth from the extraction of fossil fuels brings current prosperity at irreparable cost to the future. Barnaby Joyce, you cannot be in favour of expanding fossil fuel extraction and sustainable agriculture. You have obviously chosen mining.
These and many other conversations need to be pursued amongst all Australians. I remain strongly unconvinced that 26th January is the day to hold these conversations. Whatever day we celebrate Australia, there is far more urgent business than beach, barbecues, and political platitudes.
The Sydney Festival, Human Rights, and BDS
Some topics have become so politically and emotionally charged that their very mention will cause the speaker to be subject to an avalanche of vitriol and assumed prejudice without any attention being given to the merits of the argument being prosecuted. The Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is one of those subjects.
The 2022 much loved and appropriately lauded Sydney Festival has received considerable publicity, not because of the quality of its events, but because of the disruption of more than 40% of the festival’s performances, with some 100 artists, companies and arts workers withdrawing in solidarity and in protest of the Israeli Embassy sponsorship for the Festival. Judith Lucy, Tom Ballard and Nazeem Hussain, amongst many others are boycotting the festival to protest polices enacted by the Israeli government which cause loss of human rights by the Palestinian people. By their action these performers have become active members of the BDS movement.
Some years ago, I was a speaker at a symposium sponsored by Manning Clark House and hosted by Phillip Adams, on the topic: ‘does humanity have a future’. Most speakers contributed from the perspective of science, but I was especially taken by one who spoke from the arts who observed: “civilisation is heading for disintegration when artists and artisans cease holding a mirror to the face of power and more particularly to the political elite”. Performers – artists, cartoonists poets, do not simply entertain, they command a stage as truth tellers, as veil removers. Blessed are those who take this responsibility seriously, and we should be grateful. Performers have every right to protest when their performance is compromised through association, in this case by the embassy whose government has initiated a system of apartheid. Through colonisation, confiscation, discrimination, and intimidation, Palestinians are forced to live under occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank in a world vastly different to that enjoyed by the illegal settlers who have appropriated their land, property, and rights.
Through the recent passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel laureate, and human rights champion, we have been reminded that the term apartheid can and should be applied to any situation in which gross inequality has become institutionalised as a direct result of governmental policy. This is the case in Israel/Palestine, and as such confirmed in the past year by Human Rights Watch and by the highly respected and US state department endorsed Israeli NGO - B’Tselem. Both independently concluded that Israel is practising apartheid. To say otherwise is to deny the truth. Tutu is famous for many sayings, but one is pertinent here: “to remain silent in the face of oppression is take the side of the oppressor”.
The Zionist lobby and its supporters fiercely attack the BDS movement, variously describing it as ‘vile’, ‘antisemitic’, ‘opposed to Arab and Jewish coexistence’, ‘desiring the elimination of the State of Israel’. None of this pejorative nomenclature is remotely true. What is vile is Israeli security forces standing by while settlers beat a Palestinian. What is vile is an Israeli family living in the home confiscated from a Palestinian family. What is vile is 2+million Palestinians living in squalor in the Gaza strip. What is antisemitic is apportioning the blame of Israeli governmental actions to a person simply because they are Jewish. The BDS movement opposes true antisemitism for the same reason it opposes abuse of Palestinian rights, and it is why many Jewish people support the BDS movement against the Israeli government.
The BDS movement would not need to exist if Arab and Jewish coexistence prevailed. Unfortunately, it does not exist and will not exist because of the stated policies of the Bennett/Netanyahu governments, both leaders having stated that not one inch of land will ever be ‘ceded’. to create a Palestinian state. The passing of the Israeli Nation State Law on 23 July 2018 stated that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” This confirmed the impossibility of equal and reciprocal coexistence. Since the signing of the Oslo agreements of the 1990’s Palestinians have not only accepted the right of Israel to exist but have agreed to do so based on Israel’s occupation of 78% of the historical land. BDS exists because for the past 54 years Israel has continued to take as much of the remaining 22% as it can, rendering a two-state solution impossible.
Those who rail against BDS which includes a significant number of Australian politicians of all colours need to face this question: “When people are oppressed and their human rights denied, what are their options and which if any of these options is acceptable?” It seems to me there are four possibilities. The first option is armed and violent resistance. This option was strongly eschewed by Tutu and is eschewed by the BDS movement. The second is negotiation. We all remember the White House lawn handshake that concluded the Oslo agreements. A Palestinian state was supposed to be formed within 5 years of that handshake in 1993! That was 29 years ago. The third option is simply to lie down and accept that subjection is one’s lot in life. This is of course morally wrong and dignifies oppression, but it appears to be the option the Israeli government wills the Palestinian people to adopt. The final option is non-violent resistance. BDS is one form of non-violent resistance. To deny or condemn the BDS movement is to condemn non-violent resistance and force subject peoples into one of the other two undesirable positions..
It is no secret that the Zionist lobby puts pressure on politicians to make support of the BDS movement an offence. The reason for this pressure is clear. The movement is effective. While the economic effect is probably quite minimal at this stage, the potential for economic damage is considerable. More significantly, reputational damage is much more costly.
The answer for Israel and its supporters is not to muzzle the messenger, to silence the blast of the trumpet horn. The answer is to address the reasons why the Boycott movement has emerged.
Back to the Sydney Festival. Long may artists and performers, including sports people, be a moral voice within the community. What has happened at the Sydney Festival may well be a watershed moment. Let me finish with a shout out to the many Jewish voices who are saying to the Israeli government ‘you will not, you cannot conduct oppression in the name of Judaism. You most certainly will not do it in our name’.