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Australia Day – For some
The Prime Minister has made it clear that any conversation about a changed date for Australian Day is a distraction not to be tolerated. Why? Given the ‘statement from the heart’ and a more broadly accepted understanding that white possession following 26 January 1788 led to dispossession of the indigenous people, why would fair minded Australians not agree that another date is more likely to lead all Australians into a more nuanced understanding of our past as well as a more unified and respectful future?
It seems as if I am always picking on the Prime Minister. I sincerely wish it were otherwise. Not that it would be worrying him, for I am sure he has not read anything I have written, and like the unfortunate Matt Kean, has never heard of me.
I would love to understand where he is coming from, but this insight completely evades me. We share the most basic of narratives, the Christian faith, but where this has led him and where it has led me are two totally divergent paths. It is not that I think he sits more lightly to his faith than I, or that I sit more lightly than he, but while my faith has led me on a path of acknowledging good in what is shared or common, his faith appears to have led him on a path of understanding good in term of what is cocooned personally or privately. My understanding is that life is the sum of all other lives that have intersected with me – lives for which, as a consequence, I have become accountable and responsible. This is where Australia Day comes into my purview.
I came to Australia from Britain as a young 18-year-old to work on the land. I rode to work each morning past the Aboriginal settlement in East Armidale NSW, a reserve, home to the city’s indigenous community, the Gumbaynggirr. It did not occur to me that the people deserved more than pity for their circumstance: that their dignity, self-sufficiency, rich culture, and extraordinary knowledge had been painfully and systematically stripped from them over one hundred years and more. Added to this, I was later to discover the ancestor of my boss, Henry Dangar, had owned Myall Creek at the time of the infamous massacre and had shown zero empathy for the Kamilaroi people slaughtered by his stockmen. Further, he did his best to ensure justice was denied on the assumed basis that a white life was worth more than a dark one. I have been on a very steep learning curve during my 60 years as an Australian, which has meant a completely different attitude of mind. My argument is that while Australia has also been on this steep learning curve, our institutions, symbols, and iconic celebrations, have yet to catch up.
The annual pilgrimage to Myall Creek is now a rite of passage for Australians who wish to understand and absorb the complex narrative of white occupation. It is not a matter of having a ‘black arm band’ view of Australian history, as John Howard once described any attempt to better understand our troubled past. It is a matter of wanting to understand elements that shape our present, that we might be better equipped to forge a more inclusive, just and prosperous future for all. Why is it acceptable to live with consequences that have caused between a third and quarter of all incarcerated people in Australia to be indigenous? Almost every indigenous family has or has had a family member in gaol.
On16 August 1975 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a handful of Daguragu soil back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional landowner. He was reflecting the reality that Australia’s indigenous people have, and always will have, a place in Australian life that later comers can never assume.
I am firmly of the view that January 26 is not, and can never be, the best date to celebrate Australia Day. I will no longer participate in events slated for that day.
I have just read James Cook by Peter Fitzsimons. Despite being very well researched I am conscious that Fitzsimons loves to use imaginative flourishes in his telling of the story. Nevertheless, his depiction of the Maori deploying strong and at times violent resistance which ultimately led to the NZ treaty of Waitangi, is in stark contrast with Australia’s indigenous, largely drawing back from engagement thus allowing early legislators to erroneously base ownership laws on the lie of Terra Nullius. That this presumption was not overthrown by the High Court of Australia until the Eddy Mabo Case in 1992 indicates how slowly a proper understanding of indigenous rights and the honouring of indigenous culture and history has taken and continues to take.
It is no longer tenable for iconic occasions such as Australia Day to celebrate what amounts to the dispossession of the indigenous people. I know we dress the day with welcome to country and other overlays of indigenous culture, but the fact remains this is not the right day and never can be. Many other days would be more appropriate, such as the celebration of federation. But a simple solution could be no particular day, but one empty in the calendar such as the fourth Friday of a given month that can then be dressed with all the meaning that a modern, reconciled, multi-cultural Australia would like to clothe it.
I am not the only one who puzzles over the fact that the Prime Minister chooses not to be leader and prefers to stay in his old trade as a marketer. If you or I were Prime Minister, why would we not want to lead? There are several opportunities. Climate change is one, there is a wonderful opportunity to lead Australia into a technologically modern, green energy exporting, new job providing, vibrant, forward looking society. But no, he wants to keep us in a fossil dependent, asset stranded future, lagging behind the more creative new economies of the world.
The same applies with indigenous affairs. He has the chance to step beyond Gough Whitlam in leading us all into a future through which Aboriginal knowledge and culture enriches non-indigenous Australians: and autonomous, indigenous Australians benefit from all the resources of wider Australian life.
So Scomo, why don’t you lead? Is it because you lack the skill? In which case you should not have become PM. Or is it because your party does not want you to lead, requiring you simply to market a narrow and increasingly irrelevant ideology? If the latter, you are a captive not a leader. Civil society will increasingly need to fill the void until such time as a political leader from either side of politics attracts the imagination of the Australian electorate.
Conservatism, Beauty and Sir Roger Scruton,
The philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, the darling of contemporary conservative politics died on 12 January 2020 aged 75. Tony Abbott is reported to have said that if John Locke is the father of western political conservatism, Roger Scruton is its contemporary intellectual son. However, from their words and actions, it appears Tony Abbott and presumably his fellow right-wing fanatics never read, or perhaps understood, much that Scruton wrote or thought.
As Elizabeth Farrelly eloquently wrote in A beautiful life: this Tory was my godsend (SMH 18 Jan 2020), Scruton’s lifelong vocation and passion was his advocacy for, and love of, beauty. He judged beauty to be more than subjective aesthetic opinion, but an objective reality which redeems heals and feeds the soul. To Scruton a life without beauty is no life at all. The reason why Notre Dame is to be rebuilt, ISIS’ destruction of archaeological treasures in Iraq and Syria are so shocking and Trump’s threat to knock out some of Iran’s cultural treasures is so crass, is because such action destroys the very soul of individual and corporate humanity. In like manner the loss of Australian bush following the catastrophic bushfires is going to prove far more costly to Australian life than the loss of homes, shops and infrastructure, which can and will be rebuilt. Scruton’s view, for example, thoroughly justifies the courageous and successful attempts by RFS specialists to save the ancient Wollombi Pine grove in the Blue Mountains. Farelly’s example, as banal as it may sound, of table settings and the use and cleaning of grandma’s beautiful silver being as important as the food being served, makes the same point.
In contrast, when one looks at the lives and words of conservative luminaries such as Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Craig Kelly, George Christensen et al, one might be forgiven for asking “wherein does beauty lie”?
Scruton began his life as many (most) young intellectuals do, as a committed leftie. What changed his mind was the Paris revolution of 1968 which he judged to be ill-tempered and undisciplined anger, disconnected from rational thought, bent on tearing down what had been because of its failures, without knowing what to put in its place. Consistent with his passion for beauty, he wanted to conserve the best of the past that it might be sustained into the future.
This is the hub of the matter and where Abbott and his coterie of admirers have so misunderstood Scruton. He was a true conservative, and they are not. This can be clearly illustrated by Scruton’s environmentalism and his abhorrence of economics being given the seat of honour in political discourse.
Those who have read his Green Philosophy: How to think Seriously about the Planet (Atlantic Books 2012) will know that his commitment to beauty shines through, as does his understanding of oikophilia (p253ff). Roughly translated, oikophilia means love of house or home. Oikophilia, he argues, is the appropriate response to the challenges presented by climate science, which he accepts as a given. There is none of the energy sapping, nonsensical, intellectually moribund, ideologically driven, mining industry funded, stalling and undermining of policy which so tragically identifies the right of current Australian politics. Where I personally differ with Scruton is his putting of all his eggs in the basket of national patriotism. He argues that all human beings share an innate love of home, of place and that this natural love and desire to protect can best be activated by citizens working to protect that which is precious to them at home. He decries International treatises as worse than useless because, he argues, only those who have inherited centuries of law making (the Europeans) will honour them.
I strongly disagree. It is now clear that the Australian continent is more open to the excesses of climatic change due to global warming than almost anywhere else on the planet. To love Australia its beauty, its flora and fauna is not enough. If Morrison has anything right, it is his insistence that Australia, on its own, will not make much difference to the warming impacts that await us. Therefore we must use every lever available to us, to influence the rest of the world into accepting higher and higher emission standards. In recent years of Australian coalition government, we have done the reverse, used our best resources to weaken those aspirations. The love that very citizen of the world has for their native home is crucial, but it must be expanded into an equally passionate love of the whole planet, for like any organic entity we are as strong as our weakest point.
This brings me to Scruton’s understanding of freedom. The Australian right is besotted with the idea of individual freedom and rights. “Any form of authority needs to get out of the way to let the individual ‘get on with their life’”: as less than eloquently put by Barnaby Joyce in his bizarre Christmas Eve video message from his cow paddock. Scruton’s view was that freedom cannot be understood aside from authority. According to Scruton, conservatism is not about freedom, but about authority, and freedom divorced from authority is of no use to anyone — not even to the one who possesses it. To Scruton there were various levels of authority of which government is one, and not necessarily the most important. Authority is wielded in the context of family. No individual can properly enjoy the wonderful freedoms and fulfilments that family loyalty provides without understanding the authority that family necessarily demands of all its members.
The same applies to the natural environment. As long understood by the world’s indigenous people, the natural order has an authority which is ignored at our peril. This is what it means to be conservator, recognising the authority that history, legacy, family, beauty, the natural environment necessarily holds over all human life. The right wing behaves as if none of these authorities exist and that exploitation can and must happen, because economy (meaning wealth generation) must always reign supreme.
This brings me to the third point. Scruton was aghast at the right’s exultation of economics and the free market as the pinnacle of all human endeavour. He understood that all societies are bound by the laws of supply and demand. But he argued that what makes a society worth conserving are those elements of life that are outside pure economic understanding or valuing. This fact was again clearly illustrated by the recent bushfires. What evacuees took with them were not items of economic value, but items of personal memory and family identity. Scruton’s point is that an appropriate political mode of understanding and conserving the essential ingredients of societal life has been subverted by the language of economic theory - neo-liberalism. He argues this has led to a narrow, utilitarian understanding of politics, inimical to the more expansive organic conception of politics and society which is necessary if a society is to constructively evolve within a vastly dynamic and changing environment.
Sir Roger Scruton was an old-fashioned conservative, worthy of that name. Those who currently march to the conservative drum appear not to have read him or understood him. It is therefore fair to ask, who or what have they read? Where is their intellectual base? One can only hope that there is a more solid base than that of conspiracy theorists who label serious conservation, a left-wing plot.
How good are the fires
The country clearly owes a debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government for their sterling leadership, their visionary approach in vastly changed and challenging circumstance and for their assurance that under their leadership all manner of things will be well. There is no need for concern. How good are the fires!
Let me try to summarise the reasons why the nation should be grateful:
Thanks to the Prime Minster for coming back from his Hawaiian holiday. It is so reassuring to hear words of comfort like “Australians are resilient people, we have had bushfires before and will have them again, nothing to see here, this is all part of a normal cycle”.
Thanks too for linking the efforts of firies and a host of volunteers to the magnificent effort of the cricketers. The connection must be obvious for all to see.
Thanks for making sure that everyone is comforted whether they want comfort or not. Shaking hands or giving a hug to those who clearly do not wish to be touched might be considered assault from anyone else.
Thanks for the continuing assurance that while the government has always made the link with emission and climate change this is far too complex a crisis for any legitimate link to be made to the fires. Well, that is very reassuring. Of course fires are caused by lightning strikes and arsonists. Where I live on the coast it has refused to rain for months. Australia has been burning since the beginning of spring and where I live, we have been sucking in smoke every day for the last five weeks or more. Thanks so much for reassuring us that this is normal. I will probably fall off the perch before the long-term health implications affect me, so no need to worry here, let the younger generation look after themselves I say.
Thanks to minister Angus Taylor for complimenting Australia and Australians on how we are exceeding all expectations on emission reduction. It is so reassuring that he is minister for something that is clearly so important to him. The fact that we have recently done our best to sabotage a broader and more effective global alliance is clearly a misunderstanding and we should have every confidence that the minister who has a Rhodes scholarship reputation for fiddling facts on almost everything, is thoroughly trustworthy here.
Thanks for confirming what we feared, scientists, the reserve bank of Australia, fire chiefs, global consensus, the insurance industry, defence force chiefs, the business council of Australia, are all wrong. Climate change and global warming do not need to concern us, the little we might do will make no difference, so keep to present policy I say (in fact no policy at all), don’t worry about wiping out the tourist industry, or large sections of agriculture, or even Australia’s reputation internationally, all good here. (My overseas friends are saying international press are ridiculing our Prime Minister – how dare they).
Mr Morrison let me bring you up to speed with life where I live. On New Year’s Eve fires swept through our community with even more devastating consequence than three weeks ago. At midday with no power and no telecommunication we needed a torch to get around the house. Many of our friends have lost their homes, whilst business after business has lost their livelihood. The devastation is beyond words and almost beyond belief. And now the community faces the same reality all over again tomorrow. We are of course but a small microcosm of the whole nation.
The team of volunteers at our local evacuation centre that my wife coordinates comprise those who have themselves lost their homes. They struggle to cope. With the roads impassable, others willing to help cannot get in. With deepest respect, some members of the government department overciting the centre are beyond their capacity level in these circumstances. Too often the fall-back position is to rely on rules which should guide principle but not override need. We serve people not rules. Rules are of no value if they get in the way of service. More often than not needs fall outside ‘rules’. Meeting need is more important than rules.
One who has stood up as a leader is our local State member, Andrew Constance, he has had no smart words to offer, he has simply cried with his neighbours and is deeply respected.
Do I have hope, Yes, I have hope that young liberals, (who genuinely believe in and want to address the very serious situation we face), will oust the present crop of politicians and offer leadership which will restore respect and trust and take us down the path of new industry, technology and capacity. The time for fossils (human and mineral) is over. Those who occupy positions beyond their skill level should stand aside.
God so Loved the world
Looking back on the year 2019, one could easily be forgiven for being somewhat disappointed in global humanity’s lack of commitment to a harmonious future. Sure we have drawn more people out of poverty into an ever expanding global middle class, but as if to prove that economics or material wealth do not guarantee wellbeing, we seem again to have slid backwards on almost every conceivable measure of ‘peace on earth amongst people of goodwill’. In Australia it has been necessary to call a royal commission into almost every arena of the human enterprise, because of abject moral failure.
But amid a world which remains depressingly the same, just a little more sophisticated – the light of Bethlehem continues to shine – if only we have eyes to see, or ears that are keen to hear.
We are here tonight not simply to celebrate the most famous human birth in history, a birth upon which history pivots, but to immerse ourselves in the light first recognized by shepherds and Magi, and the truths it conveys. Summing it up, Paul was to famously write ‘there is much in life that is and will remain a mystery, but in light of Jesus three ‘pillars’ or virtues remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of the three is love.
For a short while tonight I want to focus on hope, that virtue without which the human enterprise collapses – for without hope there is only fear. Is there a reason for hope despite all the evidence to the contrary, well, yes? The fact that the birth of Jesus demonstrates that God is, was and always will be on the side of humanity, is itself enough reason for hope. This birth informs us that despite all the evidence to the contrary, every human life has equal value, that power ultimately lies in the hands of the just, that truth ultimately prevails, and as demonstrated by Greta Thunberg, a little child shall lead them.
This is where our hope lies and this is the gift not only that Christ’s birth brings, but that the Christian community is obligated to carry into the world.
So, what has gone so terribly wrong? Conflict or disharmony usually arises out of fear: most commonly that resources are too meagre to go around. Either those with more than their fair share initiate conflict to protect the advantage they enjoy, or those with little, engage in conflict to secure their basic needs; usually without success. Ironically as more people globally join the middle class, the greater becomes the prospect of conflict over resources which are, and always have been, finite.
In 1949, the year before he died at age 46, George Orwell wrote his prescient novel, ‘1984’. Orwell enjoyed a privileged childhood, being educated, like Boris Johnson, at Eton College. Unlike Boris he was a social democrat, fearful of power that can so easily slip into oligarchy - power exercised by a few through a deceitful populism. In his novel he imagined a time when every moment, almost every thought, of civil society would be monitored by the state – ostensibly for the peoples’ security. The state, Orwell imagined, would build and retain a constant state of fear by constructing and waging continual warfare in which there would be no distinction between international conflict and domestic considerations, for the former would be waged with the latter in mind. While I am the first generation not to have been called up for war, nevertheless we live in a constant state of warfare. Australia has been involved in almost every conceivable conflict going around for most of my life-time; and in addition, we frame domestic policy as war – war on terror, war on drugs, in doing so we justify what would otherwise be inconceivable, the incarceration of those seeking asylum and the criminalization of whistleblowers.
Western democracies, not just dictatorships, are framed by fear. Political victors this century have not been those who have convinced the public of the need for transformative change, but the party that has most ably convinced the electorate they should be fearful of the other side. We can budget for a billion dollar extension to the war memorial or multibillion dollar expenditure on submarines that may or may not be delivered in the 2030’s, but we are not able to find money to better manage our national parks or care for the elderly in our society, or transition to sustainable future.
Into this morass of fear induced ineptitude a remarkable and enduring shaft of light drills through the darkness. The light is clothed in love and inspires hope. Hope is the opposite of fear and dispels it, as light dispels darkness. A naked, vulnerable child is born in a stable. But this is no ordinary child, in him truth becomes incarnate, an invitation is extended, life is on offer. If material existence is all there is, as the commercialism of Christmas seems to suggest, life in its naked meaninglessness is laid bare. But the birth of Jesus says no, life is about relationships, connections, beauty, love and self-giving. To miss this is to miss everything
Here for a moment the invisible becomes visible, there is and always has been a plan, an intention, a purpose. Life is not simply a matter of fickle chance in the midst of which survival depends upon getting to the trough before others. No, life is about intimacy, vulnerability, generosity, hospitality and service. Those of you, like Margaret and I, who had for a while to evacuate our home because of the fires, had to choose what we took with us. Almost everyone would have chosen the same things, things of little or no monetary worth, photographs, journals and diaries, mementos of family and symbols or reminders of significant moments in life’s journey. The rest could be left to the flames, as ultimately it will be.
Because Christian hope is firmly fixed on the destiny to which we travel, it shapes the way we journey. Glimpses of this have been clearly on display as amid tragedy or disaster human beings have risen above their circumstance in selflessness and service. Glimpses will also be on display today as we gather with family and friends at a meal. While the exchange of gifts has its place, far more important are customs and rituals that deepen bonds of kinship and belonging.
“We brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” is solemnly intoned at funeral services. It is true - in part. It is true of wealth and material possessions, despite all the emphasis advertising and political promising place upon them. But we do not come into the world empty handed, we bring the DNA of our common ancestry, the striving, living and dying of all who have gone before us. We will leave behind our own footprint for those who come after. Who we are, what we do, what we become, matters. And that is not all, accepting the invitation inherent in the birth of Jesus, the child in Bethlehem, we journey into eternity embraced in the love of all those who have lived before us and who will live after us.
And now 2020 awaits. Its shape is not predestined, that is the remarkable thing about divine grace, we are left with the opportunity of our own shaping, for good or ill. May this light, which darkness cannot put out, keep us on a path that enables life to be celebrated in all its fullness.
Madrid, Christmas and Angus Taylor
Angus Taylor, now somewhat infamously, claims to have been a polemicist for the celebration of Christmas in his Oxford days, against the forces of political correctness that apparently permeated those hallowed halls. He was apparently a little hazy on the timing of Naomi Wolf’s residency, but is he any clearer about the message of Christmas?
The shaft of light that is Christmas makes visible in time and space, truth that we might previously be forgiven for not knowing. The truth is that giving, or sharing, or going beyond, maximises abundance whilst exploiting, conniving and taking, expands scarcity.
In Madrid, Australia has ignominiously joined a small group of self-serving nations to have voted for scarcity. We have successfully prevented an agreement that would have expanded the possibility of global trade based on lower carbon emissions, out of a desire to protect an accounting trick and not seriously commit to the minimalist target we have set under the Paris agreement.
What is doubly galling is that the Kyoto ‘credits’ (upon which we are relying) were achieved because of a Labour policy that the present government despised. Under conservative governments since then, emissions have been slowly increasing, as have global emissions
That we are not performing even more poorly is entirely due to private enterprise that sees market advantage in renewable investment and in States and Territories setting higher benchmarks, to the chagrin of the federal government
No longer can the federal government claim that we are of little account because our emissions are ‘only’ 1.3% of global emissions, our performance at this and other international forums has meant that global emissions remain infinitely higher than they would otherwise have been – and all in the face of Australia being on fire.
The more religious interests seek to protect the prejudicial and ridiculous, the quicker Australian religious identity will slip into a quaint niche minority.
Australia is a reasonably harmonious multi-cultural, multifaith society. We have not always been this way. We began as a white supremacist society heaping terrible prejudice and suffering on an ancient culture and its people, with consequences that remain unresolved. This was done out of arrogance, wilful ignorance and all too often abetted by religious small mindedness .
It is true that our inclusiveness has nurtured a culture of political correctness that lessens our capacity to celebrate difference. Signs that encourage the public to choose the bathroom that best suits their understanding of gender, and discouragement of language and symbol that define seasons such as Christmas are examples. But misplaced pc aside, what discrimination do people of faith need to be protected from?
It is useful to start with a distinction between faith and religion. They are not the same. Religion is a framework in which faith is nurtured. Religion is not the real thing – faith is. I am a Christian and a cradle Anglican. I am profoundly grateful for my Anglican home which has nourished me for nearly eight decades. I am the first to recognise that this home has strong cultural affinities, grounding me in literary, liturgical and historical roots that provide a deep sense of identity. If you like, Anglicanism is my ancestral home. But it also links me into a Christian community which is inclusive of other cultural identities, be they Ethiopian Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Arminian Catholic, or Scottish Presbyterianism.
Like all other human institutions, all religions are fallible. Terrible errors and mistakes have been and continue to be made. Charlatans abound. All human beings are flawed, the flaws of some are more obvious, or made more public than is the case with others.
Almost all religions rely upon sacred writings to ground their authority. For Christians this authority is the Bible, for Jews it is the Talmud and for Muslims, the Koran. These texts, not to mention Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian writings, hold some common themes as well as irreconcilable differences. To impose values from one or more of these texts on those outside that adherence, should be unthinkable – unless it can be shown that those values have become foundational to common human identity. An example might be the ten commandments, the last six of which have long been accepted as a necessary moral framework. Another would be “do unto other as you have them do to you” (Mtt 7:12), a variation of which is seen to be particularly Australian. Jewish sabbatical requirements, Islamic requirements of dress and eating, or a Christian understanding that a tenth of all income should be charitably given away cannot be imposed.
Great religious leaders have the capacity to speak to common humanity. Pope Francis and Archbishop Tutu have this capacity as does the Dalai Lama. Popes in the immediate past have lacked this capacity. When these men, or those of far less wisdom, speak to an issue specifically out of their distinctive tradition, then authority beyond the boundary of that tradition disappears. Difference arises because text offers difference in interpretation. It is not just that Protestants might read scripture differently to Catholics, it is that members of the same religious group can and do read text differently to each other. It does not help when some protest that text is infallible and therefore there is no room for interpretation. Spoken word, let alone written word, is open to interpretation. Some biblical texts stand in direct literal contradiction to others. The best way of checking meaning within the Bible is to read a specific text in the context of all other texts.
Religious freedom cannot mean a person has the right to quote religious text as if it is authoritative for the general public, especially when it is disputed by the speaker’s own adherents. This is plain nonsense. In relation to the Folau case, Mr Folau, was not even properly quoting text, he was reciting his version of a text. Religious freedom should not allow an adherent of any religion to speak or act in a prejudicial manner towards another Australian who enjoys protection under Australian law and custom Any text that implies or justifies discrimination against the LGBTQI is in this category.
Those promoting religious freedom protection look as if they are wishing to preserve perceived rights of discrimination in publicly funded institutions. (Within their own walls there is no restriction on saying or doing whatever they wish). These demands are in direct conflict with the obligation of the state to ensure that public monies are expended in a context where the rights of citizens according to Australian law and custom are upheld. An institution which refuses to enrol or admit a member of the LGBTQI community should cease all public funding. Similarly, an institution which provides health care and refuses treatment that would otherwise be available under law, should not be registered as a publicly funded institution. I would go further and say that an institution that teaches nonsense, like a short history of the world, or that children should not be vaccinated, or that there is an alternative to climate science, should be deregistered on the basis that these teachings are dangerously detrimental for all humanity.
Religious freedom must not entrench freedom to discriminate.
On the other hand, faith, that personal kernel and inspiration of life is not capable of being discriminated against. There are more than ample examples of those who have been imprisoned for their faith, suffered persecution for their faith, who have found strength even an enlargement of their spirit through such persecution. Nothing in Australian law or custom discriminates against my faith. I can worship where I choose. I can assemble as I please. As long as it is not defamatory, I can argue and write as my conscience directs. I can protest. I can march.
As I wander in God’s natural cathedral, the created order, there is no imposition that can restrict my sense of awe and wonder. If I want to stand on a soapbox in the city mall and express my voice, I can. Most important of all, nothing can restrict my personal times of prayer reading and thought. As faith grows stronger with years, but confidence in religious institutions declines, I see nothing that needs protecting, indeed, I can only see discriminatory protection of religious institutions being ultimately detrimental to their longevity. Religious institutions should rely on God’s grace and their own integrity as the only necessary protection.
Morrison Government you are a disgrace
NSW is alight, and it is still not the right time to talk about Climate Change!!!!!
What message of commitment did we have to give the world community in Madrid? - nothing.
Yesterday you said Australia is reducing its emission year on year. Your own department’s graphics shows this to be untrue. Asserting untruth does not make it true. How is it possible to believe anything you say?
This morning Margaret and I followed RFS advice and evacuated our home at Long Beach in the face of a large fire which will not be extinguished unless it rains. I am finding this emotionally such a challenge. Shouldn’t we stay and fight? At least should we not have stayed alongside neighbours? Most have left but some have stayed. For days we have watched the water bombers fill from the Bay, the air is constantly full of smoke and as I type all the fire sirens are going.
Let me tell you some stories.
One (widow) is staying because her husband built her the house and she wants to defend it.
Another neighbour, an Italian migrant, is choosing to remain. He left Italy because of the disgraceful leadership of Berlusconi. He is surrounded by trees under which nestles his beloved aviary. He will not leave his birds. He has contempt for Berlusconi but his contempt for Morrison is palpable. How is it possible, he asks, that Australia could elect as leader one who must surely know the scientific reality of climate change as well as absorb observable data, but still chooses to pacify his self-serving denialist supporters.
Margaret coordinates volunteers at the recovery station. (Our evacuation was in part to enable her to do this). When I arrived yesterday afternoon, I was almost knocked over by a woman leaving in tears and deep distress. She had apparently offered assistance to a woman who believed her home to be lost, but was unprepared for health and safety rules required of her in doing so. So often rules stop us from more flexibly meeting the needs of people in distress. I was so proud of Margaret for standing up for the woman. I can hardly blame Morrison for this, but what kind of country have we become that bureaucracy wins over compassion. I can blame Morrison for this principle in relation to medivac.
Yes, we are a country of droughts bushfires and flooding rains, but what is happening to us must almost shock scientists who may now feel their predictions are proving to have been on the conservative side.
Over recent years I have been sending messages of support to friends in various parts of Australia when faced with unprecedented climatic conditions. In 2003 we lived in Canberra and I became joint chair of the recovery appeal following the devastating fires. Observing the plight of others, you think you know what it might feel like, but until you are forced out of your own home, you do not really know. What must it be like for the hundreds of thousands world-wide for whom this is a reality, either because of natural disaster, or because of inhumanity?
As a Christian should I be more charitable to Morrison and his government, - less angry. No I do not think so.
Jesus was angry when he entered the temple and was confronted with the money changers, for they were misleading and diminishing the people. Our government is a motely group of money changers. They appear more interested in supporting financial enterprise, no matter its morality, business dealings no matter their environmental impact, trade no matter human rights violations, or budget considerations regardless of social outcomes: that is why it is a disgrace. To add insult to injury the department of environment has now been absorbed into the department of agriculture. If this is too harsh, Morrison, or one of your ministers, give me evidence worthy of an apology from me.
Government continues to insist its major responsibility is to keep Australians safe. Hey, wake up - climate change is our greatest existential threat. It is a far greater threat than terrorism. It is a social threat, it is a grave economic threat and yes, it is an environmental threat. How about you deviate a fraction of the cost of one of your never never submarines to fight a real threat?
We are appropriately lambasted at international forums for our apparent indifference. Morrison you are a disgrace for claiming we are doing much – in the context of our ability and size we’re not, and because we are perceived not to be, we have absolutely no influence in encouraging others to be more responsible.
If the evidence were not in. If we were too poor and therefore could not choose. If action meant putting thousands of Australian jobs at risk. If the task were beyond us for any reason. -------- Then I would understand.
But none are true.
We are in a better position to act than almost any other country in the world
Our not acting, and the world not acting will impact our continent more than any other
The long-term effect of not acting is economic idiocy.
All of this is a disgrace and an indignity inflicted upon all Australians
If my house burns Mr Morrison, you most certainly will be on the end of another blog, Nero developed an unenviable reputation for fiddling while Rome burnt. ‘Fiddling while Rome burns’ does not mean being literally responsible for today’s fires, it is an idiom for referring to a person(s) in power who is prepared to do anything other than what is important.
Peace on Earth, Good will towards all:
Tale of Two Jerusalem Prizes
The holy city’s name focuses the universal longing for peace: the hope, indeed the expectation that diversity and difference do not need to issue in animosity, injustice and violence, but in mutuality, enrichment from the other’s difference. It is associated with blessing from Melchizedek the mysterious the King of Salem to Abraham, ancestor, founder and prophet shared by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city is sacred to all three.
Last week there were two seemingly similar but very different prizes awarded, each with ‘Jerusalem’ in their name - the ‘Jerusalem Prize’ awarded by the Zionist Federation of Australia to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the ‘Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize’ awarded by Australians For Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network to journalist, author and film-maker Antony Loewenstein.
Which of these two prizes most honours Jerusalem and all that it stands for?
The first prize, awarded by the Zionist coalition, sadly projects an exclusive, intolerant Jerusalem. It rewards Australia’s support for the steady advance of the Zionist enterprise - the creation and expansion of Israel as an exclusive Jewish theocratic state. It rewards moves that have undermined the achievement of peace and made the overcoming of generational suspicion animosity and violence so much harder.
The latter prize honours one who has kept the dream of peace alive, one who has fearlessly advocated for the rights of Palestinians to live where they have always lived, and to be treated with civility and equality. This advocacy has not been against Israel but for a future in which Palestinian and Israeli find commonality through mutual flourishing.
The current oppression meted out to Palestinians flows over to Israelis for they too are diminished by acts of inhumanity. Peace restores dignity to oppressed and oppressor alike. The absence of peace is too high a price for Palestinians to pay, but it is also too high a price for Israelis to choose. Palestinians continue to pay a price for the creation of Israel that history cannot now reverse. But despite the pain endured by so many for so long, the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize keeps alive a vision of Jerusalem the unifier, Jerusalem the tolerant.
Israelis and Palestinians are both let down by inept and inadequate political leadership and by international failure to insist that Israel abide by international law. There’s little consensus on what justice would look like for the millions of Palestinians in refugee camps or blockaded in the Gaza Strip. Our Prime Minister is a politician who knows there are always at least two sides to a story, but in aligning himself with the World Zionist Organisation he is choosing one side, and sadly for a Christian, keeping the bird of peace firmly shut in the dovecote.
From its origins Christianity transferred universal hopes for peace from a place (Jerusalem) to a person (Christ). For a Christian, Shalom-Salem-Peace is a notion that is inclusive, without boundary. The Prime Minister must surely find any moves to exclusivity in this most international of cities utterly contradictory; not least because exclusivity makes victims of those excluded.
The Prime Minister’s assertion in his acceptance speech that “Israel is a beacon of democracy” is sadly without foundation. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently indicted for corruption including exchanging favours with Israeli media outlets. He has not stood down. Israeli Basic Law enacted in 2018 stipulates that "the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people" thus relegating Palestinians to inferior status. We don’t call a system democratic when citizens’ rights depend on their religion or race, nor when that State occupies another people denying them rights freedom and autonomy.
Two prizes have been offered almost simultaneously under what appears to be the same name (tellingly one omits the word peace). One prize was given to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and one to the Australian Jewish journalist and writer Antony Loewenstein. One recipient has honoured and comforted the powerful, the other has advocated the rights of those the powerful have down trodden. The latter is the one who honours Jerusalem, Salem, the city of peace. Bravo Mr Loewenstein!
Catastrophic Deficit of Leadership
Democracy in the western world is in deep crisis over a catastrophic leadership deficit. Reform requires policies that necessitate change. It is easy to elicit fear in the prospect of change. Good policy is either never presented, or is struck down at an election because whichever party is in opposition presses the fear button and wins the popular vote. Binary politics has become the death of democracy.
The deficit is most obvious in energy and climate policy (now is not the time to talk about climate change -Morrison), but is far from restricted to this arena. Political policy making lags so far behind the need for reform, it has become almost irrelevant to the big issues faced by contemporary society. In a previous age three estates, the Church, the Nobility and the Commons competed for their interests to be heard and preferably safeguarded. Media the fourth estate, has the task of making events and trends known.
What might those three estates be today? The commons, or civil society, must surely be the first estate, may I suggest, business and the business community the second, and government the third. In a democracy the ‘commons’ or the interest of the public should prevail. But is this the case? Notwithstanding the claim made by politicians that their first duty is to listen to the electorate, clearly this duty has limits. As noted in a previous blog, the voice of ordinary people, especially whistle blowers, is treated with suspicion, even animosity. As major issues continue to suffer from a policy vacuum this voice will not be shut down and will increasingly take to the streets, as recently observed with the student climate strike. Increasingly businesses will adopt moral or ethical positions on significant issues, as has recently been the case in relation to climate and gender equality. Politicians are ignorantly wrong in thinking they have the right to tell business to stay with money making and ignore deeper moral and ethical issues. It is probable that these two estates will increasingly work in partnership together. The interest of business must be aligned with the interest of the public. Government does all in its power to stop this growing partnership, for it perceives it to be trespassing on its own territory. While politics lacks the capacity, or the will, to fulfil its responsibilities, this collaboration will grow stronger.
Those who aspire to serve through a political calling almost always start altruistically in service of the common good, but inevitably find themselves serving the party and ideology with which they identify. Those who watched the recent ABC series Total Control would have been struck by the mirror that it held up to present practice and in particular would have some sympathy for the plight in which Ken Wyatt the minister for Indigenous Affairs finds himself, torn between the voice of his own people and the government’s refusal to listen to words that do not fit their world view.
Let’s have look at some of the most glaring deficits.
No one is under any illusion that even if Australia moved immediately to zero emissions, this action would, on its own, make the slightest difference to climatic change already the frightening experience of many. We are part of a global community in which greenhouse gases recognise no national boundary. That is not the point. So what is the point?
Economic and social policy:
Democracy will continue to be devoid of leadership while:
The Trump Administration
At best, the Trump administration is a somewhat mesmerising soap opera with seemingly endless sequels, but at worst it is a very dangerous regime undoing the very frameworks upon which international accord and trust depend.
Mutual trust and respect take a long time to build and can be instantly undone. We all know this at a personal level. At a national and international level, we may not notice frameworks being unwound until it is too late. Central to accord and goodwill is unequivocal commitment to international law. To rely upon international law, even demand its compliance from others, when it suits, and ignore it when it does not suit, has led to catastrophe and last century to two world wars.
Today, from the mouth of secretary of State Pompeo the Trump administration has declared Israeli Settlements in the Palestinian Territories are not in breach of the law.
The following is a statement on this matter from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network of which I am president:
The Trump administration’s announcement - that they do not regard settlements as inconsistent with international law - disregards the entire international legal framework for a just solution for Israel and Palestine. This is another attempt by Trump to re-write the rulebook.
Israel’s settlement building has the explicit aim of undermining the establishment of a Palestinian State, it is activity which has elicited world condemnation since the 1960s. Settlements are a clear breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions which prohibits the transference of civilian population into an Occupied area. This legal situation has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2016 the UN Security Council stated settlements are a “flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders”.
This is the third time the Trump administration has sought to demolish the UN framework for a just solution – their move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv disregards international consensus that Jerusalem is a final status issue recognising the national capital claims of both Palestine and Israel; and their announcement about the Golan Heights ignores it is Occupied Syrian Territory. The US is giving Israel a green light to continue to be an expansionist State.
Given our Prime Minister has acknowledged that “settlements undermine peace – and contribute to the stalemate we now see" (ref), we call on the Government to reconfirm Australia’s opposition to the Israel’s settlements.
Australia must be clear and principled in our commitment to international law. Israel cannot continue to seize Palestinian land. Israel cannot keep pushing Palestinians into smaller enclaves. Israel cannot continue a military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in perpetuity. And the Trump administration can't unilaterally re-write international law.
Australia must make a very clear choice and publicly condemn the Pompeo statement. In our region, particularly in the face of growing Chinese influence, we depend upon clear observance of international law. It is outrageous of a foreign power (America) to declare that the indigenous people of Palestine can suddenly be made homeless, that they are dispensable. If they are, then potentially all people are dispensable if they get in the way of national imperialistic or colonising ambitions. In Australia we have still to deal with the consequences of making the Aboriginal people dispensable. We cannot and must not join America in doing the same thing to the Palestinians.
Now is the time for Australia to tread an independent path, neither pro-America, nor pro-China.