in service of the
News or Propaganda
Kevin Rudd is not right on everything, but in describing the Murdoch Press and News Limited as a cancer on democracy, ceasing to be a news masthead, but morphing into a propaganda machine, he is absolutely correct.
Anecdotal examples are too numerous to cover. Most recently, following the results of the New Zealand election, the Australian proffered the view that Jacinda Ardern is populist and incompetent. Was this statement based upon the fact she is female, or a Labor leader? What gratuitous arrogance! In the view of many, inside her native New Zealand and throughout the world, she is recognised as one of few national figures to offer genuine leadership. Why? Because she has the skills to galvanise nationhood on the basis of ethical values: service, compassion, justice, equality, common good. The drivel emanating from the likes of Alan Jones, Rowan Dean, and Andrew Bolt is like water off a duck’s back to her. Qualities necessary in leadership are commitment to justice and common good, compassion, capacity to unify through diversity, strength and wisdom in the face of trauma and crisis, clear rejection of partisan self-interest and trustworthiness. She has these qualities in spades, it is hard to find sufficient other world leaders with the same qualities to cover the fingers of a single hand.
In a recent opinion piece supporting the return of Donald Trump, Greg Sheridan, the Australian’s foreign editor, suggested the reader should be afraid of a Biden presidency for a variety of reasons, one of them being his stated intention to enact legislation which would require the US to set a zero carbon emissions target within a timeframe set neither by politics nor neoliberal economic theory, but by science. Ridiculing or contradicting climate science has long been the mission of the Murdoch press, with undue weight given to ‘scientists’ promoted by the mining industry and charlatans such as Lord Monckton.
The Murdoch legacy will prove far more costly to future generations than economic damage left by the Covid pandemic. For far too long, Murdoch and his stable have sought to foster doubt about the science that lies behind the call for environmental responsibility in light of global warming. It has refused to accept the human footprint is the primary contributor to escalating climate change. Murdoch and his empire have successfully prevented the development of appropriate energy and environmental policy for two decades, through its championing of the extreme right-wing of Australian political life. The consequences of this reprehensibility are already obvious: loss of species diversity, uninsurable real estate, greater health risks, lost agricultural production, inadequate investment in green technologies, a power grid that is no longer fit for purpose, more intense weather events, etc.
Even minor figures do not escape the ire of this ideologically driven, rather than fact driven, masthead. In 2009, while living in the UK, I preached at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey to mark the terrible losses incurred by the Victorian bushfires. In the sermon I noted the obvious, the intensity of these fires indicated the growing threat of climate change through the escalation of severe ‘natural’ events. I was lambasted in the next day’s edition of the Australian and accused of hypocrisy by flying from Australia to the UK to preach. That I was then living in the UK was pointed out, but this did not extract an apology. The ideological convictions of the paper are always presented regardless of facts to the contrary.
Democracy should never be assumed as a given. It needs to be nurtured in every generation and renewed at every general election. The media plays a crucial role in this process. The strengths and weaknesses of all sides of politics need to be laid bare and policies scrutinised. The Murdoch press is ideologically committed to a neoliberal economic agenda and opposed to Keynesian intervention. For ten years the Murdoch press lambasted Labour for its ‘socialist’ intervention in the global meltdown of 2008, blaming it for consecutive budget deficits and giving absolutely no credit to the truth that this action saved Australia and Australians from recession and escalating unemployment. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, where the conservative coalition has been forced to intervene on an infinitely grander scale, the same critique is not applied.
The promotion not only of the Coalition but the far right of the Conservative Coalition is quite shameless. The headlines carried by the Murdoch press following the recent by-election in the seat of Eden Monaro would indicate that Scott Morrison had pulled off a stunning victory and wiped Labor from the map, in fact Labor won.
Democracy requires facts to be presented and possibilities weighed.
It is to his absolute credit that James Murdoch has parted from the family company because of these issues.
Scott Morrison loves to speak of the ‘Canberra bubble’. In this reference he appears to mean interest in, or examination shown, by commentators of agendas that do not correlate with his own. But I would ask, who lives in such a bubble, is the boot not on the other foot? Until Covid struck, I was a reasonably regular visitor to the Australian parliament. TV screens are ubiquitously present in public spaces as well as private offices. One might, not unreasonably, expect these screens to be tuned into the national broadcaster. Not a bit of it. They are invariably tuned to Sky News. Sky News has a miniscule public audience and yet it is the channel of choice of our political representatives as they seek to be better informed. Who is living in what bubble?
Murdoch, and his followers in the far right of parliament, are doing their best to destroy the effectiveness and independence of the ABC. All of this, not in the public interest, but in the interest of total dominance being given to the propaganda machine of a particular ideology. Should we be worried for the ABC? Yes, we most certainly should, but even more concerning, should these subversive and self-interested forces have their way, we should be deeply alarmed for the future of democratic processes in Australian public life.
Let the bells of truth ring out. The dominant news outlet in Australia has ceased to be a news outlet, it is a politically, ideologically driven, propaganda machine.
Corruption and NSW Politics
Not for nothing is the love of money described as the root of all evil
Western democratic processes are constantly in danger of being corrupted because lobbyists have undue influence on policy making. In addition, lobbyists are far too often connected to the political process through monetary donations, some being previous politicians.
One hopes that the not-for-profit sector lobbies for altruistic reasons, but industry and business lobbies to promote its own interest as notoriously demonstrated by the gambling, mining, and energy sectors. Most notoriously developers lobby out of greed, they are rightly banned from making political donations and should have no direct access to the political process at any level, least of all local government. The recent “Koala debate” was much less about agriculture and mostly about developers’ interests.
Too many politicians have shown they are corruptible because of their obsession with money, or worse, they are the initiators of corrupt activity. The taint is equally present on both sides of politics
In Defence of Premier Gladys Berejiklian
Sadly, there are few politicians, who, by the manner of their life, make it intuitively clear to others that material benefit is not a driving influence in their life. I am not a member of the Liberal Party, indeed am well known for being strongly critical of policies that emanate from the right of politics. However, in the Premier I see a person of integrity and one in whom I implicitly trust, notwithstanding strong disagreement in some policy areas.
It is not clear to me that those who have been most shrill in their condemnation of her bear in their personhood the same level of integrity.
It is clear Mr McGuire was not simply corruptible through his love of money, but that he initiated corrupt activity. Ms Berejiklian, like all human beings, deserves warm and secure personal intimacy. That her heart and trusting good nature led her to trust and keep company with those who were unworthy of the trust is deeply tragic for her and perhaps has lasting personal consequences. To multiply the tragedy by denying the State of one of its most competent Premiers would be to multiply the injury.
I am confident this experience will make the Premier more resolute to root out any form of corruption and it will hopefully encourage her to put pressure on her Federal counterparts to bring in legislation to establish an independent corruption watchdog at a federal level.
Eschatology and World Affairs
‘Eschatology’ (intended or hoped for end times) sounds a rather esoteric interest of religious elite, easily deleted from relevance by most of humanity – that is unless or until it intrudes dangerously into world affairs. A respected Australian diplomat reflected with me this week that Israel/Palestine has entered a post Oslo period dominated by religious eschatology.
What did he mean?
In 1993 and 1995 a way forward to peace and autonomy for Palestinians and Israelis was forged between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat known as the Oslo accords. From it a road map was developed which planned a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital. Piece by piece this hoped for outcome, initially imagined within five years, has been demolished, leaving little realistic hope of its fulfilment.
Religious eschatology has significantly contributed to this disastrous outcome, filling the void with suspicion at best, and hatred at worst.
Christian: I find it intensely embarrassing and very upsetting to speak of Christian eschatology that is profoundly reshaping Palestinian life under suppression and occupation. Surely it is none of our business? Right, it is not. But the simple truth is that Israel could not so boldly colonise the Palestinians territories were it not for support from the United States of America. Further, US support for Israel has little to do with Israel and everything to do with domestic US politics. The evangelical right believes the rise of ‘Greater Israel’, sovereignty over all the lands assumed to have been encompassed by the ancient kingdoms of Judea and Israel (Samaria) BC, will hasten the second coming of Christ. It is Trump’s reliance on the US evangelical right at the ballot box that drives him to be “Israel’s best friend” and supporter of all that Israel does to make a viable autonomous Palestinian State impossible to achieve. While it suits Trump politically to espouse Christian affiliation, it is clear that he has not embraced Christian ethics or morality, rather, in the mould of Emperors before him, he sees himself as a demi-god, beyond contradiction, endowed with divine authority – not least in this matter.
It is a matter of intense shame that this version of Christianity has tentacles in Australian life, including Australian political life and that gross human rights violations against Palestinians are tolerated or condoned in the pursuit of a sought after and desired end game that is believed to have divine sanction.
Jewish: It is undeniably the fact that the settler movement comprises immigrants from Europe and the US who have messianic designs that support and mirror misplaced Christian messianic hope. Palestinians are increasingly harassed and abused by settlers who tell them they (the Palestinians) are settlers on their property, that it is Jewish property. In other words, the settler movement claims the Palestinians who have lived there for generations are the illegitimate ones, not newcomers who have been given a privileged economic advantage to settle from another part of the world.
These extremist views now have an almost vetoing capacity in the Knesset.
Muslim: The Palestine/Israel impasse is not about religion but ethnicity, but religion is developing ominous significance. When I visited Ramallah for the first-time 20+ years ago the city was not as distinctively Muslim as it has now become. Of course, all Palestinians are not Muslim, there are clearly many Arabs with no religious identity, like citizens of every country throughout the world. It used to be the case that the Christian Arab population of Palestine exceeded 20 percent. Now it is barely measurable. In a visit to Palestine/Israel last year I met with two Anglican Palestinian priests who told me that being an Arab Christian is now infinitely harder because of pressure, even intimidation, from some sectors of the Arab Muslim community. One of the priests told me that he has reluctantly concluded the best thing for his congregation is for them to migrate.
While in no way excusing intolerance towards minority religious affiliation, I do in part understand the reason for the rising importance of Islamic identity amongst Palestinians. When you are oppressed, when human rights are denied, when identity is threatened, promoting identity which sets you apart from the oppressor becomes even more important. Palestinians are not fools, they know the oppression they endure is supported, even encouraged, by Christian fundamentalism.
And so, I find myself in reluctant agreement with my friend the Australian diplomat who claims the present situation in Palestine/Israel is being influenced by, if not driven by, religious eschatology. The ramping up of one brand ignites the ramping up of the other.
All of this must be exasperating to moderate Jews, Muslims and Christians who see the faith that is dear to them being captured for illegitimate and dangerous reasons.
It is especially exasperating to me because of the eschatology laid out in the last book of the bible the Revelation of St John the Divine. As the Bible begins with creation, it ends with creation. As it begins with the Tree of Life, so it ends. In this eschatology the whole created order is to be redeemed. We all belong together. There is no existence outside common existence. There is no life outside shared difference.
It used to be that Muslim, Christian and Jewish children played together in the villages and streets of Palestine. It used to be the case that adults tended the graves of one another’s ancestors.
It could be the case again. There is no other future. Many think we live in a much-improved world. Have another look. There is more division and polarisation than there used be. This division and polarisation is supported, promoted, by people in authority. Yes, in some respects the world of today is better than the world of yesterday, but in the all-important matter of harmony, justice, respect and goodwill, truth appears to have slipped from sight.
There is no future for Palestine or Israel in identities of exclusion. There should be no tolerance either for Christianity, Judaism or Islam if the contribution they make to world affairs is a subterfuge, smoke and mirrors, and conspiracy theory, particularly when they have in their possession an eschatological narrative that expects nothing less than the embracing of the whole created order, where difference is gift beyond measure within the embrace of the Tree of Life.
GEORGE BROWNING. Military and Economic Deals aren’t ‘peace arrangements just because Trump says so
‘Peace’ is not in the air, (Carlill, Canberra Times, 16/9). The deal done between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, boastfully brokered by President Trump, has little to do with ‘peace’, but much with military hardware and hoped for economic gain. The parties concerned have not been at war, it cannot be about that. Peace can never prevail while gross injustice persists, while one party occupies another’s territory, while one party inflicts gross human rights violations on another, while one party builds the apparatus of apartheid, and while the Palestinian people and their representatives are absent from the process.
This deal most certainly does not improve the plight of Palestinians, offer them hope or address their concerns. While the UAE has said it prevents the annexation by Israel of the Jordan Valley, Prime Minister Netanyahu denies this is the case and is already incrementally clearing the land of Palestinians and assuming sovereignty.
This is not a deal that brings peoples together, it is a deal done by four leaders with their self-interested agendas in mind.
Any deal done by President Trump that appears to favour Israel helps him with his domestic politics. He confessed the reason he moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was to keep his Evangelical voting base firmly behind him. Any deal that opens the sale of military hardware is also attractive to him.
Khalifa bin Salma Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain needs friends. He rules by fear. Two years ago he tried to extradite the Bahrain born dissident, Australian footballer, Hakeem al-Araiba and would have succeeded but for the courageous campaign launched by the retired Socceroo and human rights campaigner Craig Foster and the intervention of Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE is both President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. For several years, in partnership with Saudi Arabia, he has been waging war in Yemen and causing what many believe to be the worst human misery, currently on the planet. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are militarily supported in the delivery of this human misery by the USA. He would love to be known as a peace maker.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister has been desperately clinging onto power, while, despite many attempts, he fails to secure majority government. But even more critically he is desperate to avoid facing the courts with the corruption charges for which he has been indicted. Any publicity that might paint him in less malign clothing is gratefully grasped.
This is not about peace - this is about three Middle Eastern leaders and one US President keen to cement their power. Their need has brought them together, not peace, which in one form or another evidence suggests they disdain.
Israel has had the opportunity for full normalisation with 22 Arab and Muslim countries since 2002. The Arab Peace Initiative extended the hand of friendship to Israel, under the condition that it afforded Palestinians self-determination and rights as per UN agreements. This condition has not been met and this deal attempts to by-pass it. It is not hard to understand why Palestinians are critical. Palestinians are refusing to accept that the interests of others can be furthered at their expense.
Carlill (Canberra Times 16/9) argues that Palestine would be better served by pragmatism than ideology. In the 1990’s the Palestinians accepted a pragmatic journey towards a State of their own. The Oslo Accords planned a staged approach to autonomy within five years. Palestinians accepted the division of the West Bank with an understanding that no more Israeli settlements would be built on their land, that occupying forces would be gradually withdrawn and that their human rights would be upheld. The reverse has occurred. More land, houses, farms and orchards have been lost, Gaza is now blockaded, and Israel has unilaterally claimed Jerusalem as their eternal and undivided capital. Into this fray Israel has thrown its new Nation State Law which further erodes Palestinian rights and denies in perpetuity equal citizenry. It is Israel that follows a non-negotiable ideological agenda and expects Palestinians to be grateful.
There is only one path to peace, respect for universal human rights and the upholding of international law. There is little if any evidence that this path is high on the agenda of any of the four men pictured smiling together outside the White House this week.
There are no white doves flying here, no olive branch, just the ominous puff of smoke from a conflicted embryonic military alliance.
Anglican Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn 1993-2008
President, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network
A Class Action on Climate
An Open letter to the Minister for the Environment
The Honourable Sussan Ley
Minister for the Environment
I do hope you and the citizens of Farrer are managing as well as most to adapt to the changes Covid 19 has thrust upon us all and that the farming community in particular is looking forward in hope to the future.
Having now been a member of parliament for 18 years you are exhibiting more resilience as a politician than most!
I suspect you do not remember our first meeting in the early 2000’s. I do, because I was impressed by your open candidness, which I have frequently quoted. You said: “almost all parliamentarians enter the house with high ideals and with a burning desire to make the world a better place, but after only one term, returning to power at the next election becomes the sole agenda”.
The coalition has been in power for most of your 18 years in the parliament. During those years, the Coalition has appointed some extraordinary people in the environment portfolio. Extraordinary, not because of far reaching and imaginative policies for the protection of the environment, and a sustainable world for future generations, but because of gross negligence. I frequently corresponded with Greg Hunt while he held the Environment portfolio. To this day I still have no real idea why he was so obdurate on climate policy given his knowledge and intelligence. He opposed and ultimately brought down a version of the very scheme he had earlier promoted, namely making polluters pay for their pollution – a carbon tax. Sure, he had to answer to the monarch of climate deniers, Tony Abbott, but holding this position he should have felt obligated to enact that which he knew would deliver a genuine and much needed break through. I can only assume that power and ambition were more important than right policy. The less said about Melissa Price the better, I cannot think of a single initiative taken on her watch which furthered environmental responsibility and sustainability. On the other hand, I can think of several decisions which furthered the interests of the mining industry at the expense of the environment.
The sorry tale of neglect, of favouring ‘science’ funded by the mining industry, of championing the cause of wealthy mining magnates, of kowtowing to George W Bush on climate and other policies, of allowing the voices of Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly to represent the government and its policies, of allowing Rupert Murdoch not simply to report news but influence policy, and much more, is forensically outlined in Marion Wilkinson’s recently released - The Carbon Club.
Now, you sit in this somewhat weakened chair, responsibility for energy and climate change having been taken by Angus Taylor. Because of these years of irresponsibility and neglect, you and the government face a class action brought by a group of teenagers concerned that, at best, the government is not doing enough to protect their future lives in face of global warming, and at worst is enacting policies which combined with other activities in Australia and overseas knowingly sabotage that future. As the current Minister for the Environment and while not personally the target, you must respond. You cannot ignore the case they bring. With a clear conscience you must be able to say you are doing all in your power to safeguard their future. This is your solemn obligation as a parliamentarian. Given past performance by your side of politics and given favour that continues to be shown to the fossil fuel industry, you have an uphill journey ahead of you to be able to do this
How you and the government respond to this class action will be far more than symbolic. Will you simply be dismissive, patronisingly telling the youngsters that their future will be made more secure if they simply go back to the classroom, a tack the Prime Minister has previously taken – to his shame. Will you try to argue that one more coal mine will not make any difference, after all Australia is responsible for a tiny fraction of global emissions? Will you be more concerned to placate the climate deniers in the right wing of your party than care for the future of the nation’s young? Will you go along with Angus Taylor’s well-known capacity to fudge figures and say Australia is already doing all it should and more than most?
You know better than I that the National Farmers Association has joined with many other groups throughout the nation to insist that Australia reach carbon neutrality by 2050. My understanding of the science tells me that the target, as bold as it sounds, is not strong enough. But let us assume it is a politically achievable path, opening or expanding another coal mine is not going to achieve it.
In your maiden speech to parliament in 2002 you spoke of the need to balance good farming practice with environmental responsibility and of your perception, at the time, that rural Australia was bearing more than its fair share of the burden. Most farmers are environmentalists at heart, desiring to leave their properties in a more sustainable state, because of the farming practice they have adopted. The farmers that I know are the first to admit that some past practices need to change in light of better agronomy and a changing climate. But all to often pitting the rural community against the city is a false dichotomy.
The debacle in the NSW parliament this last week, instigated by John Barilaro of the National Party, falsely pits the rural community against the city. In their opposition to the “Koala policy” the Nationals are being thoroughly deceitful. They are not supporting rural Australia but supporting those who no longer wish to be farmers but want to cash in by selling their properties to developers.
I realise you Liberals disdain many of the actions taken by your National Party colleagues, but the truth is that in order to stay in power you have accommodated their position on climate.
I and thousands of others will be cheering on these youngsters and their class action. A stand taken because of a wasted decade by your side of politics. Why not be both gracious and courageous. Gracious in acknowledging the youngster have a fair argument to make and courageous in going to the next election with a policy to bring Australia’s economy to a carbon neutral position before 2050. In doing so we will rebuild Australian industry and competitiveness and provide a clear plan for the youngsters, post Covid 19.
Bishop George Browning PhD DLitt
 The Carbon Club Marian Wilkinson Allen & Unwin, $32.99
Covid Restriction vs Individual Freedom
To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. Nelson Mandela
As we all become more and more frustrated with various levels of ‘lockdown’, debate is escalating about the virtues, economics, and politics of Covid restrictions imposed in the name of community health. This debate hit a predictably low point through the mouth of Tony Abbott who, quoting far right conspiracy theorists, accused Dan Andrews of establishing a ‘Health Dictatorship’. Only he could confirm or deny he is a member of QAnon, but it is language beloved of this far-right group.
Presumably, Tony Abbott and others with the same mindset on Sky News, believe that freedom is the capacity to do whatever you please, without restriction. Notoriously this freedom includes the right to speak in a manner that demeans or diminishes another. This understanding of freedom emerges from the a priori assumption that the individual is humanity’s base or fundamental unit. This is not the Christian view; it is not the biblical view.
The biblical starting point is that the base unit is the household, the οικονομος. (Oikinomos). So, freedom expands as the household is built up, protected and nurtured. We are never free in isolation. What, you might validly ask, is the household? The household can refer to the immediate family, the neighbourhood, the nation, or the global community. The principle remains the same. Christianity speaks of the individual within the context of the household to which they belong and in which they hold responsibility. Paul uses the metaphor of the ‘body’ to describe the household. Each plays their part. Each has a responsibility to the whole. Each is more whole because of the other. Righteousness, one of scripture’s prioritised virtues, refers to the right behaviour of an individual in the context of the household of which she or he is part.
In the context of the pandemic we share the life of many households: our immediate family, our local community, the State, the Nation, and the Globe. We have a responsibility to all of them. In the exercise of this responsibility there is a huge paradox as outlined in last Sunday’s gospel reading: Those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Mtt. 16:25.
The application of this paradox to the various shutdowns is not hard to make. The route to normalised movement, gatherings, and travel is via a temporary giving up of those freedoms for the sake of all. On the other hand, holding on to individual rights, to doing as we please, spreading the virus, is the route to prolonged diminishment of community life, fear, and duress.
It is easy to champion an assumed covert, malign, and unseen power, hellbent on removing liberties, as Donald Trump is wont to do. Accusing others of dictatorship, like most accusations, illuminates the one making the accusation rather than the one being accused. Marion Wilkinson’s new book, The Carbon Club (Allan and Unwin) illustrates how in the first hours of his ascendancy to Prime Minister, Abbott sacked any or all senior public servants whose views did not coincide with his own, especially on the topic of climate change. Removing those whose ideas are different to one’s own is one of the classic behaviours of a dictator.
Of course, there needs to be balance. Those suffering most through the pandemic are not simply the elderly for whom the virus has had fatal consequences. Others who have suffered greatly have been the thousands who have lost employment and businesses, small and large alike, who have been prevented from commercial trade. However, anecdotal evidence from other countries, notably the US is that living without restrictions is counterproductive, not only do many more fall victim to the virus but the level of fear, perhaps panic in the community prevents normal trade and more suffer economically than in countries with restrictions.
Setting health priorities against economic priorities is wrong at a fundamental level and shows a serious misunderstanding of what ‘economy’ means. Its derivation is oikonomos, household. The ‘economy’ describes collective behaviour that builds the wellbeing of the household, not the individual. Neoliberal economic theory has moved a long way from this understanding. Privatisation of almost everything has not enhanced the household. The use of private contractors to guard folk in quarantine is the most recent example. Deregulating the market, has not enhanced the household although it has made a small number of individuals very wealthy. Giving short term economic gain priority over ecological sustainability has not protected the household. During the pandemic too many workers have lost their jobs while many CEO’s whose companies have benefited from ‘Job-keeper’ have enjoyed bonuses. As mostly happens in a crisis, the very wealthy have become more wealthy while thousands fall under the safety net into poverty.
It is a sad reality that many restrictions are in place because of the poor behaviour of a minority. All could be isolated at home if all could be trusted to do so. Unfortunately, evidence suggests this is not the case. It is likely that the virus could have been virtually eliminated if everyone were tested as soon as they exhibited symptoms.
The supreme irony is that the community at large is suffering far greater privation than should be needed, not because of the restrictions set by State premiers, but because of ignorant and ill-chosen words from people like President Trump and Tony Abbott. They give comfort to people who refuse to act with the best interest of others in mind and camouflage their own selfish behaviour, with accusations against those who have responsibility for community safety; accusing them not simply overreaching, but of ill-intent.
The Law and the Prophets: Why Reform is so Hard
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son.
The verse, from yesterday’s Old Testament reading (Ex. 2:1-2) is about as innocuous as they come. But don’t be deceived, the child about to be born is no ordinary figure, nor does he have an ordinary pedigree. He is a child of the institution, of the tribe, Levi, set apart to maintain the identity and distinctiveness of the people through their rites and ceremonies. This is Moses the law giver, it is also Moses the institutional gate keeper, the one the Talmud looks back to. He represents one of the two main scriptural traditions. The other is the prophet, the outsider. It is the Christian tradition that Jesus embraced both.
Moses is not simply the quintessential insider, he is the insider. He is there to set the rules, rules upon which the very salvation of people is said to depend. This is of course the big pile in the middle of the road that Saint Paul was to stumble over. Rules are not an end in themselves, they exist to protect, defend, and promote the values and virtues that are understood to give meaning to existence. When an institution continues, but has forgotten the reason for its existence, at best, it is an empty shell, at worst it becomes a pariah. This happened to Israel many times in its history, it has happened over the centuries to the Church, most notoriously in the Crusades. In contemporary times it has been revealed in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. In the secular world it happens to all institutions that neglect constant appraisal and reform as tragically seen recently to financial institutions.
Enter the prophets, the outsiders. The prophets are the uncomfortable burr in the saddle of the institution, the ones who always want to draw the community back to its roots, to the values and virtues for which they were brought into existence, to speak of truth that is plain sight but has not been recognised or acted on. In the Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan famously quipped that “a policeman’s lot is not a happy one”. Well, history shows the lot of a prophet is not a happy one either. On more than one occasion I have been told to ‘stay with my prayers’ by the political elite who find social commentary unhelpful. The prophets were ignored, derided, scorned, thrown down wells and made to pay a very heavy price for their seeming audacity. They spoke because they could do no other. Today, secular outsiders are found in various guises, often whistle blowers, whom the relevant institution cannot tolerate and will do everything it can to discredit and destroy.
For the final couple of hundred years before the birth of Christ there was no discernible prophetic voice, the institution was able to continue its merry way, becoming more insular as year succeeded to year. In the years following the birth death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians were the outsiders, served by outsider leaders. Following Constantine, the Church became the insider institution with insider leaders, in partnership with secular powers.
Now, fast forward a couple of thousand years to 2020 AD in both Church and State. The same tension between law and prophet, insider and outsider, status quo and reform, is alive and well.
For 50+ year I have served as an insider with the heart of an outsider. There is enormous pressure to keep the trappings of institutional life alive and well. Budgets need to be met, buildings maintained, reputations protected and if necessary enhanced. With the limited resources available, priority is given to the employment of other insiders, those who will keep Parishes going and institutional life intact. Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Popes are all insiders who, to a greater or lesser degree, resist the outsider voice, the voice of reform. Paradoxically, all insiders would be more effective if they thought as outsiders, and the transformative powers of outsiders is always more effective if a foothold on the inside can be established.
There is currently a clamouring in the Roman Catholic Church for significant reform, led by a bevy of very able lay people. This clamour is being resisted by the insiders who do not want there to be any diminution of their accustomed power and status. Even Pope Francis, a Pope with an outsider’s heart, has found his position grafts onto him an insider’s mind. Worse, there are already rumblings from the powerful curia elite that Pope Francis’ successor will need to be far more of an insider.
From climate change to refugees, indigenous voice to social security networks, the voice of clerical insiders has been muted for too long, presumably out of fear of offending someone in power and therefore risking damage to the institution they represent. I understand many Anglican Bishops refuse to make a public stand on climate change and environmental responsibility because they feel they are ‘treading on egg-shells’. No, they are not. The science is clear, as is the direction we must follow. Most Church leaders these days glory in giving bread to the poor, but shy away from asking why the poor are poor. It was Hélder Câmara, the South American Roman Catholic Archbishop who said: “when I give bread to the poor I am called a saint, when I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a communist.”.
Post Covid 19 there will be a push to bring things ‘back to normal’, but things won’t so easily go back to ‘normal’. New forms of Church have begun to emerge. Margaret and I have been running a house Church because of Covid since March, first on zoom and for some months now in our home. Some participants have not been attenders at a conventional Church for decades. Folk are finding a level of intimacy and nurture that they had forgotten, or not previously known. This is a verandah like experience, not outside, but not inside either. Because of the number, we must spread them over three weeks. I hasten to add this has been with the blessing and encouragement of our local Parish priest. The shape of ‘Church’ over the next half decade is going to be vastly different, and by no means weaker. In a way Covid has crashed through to the inside and made long awaited and needed reform more likely.
In the secular world the law givers, the priestly cast in the form of politicians, are looked upon with suspicion by those they exist to serve, because political life is mostly about finding a way to stay in power, even if the reason for being there has long since been forgotten.
Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is fond of speaking of the Canberra bubble as if it is something he tries to avoid, to live outside. He seems never to fully grasp that he and his colleagues are that bubble. It has never been more obvious than in the vexed arena of energy and climate policy. Pretty well the whole of the rest of Australia has moved on, from farmers, to energy suppliers, investors and insurers, trade unions and business owners. But no, politicians still insist on this issue being their nadir, their stake in the ground in protection of cashed up self-interest upon which they appear to remain so dependent.
Insiders (priests and lawgivers) resent outsiders (prophets). Without outsiders, life stagnates and becomes sterile. For most of the course of history insiders, law givers, priests, have prevailed. Occasionally there are moments when the prophetic voice becomes too strong to be ignored and reform takes place. May this be such a time. Amen, and all the people said: Amen!
Bernard Collaery, East Timor and Governmental Duplicity
For some time, it has been publicly and shamefully known that the Australian Government instigated unlawful surveillance on the East Timorese authorities to gain unfair commercial advantage over fossil fuel assets in the Timor Sea. But the extent of the outrage and the reason the government is desperate to keep hidden its unlawful behaviour through the prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K has now had a little further light shone upon it.
Lifting the lid on this sorry affair, dispelling the darkness, and letting the light shine is vitally important, not just because of this issue, but because it highlights the increasing prevalence of government, here and overseas, to refuse transparency.
There are increasing and troubling signs that foundations necessary for the maintenance of a functioning civil society are breaking down. Trust is the oil that keeps society functioning. Truth can no longer be assumed to form the basis of policy making. Trust is clearly in short supply, both in Australia and in governments the world over, with a few exceptions. Lack of transparency destroys trust. The unconscionable pursuit of journalists and their sources of information is becoming a normalised strategy in the protection of governmental incompetence and bungling: be it scandals associated with our involvement in Afghanistan and Timor; or at home, in failures associated with aged care, or, ministers refusing to accept responsibility in their portfolios. Lack of transparency undermines the principles upon which the Westminster system of government is built.
But let us return to East Timor, Witness K and Bernard Collaery.
The trial of Bernard Collaery and Witness K is being conducted behind closed doors on the grounds of ‘National Security’. But what possible national security issues are at risk here, or is it that there are no national security issues, rather the government is desperate and determined to keep something hidden? We could be forgiven for thinking that Timor presents us with an existential threat, that somehow Australia’s vital military, cyber, or even multi-national trade interests were at stake. Really?? We are not dealing with China, Russia, the US, or even Indonesia, we are dealing with one of the youngest, smallest, and most impoverished nations on the planet. Were we in danger of risking information about our defence capability? – hardly. We were dealing with people to whom we are in debt, people who, during the Japanese incursion of the second world war, gave their lives to safeguard our soldiers and who, to the great anguish of our soldiers, had to be left behind on the beaches as we evacuated. We were dealing with people who had every right to expect we could be trusted and assume we would treat them with utmost respect.
Economic interest is included under the umbrella of matters that are considered part of National Security. Putting this interest at risk is considered a serious criminal offence. So, let us assume for a moment, (we can only assume because nothing is being made public) that this is what is at stake. We already know that Australia’s bugging of the East Timorese offices was instrumental in securing more than its fair share of fossil fuel assets in the waters between our two nations and that East Timor had to take Australia to the international Court of Arbitration to gain fairness.
On Saturday, Mr Collaery was a keynote speaker at Radford College, Canberra’s annual student led Dirrum festival. Along with the Socceroo and civil rights campaigner Craig Foster; Professor Tom Calma, champion of First Nations people and Chancellor of the University of Canberra; fighter for equality at all levels the former Wallaby, David Pocock, his wife Emma; His excellency Anote Tong, former President of Kirribati, and many others. His address was titled ‘Time for Reform’ and its context the reality that truth is a contested virtue in Australian political life.
In his address to the festival, Mr Collaery revealed that deceitfully denying the Timorese a fair share of maritime fossil fuel assets may not have been the only element of our government’s duplicity. Mr Collaery told his audience that Australian government officials gave away Helium with a potential value of $8 – 12 billion to Conoco Phillips and Woodside, companies registered in Australia but foreign owned.
In other words, the wrong party is on trial. The prosecutor should be the prosecuted. This is an own goal by the Australian government, an own goal being made infinitely more notorious in the conducting of this malicious trial on Witness K and Bernard Collaery.
The unfair 2004 treaty negotiations marked by the transfer of a multi-billion helium windfall not to Australia or Timor-Leste but to predominantly foreign owned corporations is a scandal of mammoth proportion the Coalition seeks to keep out of the news. At great personal cost and with great integrity K set out to get a finding of unlawful conduct and every one of us lets him down if we remain silent as he is shuffled off in secret to a Canberra Gulag.
Collaery did not reveal who was responsible. The helium, found in conjunction with natural gas and used in cryogenics and other high-tech industries, was jointly owned by East Timor and Australia. Its existence was hidden from the Timorese and the decision to give it away was made in a parliamentary office in Canberra. Helium has been declared a ‘vital commodity’ by the Australian government. What clearly upsets Mr Collaery is that Prime Minister Howard assured the Timorese that Australia would act in good faith in revenue negotiations.
The claim deserves serious journalistic investigation, despite fear that media offices might be raided in the process. If this claim proves to be true, it will show that rather than Bernard Collaery and Witness K being responsible for undermining Australia’s national interests, the Australian government was itself responsible for this travesty.
It is not Mr Collaery and witness K who are on trial here but the Australian government. The Australian people are also on trial, for through the government we are seen as an untrustworthy people who protect our unethical behaviour through criminal proceedings behind closed doors that mirror the worst behaviour of totalitarian governments.
The government has a massive, if not insurmountable mountain to climb, if it is to convince the Australian electorate that in this matter Australia’s interests have been protected – honourably. It may appear that these two men (presuming witness K is a man) are on trial, but as the large crowd of supporters who protest outside the court every time there is a hearing testify, this is not the case.
Secrecy is an important element in every government’s armoury for the protection of its people. But when that secrecy victimises its own citizens there must be a high level of trust that this is necessary. No such trust exists, and there is a strong perception in the community that government uses lack of transparency to protect its own interest, not those of its people and nation.
The recorded video of Bernard Collaery’s remarkable address can be found at: https://www.dirrumfestival.org/cbr20
We share the same values as the US –
No, we most certainly do not
Values play a significant role in the forging of national identity. We become the people we think we are. Tuning in to the ABC these days, one cannot miss hearing “I am, you are, we are Australian”. What the dickens does that mean? Nothing if it simply remains a little ditty.
The stories we tell, the poems we write, the history we recount, the songs we sing, give expression to the values we hold dear, and the meaning we are prepared to own. That history, and those songs, must continue to be revisited. Their evolution over the last 200+ years has of necessity been immense. There is still a long distance to travel especially in listening to the history and songs of the indigenous people whose rights have been trampled and culture cleansed, causing their generational pain, and loss to all subsequent Australians. This significant matter aside, what it means to be an American and what it means to be an Australian are two different realities.
We are people of the verandah, the edge. Americans are people of the hearth, the centre.
We live in a string of archipelagos around the edge of our continent. We have a capital city that few take seriously, preferring loyalty to state capitals or even provincial towns. We meet in the open, on the beach, perched on verandahs, around campfires, having a BBQ. We are suspicious of ‘centre’, of hierarchy, institutions and elitism. We value egalitarianism. Title or position does not carry authority, it resides only in the inner integrity a person might bring to the office. Living on the edge we travel and connect. At any given time, Australians will be found in every nook and cranny of the planet. Americans are taught to believe they are the centre, not simply that they have a centre. This centeredness has produced insularity. Americans assume knowledge of other peoples and presume to know what might be best for others, leading to countless disastrous interventions in every corner of the planet. It is quite shameful that we have been invited (commanded) to participate in some of these catastrophic interventions.
We are a people of association. Americans are people of rights.
Around 30 percent of Australians were born overseas with a far greater percentage enjoying at least one overseas born parent. We are bonded to each other through our common migration and through cherishing the unique giftedness provided by our continent home. We cherish fundamental freedoms, but consider them privileges for which we must continue to sacrifice, rather than believing they are endowed as rights. The ANZAC tradition is part of this narrative. Despite Senator David Leyonhjelm’s short tenure, and the flitting around of the maverick Mark Latham, libertarianism is not a force that is attractive to Australia, while it lies barely under the surface for American Republicans. American obsession with rights, most obviously expressed in gun ownership, is incomprehensible to most Australians, indeed repugnant to most. American culture is nothing if it not a culture of rights. Rights dominate over social contract and responsibility as illustrated in the absence of universal health care. COVID 19 has made abundantly clear how destructive this culture is, paradoxically even of the very rights so cherished. It is almost inconceivable that level four lockdown now in place in Victoria could occur anywhere in the US. There, common good cannot prevail over individual rights.
We are a spiritual people. Americans are a religious people.
Religion has been influential in Australian history, political power plays, and wealth accumulation. But it has sat uneasily in the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians. In early days of white colonisation most confessed allegiance to a religious institution, but this had little to do with dogma, but more with culture, and ethnic identity - ancestry. While there has been recent phenomenal growth in dogma, through Pentecostal/Evangelical churches, religious dogma is very unattractive to most Australians, not least personalised ethics drawn from that dogma. For this reason, a campaign to abolish abortion, demonise active palliative care, or stigmatise the rights of the LGBTQI community will not carry weight amongst Australians, as witnessed by the equal rights plebiscite. On the other hand, in the United States of America a politician cannot be carried into office without championing religious affiliation, even bigotry. In the last decade, Australian conservative politics has championed the values of the Australian Christian Lobby, a body unapologetically modelled on American fundamentalism and personalised religion, but recent setbacks have made this alliance embarrassing and its champions suspect to most Australians.
Australians are pragmatists. Americans are ideologues
Australians live on a continent described by Dorothea Mackellar as a place of contrasts, of droughts and flooding rains. Her poem symbolises the contrasts, the diversities, which make a nonsense of ideological certainties. The ideological certainties which have characterised both sides of Australian politics in recent years are the main reason for the disjuncture between Australian political life and the Australian people.
Ideology is intolerant of other views, confident that truth lies with everything complimentary to one’s own dogma. Evidence that is contrary is disallowed and labelled ‘fake news’. Much ideology has a religious base. The percentage of Americans who claim to believe in a short view of history, that Adam and Eve were literally the first human beings approximately 7,000 years ago, is staggering. A false binary between science and faith has developed that has spilled beyond its own boundaries to reduce commitment to science-based policy, replacing it with ideology, or self-interest. Ideology thrives on a divisive, black and white view of the world so beloved of the current president. Ideology permits no place for nuance or paradox.
Australians are globalists. Americans have increasingly become isolationists.
Because of our migrant origins, our dependence upon trade, and our love of travel, Australian interests are tied to a rules-based global community. The last decade has seen successive Australian conservative governments side with the US in devaluing international obligations, commitment to the United Nations, and especially international efforts to combat global warming. This has not been in Australia’s interests and at last we are seeing signs that the present government wants to distance itself from positions so beloved of the American president. America clearly still believes in its own dominance. Australia knows its future lies in alliances.
Australians and Americans speak the same language, share European origins, have fought on the same side in many wars, and ‘enjoy’ democratic government. But our values are not the same, they are increasingly divergent. It has been to Australia’s detriment that Australia’s political elite have for too long acted out of a view that the values are the same.
That Pesky Hip Joint – or what is in a name
No, I am not referring to mine, but to Jacob’s. Last Sunday, the Old Testament reading was Genesis 32: 22 – 31, the narrative of Jacob’s struggle with himself/an angel/God. Like all human struggles, it left its mark, a dislocated hip, an imperfection that he and those who identify with him would have to carry. But it is not the hip that is central to the narrative but the name he was given - Israel.
There are many who, perhaps with good reason, doubt the historicity of the narrative, but that is not the point. The point is that in this story we are to understand the origin of Israel in Jewish tradition, the meaning it carries, or should carry, and the defining values, or identity, of any who would subsequently appropriate the name and be known as Israelites or Israelis.
Jacob is of course the grandson of Abraham, and inheritor of the founding ancestor’s God given blessing and legacy, which he accessed by tricking his twin brother out of it. He is the father of the twelve tribes, sons of his two wives, including Judah, whose name Netanyahu and Israeli authorities like to use for Palestinian territories they covet. Was the struggle he experienced that night related to living with his deception, and redeeming its consequences? Idle speculation! The Bible is never shy of recounting the weaknesses and failures of its heroes; indeed, its overriding theme is that grace prevails despite human frailty.
The detail of what happened that night is of far less importance than the import that is ascribed to it.
As Jacob struggled, he asked his assailant to provide a name. The assailant refused. If we are to understand the assailant was God, or Jacob’s experience of God, this is hardly surprising, given a name objectivises, giving control to the subject. God is beyond the limitation of human description, as much as we love to do it. Indeed, God is not to be objectified as an entity at all. Those who seek to deny any reality in religious experience love to ridicule with the assistance of objectified images.
But naming was indeed on the cards that night, not of God, but Jacob. From that day forth he and his descendants are to be known as ones who struggle with God. That is essentially what the name Israel means. Struggling with God implies struggling with meaning, with identity, with purpose, indeed with truth. Unwittingly, Pilate momentarily joined this struggle when Jesus was arraigned before him and he asked: “What is truth”.
The prophetic tradition shines light on the struggle. It reminds those who call themselves Israelites that by virtue of their name, they are channels of God’s grace in and to the world. What happens in the temple is meaningless if it does not reflect what is happening in the world. The words that repeat themselves again and again are righteousness, justice, and compassion. Those who do not long for, and strive to live out these virtues, are not struggling with God, but living independent lives.
In the New Testament, this struggle is made crystal clear in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where he says: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself…..”
When Chaim Weizmann and other Zionist leaders appropriated the name Israel for the modern Jewish State, they were not claiming a name devoid of meaning or history. Although now a secular State, Israel appropriates a religious history and a deeply religious identity. Because of the elements I have already described, Israel’s identity can never simply be about itself, but about how it relates in righteousness and justice to others. To be a child of Israel (Jacob) is to be one who seeks to share blessing with others. The blessing that came to Jacob was never for himself, through him and his descendants this blessing was to be a channel of grace to others. Not being prepared to be that channel is to forfeit the identity.
Israel, under the leadership of Netanyahu, is about as far from this description as it is possible to travel. Perhaps that is why so many Israelis have joined a campaign of protest against him. Jesus once said of Nathaniel: “here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile”, the tragic truth is that no one could truthfully say that of contemporary Israeli leadership. Does any of this matter beyond the boundaries of the Israeli State?
Well, yes it does for three reasons.
I will almost certainly have the opprobrium of anti-Semitism accelerated in my direction for writing this blog. This is quite ironic. I believe in Israel. I want Israel to exist, because of what the Bible tells me to be the reason for its existence. Modern Israel is not that, it is the very antithesis of that. My blog is a call for Israel to be true to its origins or abandon any claim to its religious history and any rightful claim to the land of ancient Palestine.