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The Regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce
Usually, news items have no intellectual or emotional impact, either because we have become so conditioned to a situation, however appalling, that its further announcement has become unremarkable, or because the matter simply does not seem relevant.
I was therefore surprised at my reaction to the news that Barnaby Joyce had returned as Deputy Prime Minister. I found the news quite shocking and symptomatic of everything that is wrong with contemporary Australian politics.
Joyce is a flawed human being. Now, I know all human beings are flawed, none more so than myself. However, there is something about Barnaby’s flawed nature that presents him as one entirely unsuitable for a position of responsibility, least of all as Deputy Prime Minister. He seems to be totally consumed with himself. For someone who claims a strong Christian faith within the catholic tradition he appears utterly hypocritical. How can he possibly claim to hold to ‘family values’ and do what he has done to his first family. Given all the unresolved issues about parliamentary culture, he would appear to be the least suited person to take a lead as a standard maker. He appears a pugnacious grenade thrower, not a reasoned, trustworthy, leader.
When I think of the National Party, I think of a political movement that emerged to represent farming and agriculture throughout regional Australia. One of the politicians I admire most in the Federal Parliament is a farmer who holds a National Party seat in NSW. Yet, Barnaby Joyce and his key supporters live lives that are far removed from agriculture, (despite owning some land), representing most loudly the interests of miners, particularly in central Queensland. His statements in the last few days all reflect this reality.
It is apparently the case that Barnaby Joyce has returned as leader of the National Party because significant power brokers want to prevent further action on emissions reduction, lest the businesses model undergirding fossil fuel extraction be threatened. This is not the position of the farming community which numerically far exceeds the fossil fuel industry, and which is often adversely affected by it. With two caveats, the NFF (National Farmers Federation) has signed up to the goal of zero emissions by 2050. A primary reason for this is that such a goal could, and should, provide economic advantage through carbon sequestration, hosting renewable energy generation projects etc. Such projects potentially increase productivity and provide a cash buffer in times of drought. How relevant are the ambitions of Barnaby Joyce, George Christiansen, or Senator Canavan to Australia’s farming community? Apparently not at all. So, Mr Joyce, it appears your party is not the advocate of regional, agricultural, Australia as you claim. You are the champion of the mining industry and particularly its wealthy and powerful ownership. Ironically, you are not doing miners any favours.
My contacts in the Hunter Valley tell me that many in the mining industry are all too aware and accepting of the reality that coal has a much-diminished future. They do not seek open warfare in a fight to the death for an industry that is already being phased down, but they seek fearless advocacy for a place in the technologically attractive post carbon world for which most are uniquely qualified for pioneering employment. It is ironic that miners would be better represented by a party that strongly believes in a new technological future, rather than a party that demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to outdo king Canute.
The regurgitation of Barnaby Joyce was heralded by the National Party’s outgoing leader, Michael McCormack, as evidence of the party’s democratic DNA. That may or may not be a reasonable interpretation. However, the sought for outcome by those who initiated the spill is most undemocratic. Consistent polls show that approximately 70% of Australians want further action on climate change and emissions reduction. The National Party represents less than 5% of the electorate and given support for change by farmers and the NFF, those who hold the position for which National Party leadership now appears committed, are quite minimal. And yet. And yet … representing this small section of the electorate, Joyce along with his supporters, seek to hold the country to ransom by threatening the unity of the coalition unless it toes the line with them. Nothing could be less democratic.
Added to this has been yesterday’s announcement from UNESC0 that they intend to declare the Great Barrier Reef to be endangered. Scientific observation makes this tragic declaration virtually inevitable. It is a fact that the Great Barrier Reef employs vastly more people in the tourist industry than will ever be employed in an increasingly mechanised central Queensland mining industry. Why is Mr Joyce more interested in the much smaller coterie of jobs in coal mining than he is in the vast numbers dependent upon the tourist industry?
Michael McCormack is an affable but bumbling politician. It is not unreasonable to think that in Australia’s second most senior politician we might have seen a greater level of competence. Those who know him tell me he is essentially a decent human being. But can the same be said of Mr Joyce? His first wife and daughters clearly do not think so, nor do many women struggling for a changed culture in a still largely male dominated world.
What is beyond dispute is that Australia must step up and take its place in the international family of nations with unequivocal support for action to safeguard ecological and environmental sustainability. Not to do so is unthinkable. That a minor political party believes it has the right to scuttle such an aim is quite grotesque. It is even more grotesque to think that an Australian Prime Minister, having made an undisclosed pact with them for the sake of power retention, should consider this pact more important than the future of the planet.
Domestic Abuse in the Anglican Church and Male Headship
In the last few days, considerable attention has been given to the results of a survey which indicate that domestic violence is not just as prevalent in the Anglican Church as the wider community but is more prevalent. This is too shocking to grasp. What possible explanation can we give? Do women gravitate to the Church seeking comfort because of their abuse? I suppose that is possible. But if this is the reason for the shocking statistics, it does not square with the other finding that women seldom seek counsel from Church leadership. The most plausible explanation is that this shocking data relates to teaching within the Church. In 2017 I wrote the following blog which also appeared in the Melbourne Anglican and has now reappeared on its web page. It seems as pertinent now as it was then.
JULY 25 2017 “Male headship, which is a non-negotiable article of faith amongst Sydney Anglicans and many Protestant Churches, notably non-aligned Baptist Churches, has received considerable recent attention as a result of journalistic investigation conducted by Julia Baird. Julia is not an anti-Church polemicist, quite the contrary; she and her instantly recognisable family are themselves active in their Christian faith and Church attendance,
Julia’s investigation has shown an existential link between this article of faith and the practice of domestic violence. It is hardly surprising therefore that Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Sydney in their defence of this ‘biblical verity’ have argued that any connection between it and domestic violence is the result of a total misunderstanding. But is this defence believable? A spirited defence of headship is required by those who hold it because of their understanding that the proposition is not simply a vague doctrine amongst many others, but rather an essential undergirding of creation’s order.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of Christian men who espouse this doctrine find any form of domestic violence repulsive and in their marriages are genuinely loving; practicing a principle of equality to the very best of their ability.
However, there is no getting away from the reality that the flip side of headship is subjugation. If biblical headship means the one who holds this responsibility is the chief servant and puts himself last, as the Archbishop would have us believe, then I suggest another word or metaphor should be found to express this truth. But this is not what those who espouse this doctrine mean. They mean that the male is the head in a manner that women can never be. This is expressed in the Church through insistence that women should not be licensed to preach, or teach, or hold a position of authority over men. Women are clearly subservient to men. Its implication in marriage is that men take the lead in decision making. I grew up in a conservative evangelical family where this doctrine was subscribed. It was a loving family and I consider myself to have enjoyed a blessed childhood, but it was a family situation in which my mother accepted with enormous grace and humility that subservience was her lot. It was her grace and humility that formed her children.
On the 7.30 Report (July 2017) Archbishop Davies argued his case by saying that men and women are different and there are things women can do that men cannot and vice versa. The example he gave was that men cannot have babies. Clearly there are physiological differences between the genders, but it is a long bow to claim that because of physiology, relational or leadership roles are possible to one and not the other. It seems obvious that roles within marriage are reversible, and that tasks or oversights undertaken by the woman in one marriage are more suited to the man in the other and vice versa.
Is the doctrine of male headship arguable from scripture? Yes of course it is (although not from the teaching of Jesus in the gospels). Does it therefore mean that is right? No, it does not. There are many positions that can be argued from certain biblical texts. Am I inferring that scripture lacks authority? No, I am not. What I am saying is that scripture speaks to scripture and the overriding character or virtue required of followers of Jesus is a lack of ambition to do anything other than to serve. It cannot, indeed it must not be the implicit or explicit teaching of the Church that anyone has the right, let alone the mandate, to lord it as ‘head’ over another.
Whether or not there is some ‘misunderstanding’ of the doctrine is not the point. The inference of headship is not acceptable because of the connotations it carries. Male headship has carried cultural accretions over the years which have taken a long time to be abandoned, sometimes requiring enormous energy. Many would argue, with justification, there remains a long way to go. It is not long ago that female suffrage had to be fought for. Traditional marriages carry symbolic images of women being passed from one male (parent) to another (husband). While this meaning is not front and centre in the minds of modern brides, nevertheless the ‘giving away’ and the veil carry the inference that female identity is derived through the male.
We in Australia must be honest in admitting that domestic violence is endemic and that it is present across all economic, social, racial, and religious communities. Sadly, it is most often present when the family unit is under stress through disadvantage, crisis, change of status and inequality. Statistically domestic violence is most prevalent in indigenous communities.
Any teaching that has the capacity for gross manipulation, however wholesome it might seem to its adherents, should be abandoned. Surely the quality one might expect in a Christian home of joint responsibility and loving care expressed through and between parents, does not need to be loaded with a teaching that can have, and does have some very cruel implications”.
Dr George Browning is the former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. This is a slightly edited version of an article he wrote for his blog on 24 July 2017. See http://www.georgebrowning.com.au
From Memorial to Theme Park
Approval has been granted by the National Capital Authority for the governing body of the National War Memorial in Canberra to turn the Memorial into a theme park and further the myth that values undergirding Australian identity were and are primarily forged in war on foreign lands. There has been a signing off on what are called ‘early works’ of this half billion dollar plus redevelopment.
All this is occurring despite overwhelming public submissions in opposition. These include an almost who’s who of eminent Australians. Opposition focusses on the scandalous attempt to further glorify war and display the apparatus of war. Global armament production has become, a reported 2 trillion USD industry annually, of which more than 70% is reported to be generated and exported by the US.
Why is the Australian War Memorial redevelopment such a bad idea?
It was the highly respected retired Admiral, Chris Barrie, who described the proposal as a tourist theme Park. If that is its role, it needs to be relocated to the Gold Coast. At the heart of Australia’s national capital, it sits facing parliament house, together, their joint placing and purpose signify they are Australia’s two most significant buildings. If parliament house is best known through the spectacle of question time and the memorial through its theme park, we hardly deserve to be taken at all seriously as a nation. We have apparently become a nation that does not wish to take anything seriously, but rather seeks any amusement, however bizarre, as a source of diversion therapy.
The ABC - a victim of Right wing Cancel Culture
Increasingly ferocious attacks on the ABC by Fox, Sky News, News limited are gratuitous, transparently self-serving and a threat to a free press. This is serious, a vibrant democracy is impossible without an independent and unfettered press, and in the great tradition of western democracies, without a public broadcaster. Ferocious attacks from politicians are vexatious, coming as they do from powerful people who wish to avoid accountability and would prefer their deeds be kept in the dark.
The ABC occupies news space which privately owned companies resent, believing that news and its distribution should be in private hands. News outlets that are privately owned, by definition, have a sectional agenda. Hopefully, a public broadcaster’s mandate is to publish news without fear or favour to any sectional interest. To have the ABC out of the way, or at least severely diminished, suits their business plan and allows their sectional interest to appear more ‘main-stream’.
Comments critical of the ABC from government politicians are vexatious because they reject the concept of accountability. Programmes most detested by government are Four-corners, 7.30, and Q and A. It is the job of journalists to hold those who hold public office to account. The principle of accountability should be welcomed by all in positions of power and authority. Cleary this is not the case for a significant number of senior ministers in the Morrison government. It is not helpful for them to whinge that the heat of laser sharp enquiry is directed more intensely toward them than the opposition. It is inevitable that those in power will be subject to more scrutiny than those in opposition, for the simple reason they hold power.
Action against the ABC by competitive news outlets and by government officials is also hypocritical, for it is they, on the right of the political spectrum, who most vehemently argue for freedom of speech and accuse those with whom they disagree of being ‘woke’ or being part of ‘cancel culture’. If ‘cancel culture’ is the threat to a free democratic society that those in the right often assert, surely the attacks on the ABC are the most egregious form of this culture. Those who are crying the loudest are the very people who do not wish their performance to be held to account. It is apparently virtuous to demand the right to freedom of speech when promoting ideas, or people, who support your position, but it is not acceptable for freedom of speech to be exercised in the arena of accountability.
Without scrutiny and accountability of those in power, democracy and liberality becomes very fragile.
It is hard to argue against the proposition that the ABC’s Four Corners is the flagship of the best in Australian journalism. Over many decades its stories have brought to light numerous situations which would otherwise have remained hidden. Australia and Australian democracy owes the programme, its journalists, producers, and the management that has supported it, a very great debt of gratitude.
Of course, it too needs to be held accountable, but this is a different matter than being attacked by those who would prefer their performances not to be scrutinised by the light of day.
It is more than a little interesting that current attacks on the ABC include personal attacks on its chair, Ita Buttrose. It appears the argument goes like this. “We, that is the government, appointed Ita to chair the ABC to ensure the government’s agenda is strongly prosecuted. Ita is apparently not doing this to the satisfaction of the government bench, instead she is doing her job, chairing the ABC board of management. Therefore, she should be dismissed, not because of any failure in the performance of the task to which she has been appointed, but because she has not in all circumstances protected the government’s perspective on controversial issues”.
It is likely that, if the ABC continues to do its job properly, it will come under further and accelerating attack, because it appears we are currently served by one of the least accountable of governments.
There are several in the current cabinet or parliament who should have stood down or should have been stood down. In the past it was the custom that if failure occurs on a grand scale in a minister’s department, they will stand aside. On any scale there has been monumental failure in the department of aged care. When figures are presented to justify the performance of a department that are later proved to be manifestly untrue, a minister would in the past have stood down. When the public persona of a minister or ordinary member has become the source of scandal, in the past they would have stood down. It is not simply a matter of innocence or guilt, it is a matter of public trust and perceived fitness for office.
‘Cover ups’ appear to have become an acceptable modus operandi, the most egregious form of cover-up being the treatment of whistle blowers. The continuing prosecution of witness K and Bernard Colleary is scandalous. It is cruel both in its endlessness and in its secrecy. It could be stopped at any time by the public prosecutor or by the Attorney General. That it continues, and continues in secret, is not because a great crime has been committed by those standing at the bar, but because the Australian government is guilty of a crime against the Timorese government that they would prefer not to be given oxygen, a crime that the Timorese had to take to the Hague to gain redress. Bernard Colleary is doing no more, but no less, than what a barrister should do, represent his client. For this ‘crime’ he can neither practice and earn a living, or clear his name. The previous Attorney General and the current Attorney General should have stood down, or have been stood down, because of this gross injustice.
Ironically this is a matter over which the ABC is guilty, it has not sufficiently held the government to account.
The attacks on the ABC by other news outlets and especially by senior members of the government is a matter of considerable gravity. It is not simply that in times of emergency like the pandemic, or bushfires, that the role of the ABC is paramount, it is that every democracy worthy of the name needs and deserves a vibrant public broadcaster unfettered by sectional interest
Those who do not like the light of day shining on mirky activity should remove themselves from public service not attempt to shoot the messenger.
War – who is being advantaged by it?
The world’s media has swung into action to report the ‘imminent war between Hamas and Israel’ as if there is equality of capability and culpability. Why is it not reporting the desperation of Netanyahu to stay in power without a mandate, and the convenience of war for him? Why is it not reporting the reality that this ‘conflict’ makes it virtually impossible for a coalition to be formed against him, inclusive of Arab parties? Why is it not reporting that Hamas and Netanyahu need one another? In a strange way they are both on the same side, they were both born in and shaped by conflict, they both need conflict to cement their positions. Neither want a two-state solution, one seeking the supposed elimination of Israel, the other the extermination of Palestinians. Hamas may talk about its desire that Israel not exist but has zero capacity to influence or effect that outcome. On the other hand, the leadership of Israel that says it will never allow the existence of a Palestinian State has every capacity to achieve this end.
More importantly, why is it not being made unequivocally clear that for 70+ years Palestinians have been subject to gross violation of their human rights and that this subjugation is intensifying not diminishing. The threatened forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah is but the latest example of outrageous human rights violations. In the face of constant violations should anyone be surprised there are reactions. That some reactions are violent and threaten innocent civilian lives must be condemned. However, what should be reported and underlined is the cause. In a nutshell the cause is the occupation and its consequences. Reactions should not be treated with equal seriousness as the action that caused them.
Why is ‘disappearing Palestine’ not being made clear to the outside world. In the partition which was forced on the Palestinians following the second world war the intention was for two states of approximately equal size. As a result of the war that followed, for 70+ years Israel has been 78% of the original Palestine and the Palestinian territories 22%. In the Oslo agreement of the nineties, Palestinian leadership agreed to a state based on that 22% with East Jerusalem as its capital.
As a result of the aggressive and illegal settlement programme, pushed and accelerated by Netanyahu, Palestinians, although approximately equal in population to Israelis, are being progressively pushed out of the 22% into disconnected pockets of population. Netanyahu and his ‘government’ (there is currently no legitimate Israeli government) effectively control the fate of all Palestinians, no matter where they live. Gaza is blockaded and therefore controlled.
So, where does all this place the Australian government and its foreign policy. In a very tricky position. Australia purports to stand up for human rights. We have been quite outspoken about China’s oppression of the Uighurs – and rightly so. We have not been quite as outspoken about the denial of civil rights to ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. How many Australians know anything about the fate of the Karen, or indeed have knowledge of the Karen diaspora in Australia?
We should raise human rights violations anywhere they occur in the world. However, we will remain hypocritical, two faced, because of our uncritical support for Israel as its supposed best friend. Silence in face of its human rights violations makes us tacit supporters of its system of growing apartheid. It is shamefully the case that we feel at liberty to criticise foes, but do not have the same compunction to criticise those with whom we are otherwise aligned. Is that partly because we are embarrassed and ashamed by our own domestic record?
Let me repeat what I have said many times before, more Australian politicians, Federal and State, especially of coalition parties, go to Israel than any other country in the world. Why? What knowledge or agenda do they wish to propagate on their return? What is it that they see when they are there?
How many have visited a Palestinian family evicted from their home? How many have joined the crowd of workers at 4.00.am being herded through a ‘security’ tunnel to try to be at work on time? How many have met a Palestinian farmer who can see his fields but must take a 40km trip to reach them because of no go zone. How many have stayed with a Palestinian family in Nablus to experience the intermittent availability of electricity or the scarcity of water while observing the illegal settlements above the city with manicured irrigated lawns and plenty of water to wash the car? How many have conversed with shop keepers in Hebron who daily contend with refuse being poured down upon them from settlers above. How many have spoken to an Australian member of the accompaniment programme who at the age of 80 has volunteered three months at a time to walk with Palestinian children from their homes to school to protect them from settler harassment? How many have spoken with Palestinian parents on their way to gaol to visit their 12-year-old son or daughter who has been incarcerate for supposedly throwing a stone at a soldier who has shot his or her cousin?
Yes, there are always two sides to a story. But here in Australia, so great is the pressure exerted by Israeli interests that only one side is permitted. The journalist John Lyons has long made this point, not least in his book Balcony over Jerusalem.
What is currently unfolding in Israel/Palestine is tragic beyond words.
Joe Biden has parroted the words beloved also of Australian Prime Ministers: “Israel has a right to defend itself”. But hang on a minute. Israel is not being attacked by some external power. It is experiencing dissent from within territories over which it exercises control. Apart from the rest of the Palestinian territories, it continues to maintain a blockade of Gaza and therefore controls it. Israel has within its power the capacity to end this endless cycle – take its foot off the neck of Palestinians. Grant equal democratic rights to all citizens. Abandon racist ideologies.
Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu, various competing Israeli political power plays, none of you are part of the solution, you are all part of the problem, step aside leave space for younger leadership which hopefully will see the future in terms of an integrated, free, respectful society in which difference is treasured and diversity embraced.
Dear Scott (if I may),
You have got yourself into a bit of strife from commentators who have found your speech at the Australian Christian Churches Conference to breach the convention of separation between Church and State; also, for your assertion that the devil is using the social media platform for evil.
I on the other hand found much in your talk with which I could agree, my problem is that I see no evidence that what you said is taken at all seriously in your life as Prime Minister.
Let me explain. You made quite a point of agreeing with the late Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and his emphasis the God’s dealing with us, and by implication our dealing with one another, should not be transactional but covenantal. This is a point Lord Sacks makes over, and over again in his writings, and it is a point with which I absolutely concur. As creator, God covenants with the whole creation for good. A covenant is total commitment to the person or object to whom we are bound. As creator God is bound to creation. A marital relationship is covenantal, each partner is bound to the other for good. As Prime Minister you are bound to Australia and its people. Australia and its people must always come before loyalty to your party, or the benefactors of your party. What is the evidence this is so?
You and your government appear always to act in a transactional manner, not in a covenantal way. You transact with stakeholders who support your party’s ideology. You transact on the floor of the house to achieve political victory, not the passing of good policy. You transact with members of your own party who have fallen short of community expectation to minimise fallout for the government rather than remaining committed to the highest possible ethical standards.
Good on you for quoting Jonathan Sacks, but it does not mean very much if action does not reflect the words. It is not good to slip into hyperbole, but the government you are leading looks to be the most transactional Australia has ever experienced.
You made a good point about the importance of community. Humans are essentially social beings. None of us can survive on our own. Believing in community requires a level of altruism and denial of self for the sake of greater good. Private ownership lies at the heart of your government’s ideology. Commitment to profit is the one objective of private ownership. Commitment to public ownership arises out of belief that some aspects of life are best held in common trust for the sake of all. Many acts of privatisation have been catastrophic in term of common good.
You made a particularly good point about value which must be given to every individual, regardless of their identity: politically, ethnically, socially, gender orientation etc. You decried what is appropriately called identity politics. But is not this the very thing your government does? Three-word slogans beloved of your side of politics are all about identity politics. Making sure government largesse is distributed in seats which might pay political return, is identity politics. The theatre of question time is full blown identity politics. I have long been an advocate for environmental responsibility, instead of my arguments being taken seriously I am easily dismissed as a left wing socialist. Lately many on your side of politics dismiss as ‘woke’ arguments for justice and social cohesion. This is full throttle identity politics.
As I heard you speak about valuing everyone for who they are, a picture came into my mind of parliamentary question time. Debate on the culture of parliament as a safe workplace for women was continuing. Tanya Plibersek was making what any reasonable person would agree to be a rational sensible, and mostly party-political free speech. You were at the government dispatch box with your back to her for almost her whole speech. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how valuing the individual for who they are, rather than through their identity (in this case political identity), plays out in your world.
Now let us turn for one moment to social media. I do not personally hold a positive view of this medium and refuse to use Facebook or Twitter. However, ‘the devil’ no more uses this medium for evil than any other instrument in daily life. The truth of the matter is that anything with the capacity for good equally has the capacity for evil. Every human being is capable of both. Triumph and tragedy walk with all of us. Evil does not have an empire of its own. Christians are not dualists. When the light shines the darkness must go. Light must shine on the dark side of social media. Your fellow ‘conservatives’ do not want the light to shine on the basis that everyone has the right to ‘freedom of speech’. It is good to see that your colleague Craig Kelly has had his social media account closed, despite his behaviour being defended by yourself. It should always be unacceptable for those in positions of authority to post material which is irrefutably false. It should also be totally unacceptable for social media to be used to slander others. Part of the problem is that your side of politics runs quickly to shout ‘cancel culture’ when falsehood is being called out for what it is.
As I have said, I am not a fan of social media, no doubt I am a child of my generation, but please do not bat bad behaviour on social media to the ‘devil’ when your side of politics is reluctant to rein in unacceptable behaviour.
Scott, good on you for being unafraid to give testimony to your faith. Good on you for being unafraid to identify with “Australian Christians’. Please be aware however that there are thousands more fellow Christians who struggle to understand how a covenantal Prime Minister can allow families to languish on Christmas Island, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain so equivocal about the future of the planet, or how a covenantal prime minister can remain utterly captive to his party’s ‘identity politics’.
Woke and Cancel Culture
Because of the culturally binary world in which we now live, it is almost impossible to speak without unwanted value being added or subtracted by others. Words or statements are too often enveloped in a pejorative package by those who disagree, thus excusing the package creator from having to deal with the truth being conveyed. Wrapping things as ‘woke’ is one such package of avoidance.
‘Woke’ is now weaponised by those on the right to belittle expressions of value or opinion that appear to challenge preconceived notions of what is acceptable. Those who dare to challenge some of the stories that undergird present day ANZAC celebrations are definitely ‘woke’. Those who support lifting the age of criminal responsibility in children, or wish to see imprisonment as the last resort for young offenders are ‘woke’. Those of us who are outraged by charges being laid against whistle blowers such as witness K and Bernard Collaery are ‘woke’. To be appalled by the endless incarceration of asylum seekers is definitely ‘woke’.
And yet ‘woke’ is a state to which all should aspire. That is, we should all aspire to an awakening based on insight and knowledge. Funnily enough ‘woke’ is the condition that undergirds Christian discipleship. All Christians are compelled to embrace ‘metanoia’, usually translated as ‘repentance’. Repentance is not primarily beating one’s breast in sorrow and regret, but living differently as a result of seeing differently.
There are many aspects to my personal life that have needed to respond in metanoia. I began with a strong patriarchal mindset. I had no knowledge of indigenous life, history and culture and as such had a racist mindset. I was unaware of my personal responsibility for environmental sustainability. To many of these realities I have ‘awoken’. That this journey needs to continue for the rest of my life, I am well aware. I aspire to be ‘woke’. All of us should aspire to be ‘woke’. The weaponizing of the term to deride or discredit is a cowardly act by those who refuse to be informed or worse, to change their way of life.
Freedom of speech is rightly lauded as one of the most important values undergirding democratic society. ‘Cancel culture’, is a weaponised term used to illustrate the perceived manner in which this value is thought to be undermined and as a consequence democracy itself is thought to be under threat. But hang on a minute!
In a democratic society, is it desirable, or should it be possible, for people or mediums of influence to publicly state that which is knowingly and blatantly untrue, especially when the intention of doing so is to mislead for personal gain? No, it should not. The most obvious example is Trump and his supporters who claimed they won the last election when clearly, they had not. The intention was to mislead and undermine democratic processes. It would have been irresponsible not to take steps to mitigate this activity. Cancelling the spread of these statements protected democracy, not the other way around.
For two decades Australian politics has been riven asunder by one side of politics refusing to accept verifiable scientific facts. The cost has been enormous. By now many thousands of Australians could have transited into new sustainable, highly skilled jobs. Australia could have been far more ready to trade on the emerging international market rather than being laggards. Australia could have developed policies that would have been environmentally and economically effective. Instead, we have seen two decades of wasted opportunity and the cost of putting things right escalating by the day. Giving free rein to an alternative view, when in reality there was no alternative view, has seriously undermined Australia
So, does freedom of speech mean that people have the right to say whatever they like. No, it most certainly does not. Individuals do not have the right to slander others, and people or institutions in positions of influence do not have the right to untruths which protect their own privilege or power.
It is ironic that those who argue for the absolute right of ‘freedom of speech’ are themselves less than good examples of this democratic value.
There are a multitude of issues in every generation that ‘dare not speak their name’. Until recently violence in the home and violence towards children has been in this category.
All of us ‘see through a glass darkly’. There must be far more open and non-partisan debate about the issues that confront us in the 21st century. As these conversations occur, blatant mistruths and manipulation in protection of self-interest opposed to ‘common good’, need to be called out for what they are. Protection of the fossil fuel industry by companies and compliant politicians is absolutely in this category.
May we all wake to the challenges that confront us and remain awake (woke) to the democratic call for trust and respect without which an open society implodes.
Shameful, and Humiliating
It is beyond shameful that Australia has held Priya and Nades Murugappan and their children Kopika and Tharnicaa on Christmas Island since August 2019 and that thy have been held in continuing detention for more than 1000 days.
Added to this insult this morning has been news that a proposed visit, to be led by Senator Keneally on a specially chartered plane, approved by Border Force, has been stopped by Defence Minister Dutton. What is it with this man? What ideology drives him, what political ambition possesses him, that he continues to heap cruelty upon cruelty on law abiding asylum seekers? Even more, on a family that clearly have the respect of a whole Queensland rural community behind them. In these circumstances it is utterly humiliating to be known as Australian, for we are all implicated by association with these unnecessary, cruel, and calculated acts that are somehow associated with misguided political advantage.
Following more than a month of terrible headlines involving politicians (primarily but not exclusively) of the hard right, one must ask, is there something inherently and incurably sick with a political ideology that appears to result in behaviour devoid of human decency and respect.
If this is the case, then a little course on empathy training is not going to make the slightest difference.
Is the politically hard right so convinced of truth imbedded in their certainties that they are absolved from normal accountability? It appears so. There was a time when ministers of the crown would stand down when serious errors were made either by them or by members of their department. In the Morrison government this era has long gone. It is now always someone else’s fault, or no fault is acknowledged at all.
I found myself in fierce disagreement with many of the policies and determinations of Prime Minister Howard, but never did I doubt an underlying integrity and decency.
With at least half the current cabinet, it is impossible to place trust and respect, either because of utter incompetence, or because of misleading and untruthful presentation of policy, or because political ambition has completely overtaken service of common good, or because ethical behaviour has become victim to party loyalty and supremacy.
Real leaders will always ‘hold the hose’ and accept accountability for outcomes. No real leader will allow cruelty under any circumstance, let alone in the name of political expediency.
Culture is purpose framed through Identity.
Many words have been uttered about the toxic culture of Federal Parliament. So, what is the problem? Culture emerges out of a perceived or enforced sense of identity. The parliament breeds a sense of entitled identity. Many, but not all, including some women, have woven themselves around such identity and in turn have shaped the identity of their staffers. This became tragically clear in the lack of leadership exercised in response to this week’s march by thousands of women. It was not a privilege, as they were being encouraged to believe, for women to be offered a private meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister for women. It should have been an honour for the Prime Minister and Minster for Women to meet with the women on their turf, seek to hear them and address the issues they brought on behalf of half the population.
If the sense of identity worn by governmental leadership was more transparently one of service, not entitlement and privilege of office, it would have felt an honour. (How many Prime Ministers have had the opportunity to meet representatives of half the population in one meeting)? Political leaders are after all ‘ministers’, the root meaning of which is ‘servant’. The ambition of politicians should be to seek the betterment of society they serve. This is hardly rocket science. Sadly, the ambition of most morphs easily into remaining in power at the next election. Time spent between elections being spent courting interest groups with this ambition in mind.
How did we arrive in this unfortunate state? There are no doubt a multitude of factors, many of which the whole population must own, but one of the dominant driving factors is that an increasing number of politicians are recruited from the ranks of party staffers who inherit an identity with their party and its ideologies from their early 20’s. The world beyond this bubble remains outside their experience. In this bubble the party and its prospects are everything, scandals must be dealt with in terms of their consequences for the party.
It is said that some have nurtured an ambition to be Prime Minister since their school days. In what context was this ambition framed? Was it to finally address unfinished business in relation to our First Nations peoples? Was it to recreate Australia as a regionally based manufacturing country with a multitude of highly skilled job? Was it to safeguard our natural environment, to create an atmosphere in which species extinction is halted and ecosystems protected? Was it to imagine what a liveable city might look like in the 21st century? Was it to build a vibrant economy in a post carbon world? Was it to give effect to a broad based and liberal education for all, that all might have the opportunity to celebrate life in its fulness? Was it…?
Or was the ambition to be no more than becoming the most important person and the most powerful person in the land?
On either side of politics, but especially on the government benches, it is difficult to understand the reason they are there, other than to be important and protect the interests of those who share the same ideological aspirations. This perception is borne out by the flood of politicians who, when they leave office, carve out a lucrative future for themselves from the influence they were able to exercise while in parliament. Pyne and associates is the latest example who now have the arms company Elbit as a major client and this week lobbied on behalf of the company in parliament.
Politics should be about transformational leadership. Our Prime Minister has shown he is incapable of anything other than transactional leadership. Every decade or two it is necessary for the clock to be reset. In changed circumstance it becomes necessary to enable a fairer, more just, more sustainable, more liveable world. Reform is not easy. It almost always means convincing one’s own side that change is necessary let alone convincing the opposition. The last Prime Minister capable of this was Bob Hawke who managed the seemingly impossible task of convincing the Unions that reform required a different modus operandi from them.
There are currently many areas crying out for reform, for which the government is showing absolutely no appetite. Top of the list is the way Australia is (or is not) being led into a post carbon economy. Environmentalists remain important voices, but they are no longer the only, or even the main voices clamouring for reform. To the voice of scientists can now be added, the market, the insurance industry, the National Farmers, State Governments, the nation’s youth, yes, even those employed in the mining industry who know the life of coal is at an end and want transition to a productive post mining life.
There must also be reform of monetary policy which currently allows those with assets to flourish while those on salaries stagnate. Growing equity gap is alarming. If further proof of this situation were required a cursory examination of the fate of Australians during 2020, the year of covid, will amply illustrate. Many large companies, shareholders and property owners flourished, many above the level they would otherwise have expected. At best those dependent on salaries stagnated and at worst either lost their jobs or suffered severe reduction in hours and income.
Aged Care, Health and Education are at various levels of crisis, under performance, or lacking the capacity to deliver. A conversation about how Federation can most efficiently work in 2021 with an honest debate about the relative value of private and public delivery of services is long overdue.
So, let us return to the problem of a toxic culture. If federal politics is to remain at the basement level of party, even intraparty rivalry and jealousy and holding onto (or achieving) power as the only ambition, then frankly there is little chance that the toxic culture can change. Toxicity and vacuousness are soul mates. If on the other hand transformational leadership can emerge with a more noble aspiration, this will energise a transformed culture with a more nourishing and noble reason for existence.
Should the law be the last word in all circumstances?
The awful shadow that hangs over our parliament, and especially the cabinet, has not been lifted by the vigorous denial made by the Attorney General at Wednesday’s press conference. As we know, law in and of itself cannot be guaranteed to deliver justice. Technicalities and the capacity of privilege to engage senior barristers almost always disadvantages the vulnerable and less resourced.
Through it all, the prime minister is insisting the matter has been considered by appropriate law enforcement instrumentalities and the matter is closed.
Neither statement is strictly correct. The law enforcement instrumentality, (NSW Police), has not properly considered the matter, they have made it plain they cannot because evidence they require to do so is held in the silent embrace of the deceased complainant. Her decision not to proceed happened the day before she took her own life. The matter is not closed, not because the Attorney General has not, and cannot, be proven innocent or guilty, but because he is Australia’s law maker, he holds one of the most powerful posts in the land and the population needs to know he is a fit and appropriate person to hold this office.
It is simply nonsense for the prime minister to insist, with colourful and exaggerated hyperbole, that an inquiry will somehow undermine the very foundations of the rule of law. There are many precedents for an independent inquiry. Indeed, the Attorney General has himself commissioned enquiries. Were one to be held, and we assume the Attorney General’s claims are accurate, presumably evidence would accumulate supporting the Attorney General’s denial, enabling empathy to turn toward him, even if such an inquiry could not fully declare his innocence, or guilt.
Context is a powerful factor in the determination of the best way forward. An enquiry would not primarily focus on criminality, which we know cannot be proved or disproved, but on character.
The fact that neighbours of mine who have previously held significant administrative positions in Canberra guessed the unnamed cabinet minister to be the Attorney General goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General along with Mr Tudge were subject to a Four Corners investigation on inappropriate behaviour in November 2020, goes to the question of character.
That in his press conference the Attorney General spent considerable time diverting attention by comparing his situation to that of a political opponent goes to the question of character.
That in the same press conference he claimed to be the real victim through trial by media, while not supporting an enquiry which would negate the need for the media to pursue its own enquiries, goes to the question of character.
That the Attorney General has relentlessly and cruelly pursued the lawyer Bernard Collaery over the Government’s scandalous Timor L ’Este debacle goes to the question of character.
The government has senior people who have proved themselves to possess impeccable character, Mr Tony Smith, the speaker of the House, comes immediately to mind. Australia’s chief law maker needs to hold the confidence of the people of Australia regardless of the political party to which he belongs. Unless this confidence exists, he becomes the catalyst for loss of confidence in the rule of law, not those who are calling for an enquiry.